Journey From Struggle to Success


Poverty is a multi-faceted circumstance characterized by the lack of resources, opportunities, and capabilities needed to meet basic human needs. It is generally understood as a state of insufficient income and limited access to essential goods and services. It includes but not limited to food, clean water, shelter, healthcare, education, and employment opportunities.

In Ethiopia, approximately 27 million people are living in poverty. [1] The majority consists of women. There is a lack of access to resources and traditional customs which favors men in economic and social standings that are reflected in unequal educational opportunities. Women disproportionately bear the burden of poverty in Ethiopia, which is mainly a result of the gender-based division of labor and lack of access and control over resources prescribed not only by culture but also reiterated in the law. Women are responsible for all the household chores and raising their kids. When a woman is affected, the reverberations are felt throughout the entire family, community, and country recognizing that women serve as the cornerstone of families.

The fact that women are often neglected and not well informed of their rights under the law further contributes to their being marginal. The marginalization of women can be seen highlighted in social, political, and economic spheres.


Historically, elite and powerful women in Ethiopia have been visible as administrators and warriors. This never translated into any benefit to improve the rights of women. Being a woman in Ethiopia can be a hardship, especially for women born in rural areas. Some of the daily tasks of these women include fetching water from rivers and streams; walking long distances carrying food, water, and firewood; cooking, raising children, and being a nurturing mother and wife. Hence, a woman’s worth is measured in terms of her role both as a mother and wife.

Over 85% of Ethiopian women reside in rural areas, where households are engaged primarily in agriculture. In the countryside, women are integrated into the rural economy, which is often labor-intensive and exacts a heavy physical toll on all, including children. [3]

The strong cultural values in Ethiopia support the discriminatory elements about women’s involvement in decision-making. We can see that in the day-to-day activities of women in the workplace, social gatherings, and especially, at home. Sometimes, more subtly, but it is there and it’s transparent. These stereotypical attitudes toward family management roles have long constituted a cultural barrier to Ethiopian women occupying leadership positions beyond the household. Accordingly, women’s leadership is largely absent in Ethiopia.

There is a need to change the traditional structures, which are detrimental to women in a community, and this requires institutional reform. Traditionally, women have been given space only in domestic housework and to change this reality, people’s behavior must be influenced to protect and realize the interest of women by systemic changes that are implemented at fundamental levels – infrastructure and resources, curriculum reforms, community-based workshops, and intergenerational learning.

Urbanization does not provide only opportunities but also creates formidable problems for its residents such as problems of deprivation, lack of access to essential needs of human beings, inadequate income, etc, which are all manifestations of urban poverty. With the fast rate of urbanization, the number of female-headed households is increasing in major urban centers such as Addis Ababa where 39.7% of the households were headed by women in 2008. [4] It is also reported that female-headed households are poorer than the male-headed ones. [4] The household head’s low level of education, large family size, lack of access to well-paying jobs, and no or little financial assets among other things are identified as factors causing a higher incidence of poverty in the female-headed households in Addis Ababa.

What Are The Biggest Problems Ethiopian Women Face Today?

Ethiopian women participate in different areas of work including domestic and community-based activities. However, they rarely participate in the world of marketing and gaining the benefits. High adult women illiteracy, lack of control for productive assets, and limited access to family planning services; due to limited healthcare, lack of awareness and fear of judgment, low reproductive health, and lack of gender professionals severely limit women’s empowerment and gender equality. The persistence of patriarchal thinking as a whole demographic keeps them in a vulnerable position.

Child marriage, frequent pregnancy, breastfeeding, and domestic violence also challenge gender equality. Economically, it prevents them from fully getting a proper education and hence, less financial stability. Physically, young mothers are more at risk of health complications and childbirth is the leading cause of death among girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in developing countries. [5] Socially, it robs them of their agency to make decisions about their lives and makes them vulnerable to discrimination and abuse.

As career development for women is limited to those professions only left to females and middle management positions, women are not part of and are underrepresented in the decision-making processes at the top management level position. This is concrete evidence that women’s participation in the economic arena is minimal and they are dwelling on low and unpaid forms of work which in turn make them hugely dependent on men for financial provision for themselves as well as their families. [6] Access to education, literacy, media, employment, and decision-making are some of the issues considered decisive for gender difference.

Women are significantly less likely to own a business, and when they do, face significant operating constraints. Only 16.6% of all businesses registered with the Ministry of Trade in 2014 were owned by women. The median start-up capital of male-owned enterprises is five times higher than that of female-owned enterprises. [7] Female-owned firms appear to have less access to finance, fewer land use rights in some areas, smaller networks, and are more vulnerable to being victims of crime/corruption.

Women’s health outcomes have improved in comparison to the 90s but the incidence of violence against women remains high. There are also numerous forms of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) such as sexual harassment, abduction especially in rural areas, marital rape, threatening, scolding, and harassing women and girls, men refusing to economically support their family, men denying the existence of children born out of wedlock, refusal to share the family property with women after divorce, spending family resources on personal use- alcoholism, gambling, cheating, etc., controlling women’s fertility (not allowing women to use family planning methods), restricting women’s movement and advancement in education and degrading and neglecting women and girls.

