opinionBy Hanna Haile
Many hotels in Addis Abeba show a disregard to their female customers. Walking into many of the major ones, women are scrutinised based on appearance. Hotel management says this is not without reason, and that they are dealing with a sensitive issue, that of sex workers.
But do sex workers not pay for their macchiatos? Management usually says they have had safety issues related to robberies, yet where is the boundary for hotels between keeping their clients safe and maintaining the dignity of women?
The hypocrisy of all this is not lost on women, as hotels use images of them to sell their services in advertisements. These same women are judged upon entering a hotel on whether or not they will be able to get service. In a city with an increasing middle-class population and individualistic women who are merely attempting to live their lives independently, this is unfair.
Imagine having to meet someone in a hotel lobby for a lunch appointment, walking in and seeing that all the seats are marked reserved. We would wonder how all the seats could be reserved, so opt for a seat at the corner with the only sign of availability if no one approaches us to assist in finding a seat.
As the person we are set to meet is running late, we decide to get coffee, but we notice that no one is willing to serve us. They see us, but there is no one willing to acknowledge our presence. We are a bit shocked and start noticing that all the seats that were marked reserved are only being offered to the men arriving who seem to be getting appropriate service.
When a friend who also happens to be a woman joins us, we start to notice that it is our presence that seems to give us this terrible service and sense of being unwelcome.
The amount of stories that circulate in conversations with friends and on social media about mistreatment of women in the hotel industry is striking. It does not at all agree with the better education and financial capability we are told that women should have. This talk crumbles the moment it hits the wall of patriarchy.
At the heart of the problem is sexual objectification. A young woman sitting in a hotel alone would be seen as a temptress or an object of conquest by a passerby. In either of these situations, the woman sitting in the hotel lobby trying to order her macchiato in peace is never thought of as a customer that deserves equal care by the hotel management.
In a recent altercation at a hotel in the Bole area, the manager shared stories of married men who have voiced concern with women winking at them. While women’s personal spaces are violated in all hotels, I am yet to hear of a hotel worried about their rights.
Women’s financial and psychological independence is questioned and scrutinised while at the same time there are attempts to dismantle it in each corner of our nation’s growth. Yet the rise of women is also imminent.
The development of our nation is taking place in an atmosphere that makes women fight for their rights in each corner constantly. Women are often victimised and still asked to work on educating our community at the same time.
There has not been one isolated incident but rather too many to count. In my own experience at another hotel a few years ago, the shame and humiliation that was leveled at me was crippling.
As I enter any hotel lobby, I am well aware of the stares and judgment that accompany me. As a young woman starting in my own line of work, this was one of the recurring fears I had, which I later had to face. Yet I am ashamed to say it is something women prepare for. I wonder which man walking into a meeting at the hotel would feel the same scrutiny.
The idea that in spaces such as this, women are always treated as outsiders is part of a problem. Women are made aware that their presence is still seen as that of an outsider. In hotels, meeting rooms, offices, bars and the streets women are reminded that these spheres of work and entertainment do not belong to them.
While women are ready to claim these spaces as theirs like any other, associations of industries should do their part. Women cannot individually fight each fight. We must all be the resistance against discrimination. We must band together for a greater good. Women’s presence cannot be chosen for them. All spaces must equally be available to us.