Woineshet Zebene grew up in a rural area
in Ethiopia where the customary way of getting a bride was for
a young man and several of his friends to kidnap a girl and rape
her, thereby making her unmarriageable to anyone except the one
who deflowered her.
This happened to Woineshet when she was
13 years old. She was taken from her home in the middle of the
night and repeatedly raped for two days.
In the time-honored tradition, if the boy
was ever accused of rape, the court and the village elders would
essentially say to the girl and her parents, Look, hes
a nice boy. If you prosecute him for rape, he will be ruined.
It will disrupt our society. So just go along with it and marry
him. Almost all the girls did.
But Woineshet did not, and her father backed
her decision. She didnt want to marry the boy and she thought
the whole custom was wrong.
She sought an education.
She went on to become a lawyer and then
returned home to change the custom through education showing
boys that these girls are human beings, that they have a right
to choose, that rape is brutal and cruel, etc.
Believe it or not, the boys werent
thinking that way. They were thinking that when they had a crush
on a girl, the only way to make sure they married her
and nobody else did, was to rape her and then offer to marry
her to save her from a life of being shunned.
Over the decades, this logic had solidified
into a custom.
But Woineshet destroyed the custom. A social
value was overridden by an intellectual value (read more about different levels of values here).
Whatever disruption it caused to the social structure was worth
the gain in rightness. It isnt right to force
a girl to marry by rape.
Thats not right is a
moral-intellectual principle, and it overrode a social value
(that this is our custom and if you change it, you will upset
the social order).
This is one of many excellent illustrations
of overriding well-established social values with higher intellectual
values in the book Half
the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
and in a film by the