Ethiopian women’s political representation has been limited for a long time and even historically some of the great women leaders that had an impact such as Queen of Sheba, Empress Eleni, or Empress Taytu only had access to power via their husbands or sons. Today, those women who do enter into politics face various barriers including, lack of exposure and experience, limited support networks, exclusion from informal decision-making processes in male-dominated associations and meetings, as well as limited information about female political candidates. Nonetheless, in the face of these difficulties, the number of women parliamentarians has been increasing.

Women in the Economy

Because women predominate mostly in non-market, household activities, they tend to be more heterogeneously affected by the lack of policy, laws, programs, and resource support from governments and international organizations. This is also because much of women’s work, especially in the production of necessities like food and shelter only enough for sustainability without a significant surplus for trade or sale, in informal employment; house cleaners, babysitters, craftspeople, and street food vendors, etcetera tends to be overlooked by society.

Women in Ethiopia have experienced significant increases in socio-economic opportunities thanks to reforms pursued over the last several decades. Even though there have been a few important changes that positively affect the growth of women, Ethiopia still has room to improve from a feminist perspective. Prioritizing reforms in the areas of Pay, Marriage, Parenthood, Entrepreneurship, and Pension is crucial to helping women achieve full equality before the law.

Highlighting The Importance Of Role Models And Mentoring

To make women more efficient in their work and be aware of their shortcomings, they need skills through training, discussions, networking, and other possible means to bring out their full potential and work to their full capacity. Thus, to practicalize the advancement of women, it is relevant to establish appropriate infrastructure- mentoring.

Female business mentors show women that leadership positions are attainable. Bringing unique perspectives to the table, they are essential for inspiring new generations of career-minded women and addressing the gender gap in career development. 

Here’s the importance of connecting women with female business mentors:

  • Role modeling: serve as role models, sharing valuable guidance and experiences that resonate with women.
  • Skill development:  provides women with opportunities to learn and develop new skills, like leadership capabilities and industry-specific knowledge.
  • Career guidance: help women set career goals and create a roadmap for their professional development so that they make informed decisions.
  • Confidence building: mentorswho have successfully broken barriers boost women’s confidence, encouraging them to embrace new challenges.
  • Networking: introduce mentees to valuable industry contacts, helping women expand their professional networks.
  • Work-life balance: achieving work-life harmony, which is especially important for women facing the unique challenges of balancing career and family responsibilities.

The Story of WISE: A Beacon of Empowerment

The story of WISE is that of the emancipation of women through financial independence. It is an exemplary organization that represents excellence. It unveiled the power of a supportive community in creating resilient families. The founder Tsigie Haile was one of the first women to be celebrated for her excellence in the WOE 2012.  

A. The Social Enterprise Model

WISE is one of the few organizations in Ethiopia that practices the Social Enterprise model, not only conceptually but also technically & practically. It is the collective work of three independent entities within it; WISE the non-governmental organization under which all were formed, Savings & Credit Cooperatives Union (SACCO Union) which is the umbrella body that provides different services to 100 SACCOs in Addis Ababa and Meleket Training Services, the income generating wing.

B. Impactful Programs and Interventions

Since commencing its operations in 1998, WISE designed and implemented many successful programs, operations and interventions that address the core issues of poverty and dependency among its target members. Among the target members are women street vendors, women with HIV/AIDS, and returnees from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. Primarily focused on urban poverty, WISE has impacted the lives of over 56,000 families in Addis Ababa through direct interventions and over 46,000 families in Ethiopia through partner organizations.

At the core of all its initiatives and programs there are 3 major components; Organizing, Training & Financing. Organizing is important in magnifying the women’s voices and taking collective actions – through sharing their challenges and stories they find motivation, inspiration and peace which eventually brings out the leaders in them. Organizing is also beneficial when it comes to forging partnerships with organizations that can undertake advocacy on behalf of the target groups and improve their advocacy capacity. Training helps to improve the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of target groups in the areas affecting their businesses and personal lives. This brings lasting changes in their habits and actions. Capital is one of the major challenges many faces when thinking to start or expand businesses—the financing component offers that solution.

C. Holistic Approach to Empowerment

The concept of empowerment is a history of social change. WISE achieved that through its holistic look at changing the lives of the women. All the programs take the triple roles of the women into consideration; these roles are productive, reproductive and community. The “ABCD approach” is embedded in all the programs. It represents the concept “Asset Based Community Development” which guides the women to focus on the abundant resources they already possess like skills, environment and gaps they are able to fill.

