Gender Power Relationship In The Discourse Of Jaarsummaa, A Traditional Dispute Mediation Among Arsi Oromo Of Ethiopia
Alemu Disassa Mulleta (PhD), Adama Science and Technology University
This article reports the result of a critical analysis of gender power relationship in the discourse of Jaarsummaa, a traditional method of conflict resolution among Arsi Oromo of Ethiopia. To this end, twelve actual Jaarsummaa sessions were audio-recorded from three districts of West Arsi Zone of Oromia Region and ethnographic data were collected through observation, field notes, and interview. A socio-cultural approach to discourse analysis has been utilized to analyze both textual and contextual data. The findings show that husbands have absolute power over their wives and such power asymmetry has been legitimized by the mainstream discourses of the target society. To enforce their decisions, the elders use their rhetorical, moral and positional power. In spousal dispute mediations, the elders persuaded the wives to accept the final decisions using discourse strategies such as naturalizing the conflict and the subsequent reconciliation of the couples, ignoring and mitigating major concerns of the wives. Other economic and socio-cultural factors also coerced the wives to accept the decision. Educating and economically empowering women, giving awareness raising trainings for the elders on issues of gender rights, having female mediators as representatives have been suggested to refine the Jaarsummaa practice.
Background of the Study
In the culture of every human society, various traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution have been utilized before and after the introduction of modern legal systems (Macfarlane, 2007).One among these mechanisms is community elders’ mediation. Traditional community elders’ mediation is an informal method of conflict resolution whereby elders of a given community voluntarily or upon the request of disputants mediate parties in dispute (bid).
Among many societies in Africa, mediation and other traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution by community elders are still more preferred to litigation (Macfarlane, 2007; Ellickson, 1991). In traditional African society, elders are believed to have better knowledge of the norms and customs of their societies and a well established experience and skills in resolving disputes. As a result, they are usually acknowledged agents of peace (Deng, 2003).
The situation in Ethiopia is not an exception to what has been described above. As scholars like Kohlhagen (2005:10) confirm it, “in Ethiopia the art of mediation and conciliation have already been practiced for centuries.” In many regions of the country, especially those far from regional centers, these informal mechanisms of conflict resolution are more dominant than the formal system (Macfarlane, 2007).
Studies so far conducted in the area of traditional conflict resolution in Ethiopia revealed that there are well established traditional institutions of conflict resolution among several ethnic groups of the country (Alula and Getachew, 2008; Tarekegn and Hannan, 2008). The present study attempted to analyze the discourse of Jaarsummaa, a traditional community elders’ mediation among Arsi Oromo of Ethiopia. In the traditional Oromo society, almost all types of conflicts were and still are resolved through Jaarsummaa which is carried out by an institution called Jaarsa Biyyaa ‘community elders’ also called Jaarsa Araaraa ‘elders of reconciliation’.
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