Facing the ‘F’ word – Exploring an Ethiopian Feminism recap

Speakers:  Billene Seyoum and Sehin Teferra

How do we define feminism and being a feminist?

Billene enlightened the room quoting famous female and male feminists of their definitions, beliefs and ideologies towards what women are and capable of and also quoting the definition from dictionary. Her explanation also highlighted how there were so many definitions for feminism, but her question “Are we feminist?” made everyone reflect on what they stood for in the past and now.

In the dictionary context feminism is “A belief in the social, political, and economical equality of sexes.”

Are we there yet?

When thinking of feminism we have multiple dimensions and definitions that even may contradict with each other. The values we live by everyday define the type of feminism. These ideologies are affected by culture, background and norms.

The right to vote was the advocacy of radical feminists although Marxist Feminism was associated with the economical aspect.  Many people relate feminism to lesbianism, but radical feminists believe in heterosexuality of husband and wife. This highlights the different perceptions that people hold of feminism.

It’s believed women suffrage originated from the right to vote movement. As the women movement evolved, the access to education, sexual and reproductive rights, and the right to work or own a property became the demands of the suffragists but even those demands were rejected not too long ago.

In Ethiopia, the different backgrounds, race, ethnicity, and nationality have made the stand for feminism incongruent and many women have tried to generalize the challenges we face. 64% of people in some areas have the belief “a husband has the right to abuse his wife”… as if she is his property.  But the smaller percentage of the women on the other hand has been instrumental changing the attitude and the laws concerning gender equality. So what we find in Ethiopia today, however, small or little the progress, we have to give credits to those who have passed before us. It is their advocacy and perseverance that we have the constitution respecting or practicing the gender balance.

In term of education, even with MDG and affirmative action to encourage women to pursue further education, the progress remains at primary and secondary level but  when women get to tertiary education more drop out and we are trying to figure out why.

Politically, 38.8% of House of Peoples Representative and 32% House of Federation are women. This is relatively better compared to other African countries but as a feminist, we have to be critical.

What are our families telling us about our gender? What are our teachers telling us about equality? We have to be able to prepare the next generation for the answers. How do we see the commercials? What messages do they convey? Many questions still left unanswered; are we there yet?


Co-founded by Billene Seyoum and Sehin Teferra , Setaweet is an organization, circle, or a networking platform. It was born out of the connection felt of what women stood for and have the same ideology of how they were internally feminist but felt like they were on their own.

Setaweet’s theory of change or vision is “shifting consciousness.” The circle was after changing the way men understand and practice their masculinity and how women practice their femininity. Women, even though get along with each other without much effort, but implementing the methodology of creating a platform to discuss and converse the ideology of feminism was challenging. Regardless, they have created women only circle the second Tuesday of the month among women who identify themselves as feminist. Setaweet grew on its own momentum.

Setawit provides services on: research, feminist curriculum and training

They also have open sessions with published authors to discuss on key topics involving debatable issue. Upcoming open session on April 16 will be focused on the representation of Ethiopian women in modernity by Dr. Eyosabel Wolde Georgis.

Media engagement has been one of their focuses as well. They have programs on interesting and important issues on Sheger Radio which has become popular among the feminist circles. What makes Setaweet unique is that it engages men– men who stand for feminism.

A movement cannot be contained in one organization they say. They feel their vison is so big they want the movement practiced every day in many forms.

Form of feminism:

  • Knowing our worth
  • Supporting all other women
  • Stop privileging our men


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