D. Changing Mindsets for Prosperity

WISE is built on the idea that both poverty and prosperity are rooted in the mindset. It offers eye-opening programs for its target members through which the idea of poverty is extracted from their minds and replaced with unlimited potential for growth. For further details on WISE and its impactful initiatives, visit

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Tales of Triumph: Inspirational Ethiopian Women Defying Odds

Many Ethiopian women have conducted significant work in Ethiopia by achieving success in their field of endeavor or work, going beyond expected societal conventions and challenging stereotypes. The following are just a few examples of the many inspiring Ethiopian women:

  • Bogaletch Gebre – Bogaletch Gebre was a women’s rights activist and founder of the organization KMG Ethiopia. Her work aimed to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in Ethiopia and promote women’s rights. She worked with community leaders, religious figures, and other organizations to create awareness about the harmful effects of FGM and to encourage alternative practices that promote the rights and well-being of girls and women. Gebre’s work helped to reduce the prevalence of FGM in Ethiopia from 100% to less than 3%. [8]
  • Tsion Gurmu – Tsion Gurmu is a lawyer and advocate for immigrant and refugee rights. She has worked with organizations such as the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the Center for Constitutional Rights to promote justice and equality for marginalized communities. Gurmu is also a fellow with the Open Society Foundations, where she works to promote policies that protect the rights and dignity of refugees and immigrants. [8]
  • Rahel Abayneh – Rahel Abayneh is the founder of Nehemiah Autism Center. Her journey began when she had her second child who had autism. After realizing that there was a scarcity of organizations providing support and education for autistic children, and witnessing the anguish of parents who had to wait for their kids to receive assistance, she was compelled to establish an autistic center. [9]
  • Sara Menker – Sara Menker is an entrepreneur and founder of the agricultural data company Gro Intelligence. Her work aims to promote sustainable agriculture and help farmers around the world make more informed decisions. Menker has been named one of Fortune’s “40 under 40” and has been recognized for her work to promote data-driven solutions to global food security challenges. Her work has the potential to revolutionize the way we approach agriculture and help to create a more sustainable future for everyone. [8]

The Role of Supportive Networks and Organizations

To accelerate the advancement of women in Ethiopia, it is important to create a genuine feministic platform where solidarity links and networks are set up to communicate and help one another in an environment where they have common interests and purpose. Allocation of special funds for women’s organizations serves as a special forum for women to get the right information on their rights so they gain the courage to speak their minds and be valuable citizens.

When women and girls are supported, they feel empowered to speak up for their rights, and also to advocate for their communities. They are also able to rise in social standing and make way for future generations. The path will guide them in a world where there are choices to choose from and opportunities at their disposal, and help young girls feel confident in their skin.

Importance Of Empowering Ethiopian Women And Their Contributions To Society

Most Ethiopian Women face constraints in accessing economic assets, which prevents them from expressing or exercising self-determination. promoting Ethiopian women is essential to the health and social development of families, societies, and even countries. When women are living in a safe, fulfilled, and productive environment, they can reach their full inner and outer potential. contributing their skills to the workforce and raising happier and healthier children.

A key part of this empowerment is through Education. Girls who are educated can pursue meaningful work and contribute to their country’s economy later in life. They are also four times less likely to get married young when they have eight years of education, meaning that they and their families are healthier. [2]

Development research on women and girls has shown that investing in women is more profitable in terms of money because women and girls work more efficiently than men, even though 70% of the world’s poor are women. [10] Studies have consistently shown that increasing women’s participation in the workforce leads to higher productivity, economic growth, and poverty reduction. Hence, we unlock their potential as entrepreneurs, workers, and consumers, which benefits society as a whole.

Furthermore, Empowering women has positive effects on their health and well-being. When women have access to education, healthcare, and reproductive rights, they can make informed decisions about their bodies without being influenced by their significant other or society in general and lead healthier lives. Empowered women challenge cultural gender roles and societal norms that restrict not only their role in society but also their basic human rights. By defying stereotypes, women can achieve as much as men if not more.

Finally, promoting women’s autonomy is a matter of human rights and social justice. Women have the right to live free from discrimination, violence, and oppression. By enabling women, we work towards a more just and equitable society. An empowered woman is a capable woman. A capable Ethiopian woman can achieve whatever she wants because of her ability to exhaust her choices and is confident in her power. Given the opportunity, she thrives on personal and social levels which in turn makes her valuable everywhere she goes.


From a global perspective, educational inequality is one of the biggest challenges facing women. Despite the many gains of modern feminist movements all over the world, many still believe that women are less worthy of the same educational opportunities afforded to men. While there is no denying that poverty, geography, and other factors contribute to huge disparities in education, patriarchy justifies this denial of opportunity. It feeds the message that men should wield power and women should occupy subordinate positions in society.

Poverty Has a Woman’s Face specifically highlighted the disproportionate impact of poverty on women, who often face additional gender-based disadvantages and discrimination, leading to a higher prevalence of poverty among women compared to men. It underscores the recognition that women are more likely to bear the brunt of deprivation and its associated hardships.

Despite the countless obstacles they face, women possess an unwavering spirit of resilience and determination. By empowering one another, finding opportunities, and embracing their inherent strength, women will continue to overcome the challenges of poverty. Let us come together as a society to provide the encouragement and support they deserve, knowing that by doing so, we are not only uplifting women but also cultivating a brighter and more equitable future for all.



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