Yegna, Ethiopia’s Spice Girls, lose UK funding – BBC News

Yegna, Ethiopia’s ‘Spice Girls’, lose UK funding

Ethiopia’s Yegna sing about female empowerment in a country where violence against women is common

British taxpayers’ money will no longer be used to fund a five-member Ethiopian girl band, the government has said.

(BBC NEWS) -International Development Secretary Priti Patel announced a review of the funding last month after reports that pop group Yegna received £5.2m.

Girl Effect, the Ethiopian group which manages Yegna and promotes women’s rights in the country, said its aims had been “wilfully misrepresented”.

But the government said there are “more effective ways” to invest UK aid.

Yegna has been the subject of a long-running campaign by the Daily Mail. It dubbed the band “Ethiopia’s Spice Girls” saying that grants to the group were a waste of money.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel announced a review of the girl band’s funding last monthThe five-strong pop group was founded in 2013 and aims to tackle issues including domestic violence and forced marriage through its songs and online videos.

They perform a weekly drama and talk show on Ethiopian radio, as well as running a YouTube channel. They released their first song, Abet, meaning “We are here” in Ethiopia’s official language Amharic, four years ago.

It is part of the Girl Effect project, which was created by the UK’s Department for International Development and the Nike Foundation in 2011, which said Yegna aims to “change the culture of Ethiopia in a good way, to explain the problems in the society”.

Who are Yegna?

  • Its members are all twenty-something Ethiopians: Rahel Getu, 22, Zebiba Girma, 22, Eyerusalem Kelemework, 27, Lemlem Haile Michael, 26 and Teref Kassahun, 26
  • They adopt stage names: Lemlem, Emuye, Sara, Mimi and Melat
  • The pop group was set up in 2013 to “empower young women” including challenging young marriage and gender-based violence
  • Yegna is pronounced “Yen-ya”, which means “Ours” in Amharic
  • Their catchphrase is: “We are here. We will not be silenced”
  • Girl Effect said Yegna reach 8.5 million people in Ethiopia through its radio drama, music and talk shows

Source: Girl Effect

Shadow International Development Secretary Kate Osamor said it was “really unfortunate” the project “was being rubbished”.

Humanitarian aid was “not just about food parcels”, she said.

Girl Effect said the UK had broken “new ground” by investing in Yegna but that “new ideas are often resisted and sometimes wilfully misrepresented”.

“[The department] has consistently recognised Yegna’s impact,” Girl Effect said. “All too often we treat the symptoms of poverty and overlook the cause.”

Britain is a significant contributor to Ethiopia, which is the biggest recipient of UK foreign aid behind Pakistan, at £334.1m.

But the government is under pressure to prove that the more than £12bn it sends overseas each year is being well spent, particularly as domestic budgets are being squeezed.

The Daily Mail backed the UK’s decision to end ties with Yegna on its front page on Saturday, with the headline: “Aid: Now they’re listening”. It said British taxpayers would no longer fund “Ethiopia’s version of the Spice Girls”.

Nearly half of Ethiopian women have experienced physical violence from their partner, according to the UN. Some 74% of women in the country have also undergone female genital mutilation, Unicef says.

Ethiopia is partway through a a six-month state of emergency in the face of a wave of unprecedented anti-government protests in October.