Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cultures & immigration beat: Changing cultural attitudes on abuse

For years, Tsehai Wodajo kept silent about the hitting and forced sex she endured at the hands of her husband.

Now she is publicly sharing her story of survival in the hopes of changing cultural attitudes about violence in the home and rallying women to support one another.

"It's like my 'coming out,'" Wodajo said of her decision to talk about her own life.

A social worker, she is speaking at an upcoming photography exhibit and cultural presentation at Augsburg College about the resilience and beauty of the Oromo women of Ethiopia.

Wodajo, a member of the Oromo community, moved to the United States about 20 years ago from Ethiopia.

The Oromos are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia and also live in Kenya and some parts of Somalia.

In Minnesota, they make up the second-largest ethnic group from East Africa, Wodajo says.

"I went to the shelter a couple times. I was involved with the police," she said. "At some point, the rumor got out ... and I was ostracized."

Other presenters will talk about the role Oromo women have had historically on shaping the culture.

The photos in the exhibit were taken by Peri Klemm, an associate professor of art history at California State University, Northridge, who documented the lives of Oromo women living in Ethiopia.

Samples of the images that will be on display show girls and women adorned in colorful, cultural dress.