The CSP was clear. Its purport is the classification of CSOs based on the source of funding. If the percentage of funds mobilized from outside Ethiopia exceeds 10 % of the annual budget, the CSO cannot operate in Ethiopia and cannot work on areas that are explicitly reserved for Ethiopian CSOs, including those that relate to advancing women rights.
The law discussed two exceptions for this: bilateral agreements and mass-based organizations. Women associations in the context of the CSP are mentioned as part of mass-based organizations. The CSP does not define what mass-based organizations are but highlighted that it includes Professional Associations, Women’s Associations, Youth Associations and the like. When it comes to rights-based women organizations, the definition lacks clarity.
Ethiopian women’s right to freedom of association vis-a-vis the provisions of the CSP
The right to freedom of association is recognized under Article 31 of the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. It provides: “Every person has the right to freedom of association for any cause or purpose. Organizations formed, in violation of appropriate laws, or illegally subvert the constitutional order, or which promote such activities is prohibited.”
In addition to this blunt recognition of the right, the preamble of the constitution echoes freedom of association and reflects the important role women play in terms of fulfilling the objectives of the constitution with due respect to individual and peoples’ right and freedom. Similarly, the constitution has recognized a spectrum of rights for Ethiopian women under Article 35. The constitution provides that “states shall enforce the right of women to eliminate the influence of laws that oppress them.” The constitution has always been the guardian for the right of a woman to association. When the constitution was initially drafted, Women groups were represented in the drafting committee.
The constitution affirms that the right to freedom of association is exercised for whatever reason women believe to be important: That is, “for any cause or purpose.” The explicit categorization of CSOs into those that can promote woman human rights and those who cannot limits the right of Ethiopian women to associate for any purpose or cause and defeats the original purpose of the constitution.