Shedding Patriarchy

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A first generation Eritrean immigrant, Youth Radio’s Awet Habtom must learn for herself how to navigate her cultural traditions – including sexism and patriarchy.

My dad used to tell me: I shouldn't play sports. I shouldn't wear revealing clothes. I should take care of him and my brothers.

I’m first generation Eritrean. I’m proud of my heritage. I love the music, the food, the holidays. But the society can be pretty patriarchal. Just a couple years ago, the United Nations slammed Eritrea’s treatment of women.

My parents came to the US in the ‘90s. They divorced after I was born. Now, they run very different households. My dad lives with his extended family--my aunts, uncles, and cousins. At mealtime, the men eat, while the women serve them. We don’t sit down until we’re done cleaning up after the men.

I didn’t question this. I didn’t even think to tell my mom. If she had known, she probably wouldn’t have let me visit my dad as much.


In 7th grade, I told my mom girls can’t play basketball. When she realized I was serious, she cried. “What kind of child thinks like this?” You can imagine, when I said I got this idea from my dad, she was mad. She told me I was wrong, that my mindset was unfair towards myself and other women. That I should never let “being a girl” stop me.

Letting go of my sexist ideas took effort. When I caught myself holding back, I’d pause and give myself permission. Over time, I adopted a newfound respect for all women, starting with me.

When my mom confronted my dad, he apologized. After that, when I visited, I was allowed to eat beside him. But I was the exception. From then on, my aunts, female cousins, and grandma served me alongside the guys. They called me disobedient for rebelling against “our culture.”

Sometimes, I wish I could erase those early years around the table. But at the same time, my newfound feminist beliefs are real. They weren’t handed to me. I had to earn them by living day by day.

With a Perspective, I’m Awet Habtom.

Awet Habtom is a high school senior and lives in Union City. Her commentary was produced by Youth Radio.