In the traditional Oromo society, women played distinct roles through an institution called the Siiqqee (a symbolic decorated stick given to all women by their mothers upon marriage). This is an exclusively women’s solidarity institution sanctioned by tradition and respected by society. It is a sort of sorority that provides women with channels to participate in village councils, and a cultural vehicle to mobilize en masse against violence and abuse. Infringement of certain rights that women enjoy is regarded as an attack on human rights. In the event of violation of their rights, women take out the Siiqqee and mobilize to fight for the respect of rights, and for any perpetrator of abuse to be tried by society. The use of Siiqqee draws an enormous religious, ritual and moral authority and in the pursuit of peace and social tranquility. According to tradition peace is not merely the absence of war, but a constant state of unity and cooperation among the people as well as harmony with God and nature, with the power to bless or curse. Historically, women as a sector of society were designated as strangers and excluded from the Gadaa structures and rituals, but, they stuck together through the Siiqqee counting on one another within this common sorority.
When Oromo society came under Ethiopian rule during the last quarter of the 19th century, the traditions of the dominant Ethiopian elite was imposed upon Oromo women. With the imposition of a new legal system and moral standards, coupled with the expansion of Islam and Christianity in Oromo society, Oromo institutions were marginalized, including the women’s institutions such as Siiqqee and Ateete (another exclusively women’s ritual).
During the past few decades the world has changed a great deal for women in other parts of the world. However, Oromo women suffer the consequences of a social system that marginalizes and abuses women, and a political order that is exclusive and repressive. According to a United Nations report Women in Ethiopia are the most abused in the world. In order to contribute towards achieving this goal and attaining the fundamental rights of women and others, Oromo women at home and in the Diaspora, and their organizations are mobilizing their skills and resources. One of the tools that can be very useful in this endeavor is exchanging experiences, seeking solutions through time tested indigenous methods, and exploring new ways of enhancing and defining women’s exposure to new trends. That why a group of dedicated women have come together to convene an Oromo Women’s International Conference. The aim of the conference is to provide a multi-stakeholder forum to explore, highlight and propose actions, establish partnerships to address issues arising from the nexus of issues related to gender, migration, development and social liberation.