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Battle in the Horn Thursday, 22 July, 1999, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Eritrea's women fighters
Woman soldier in bunker
A quarter of Eritrean soldiers are women
By BBC East Africa Correspondent Cathy Jenkins

Battle in the horn
Eritrea may be a traditional society in many ways, but one in four of the fighters in its army is a woman.

Back in the 1970s, women were fighting for Eritrean independence, and today's female soldiers are following in their footsteps.

Azeb Haile admits that she has killed people in this war.

"As a human I don't want to kill people, but they came to attack us," she says. "So I have to defend myself and my country."

New generation

Eritrean woman soldier
Women hope that their role in the army will bring equality in wider society
This sudden conflict has brought a new generation of women soldiers in Eritrea. They are fighting and they are dying alongside the men.

And they say the equality they have on the battlefield must be met with equality at home.

When this war finishes, Azeb dreams of returning to the city and opening a boutique.

But whether as soldier or businesswoman, she has grown up with a generation of Eritrean women who have more choices than before.

"Women fought in the independence war and when they came back they were accepted. It will be the same for these women. They'll be fine whatever they do."

Minister of Justice Fawzia Hashim is one of Eritrea's best-known politicians. She rose to her position of prominence fighting as a soldier for independence.

She says the new women fighters are making society change, but there is still work to be done.

"I'm proud of them, when I see these young women, very confident, competing and challenging with their boy classmates and schoolmates," she says.

"We have to educate ourselves. We have to regain our confidence. We have to fight to change attitudes through socio-economic change. We have to fight to achieve equality."

The years of struggle have forged a cohesive society. It is a grim fact that by facing death on the battlefield, Eritrean women are forcing change at home.

Links to more Battle in the Horn stories are at the foot of the page.


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