“Our Journey as Ethiopian Women – Building a Common Agenda”, AWiB March Event Recap

After an engaging networking session and delicious refreshments, the event started off with the President Elect, Sara Tadiwos’ opening remarks. Sara introduced AWiB to the attendees and spoke a little about the person who graced the spotlight this month, encouraging all to read about her as a woman making a difference. She concluded by reminding everyone on the Saturday Roundtable discussions.

The discussion for the evening was led by Billene Seyoum, Managing Director of EARUYAN Solutions. Earuyan’s, most fittingly, means Equality in Ge’ez and the team lead by Billene, kicked off the night.  She started off by appreciating the “Positive Woman Energy” in the room (there was quite a bit of that) and wishing everyone a happy International Women’s Day. She also acknowledged that all three hundred and sixty five days of the year should be International Women’s Day. She introduced the objective of the session as a chance to reflect on our collective journey and invited everyone to be an actor instead of a spectator. The session was to be a dialogue to inspire individual and collective action.

After introducing her co facilitators, Tsinu Amdeselassie and Hilina Yigletu, she introduced the video put together by the Earuyan team and gave a special thanks to the young film maker Mahelet Tekele and Hilina, the Earuyan Program Assistant, for putting it together. She informed her audience that the film was in no way meant to represent all the voices of Ethiopian women but to contribute to the conversation happening at a national level on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. It was, in effect, an effort to document Her Stories. It featured different women and girls from various backgrounds and age groups, from a sixth grade student to inspiring and well known accomplished women of our times. They discussed what is holding women back and weather we, as Ethiopian women, have a common agenda. In keeping with this year’s International Women’s Day theme, #BoldForChage, the interviews were also asked what it meant for them to be “Bold for Change” and who exemplifies that.

By the time Hilina took over to thank everyone who took the time to reflect and participate in the video, there was a definite energy shift in the room. It was with this barely contained positive energy that Tsinu acknowledged the celebratory energy of the night as a segway to the discussion sessions.

The first round of discussions revolved around our vision for Ethiopian women and the agenda that unites us. Discussions on the vision revolved around the following topics; 

  • Transformation in Gender Equality in the world of education and work
  • Prioritizing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment with in the national legal framework
  • Growing a generation that stands for Women’s Rights
  • Legal as well as Attitudinal Change
  • A cultural revolution regarding Gender Equality
  • An equal world where there is no need of affirmative action
  • Women motivating other women
  • No early or economically motivated marriage
  • Equal pay and equal opportunity for women and men
  • Shared domestic responsibilities
  • No more objectification of women
  • Enforced laws
  • Change around harmful traditional practices – e.g. female genital mutilation
  • Women in leadership positions including Ethiopia having a female leader.
  • Transformed males who become advocates and activists, and partners of women
  • 70% of women are bold women in ten years
  • End to Violence against women
  • Women economically empowered
  • Changes of laws and enforcement of laws
  • Freedom of speech and self confidence
  • Change in culture and religion
  • Enforce female friendly sanitation
  • End in Domestic Violence
  • Access to resources for women
  • Shared house work, 50/50
  • Parity in education
  • More Day Cares
  • The identified common Agenda include
  • Increased access to education to organize mass change
  • Changing the school system to trigger attitudinal change and grass root integration
  • Change and empowerment in general
  • Overall social behavioral change especially “Yilugnta”
  • Access to opportunity and using those opportunities wholly
  • Instead of accepting with “Amen” asking “Why?” and “So What?”
  • Gender Equality
  • Eliminating social division between men and women
  • Gender Equality as a common agenda for men and women
  • Improved policies and legal framework
  • One platform for all women

Tsinu then summarized the First round of discussions after each table presented their vision as well as what they believed to be the common agenda through their spokeswoman.  The second round of discussions centered on the bold action to improve or develop an aspect of women’s status. The facilitators drew attention to the fact that our heterogeneity as women was reflected in the visions articulated in the first round. The second round is centered on the bold action that will generate an impact. After each table discussed the bold action taken by the women, each table then shared one experience to the whole room.

One woman talked of her experience as a teacher and how after having two children, her world view completely changed. She spoke of the challenges she encountered going back to work while still breastfeeding and during this difficult time, her thoughts kept going back to the women with low income who had to deal with the same problems. She then took the Bold Action to start a project, got single mothers in the Dukem area with cloth donations. Her organization has mobilized others to take Bold Action and invited all to do the same.

Another table identified the fear that holds others back from taking Bold Action as the Fear of Losing Social Capital or Yilugnta in Amharic. Other women also told their stories of boldness including struggling to get an education even going as far as carrying her own chair to sit on; standing up to a chauvinistic man first by “slapping him silly” then following up the case until he got fired for his offense; Quitting her well-paying job and perusing her love for art and joining an industry where flawless execution is the norm; insisting that her husband and son take equal responsibility for domestic tasks and succeeding despite initial resistance and standing up to the people that tried to take credit for their work and standing up to the people that did.

The third session was led by Hilina. She asked that we write in bold and clear letters what bold action we will take in the next year on the sticky notes provided. Actions included:

  • I will intervene when I see a woman mistreated in the streets (not being mistreated)
  • Supporting marginalized children
  • Speaking up in public events
  • Inform women about their rights: colleagues, friends and others

Then everyone was invited to stick their actions on the “Wall of Boldness” aptly decorated in the signs for male and female with an equal sign in between. Everyone stuck their actions decorating the wall with their commitment for bold action in 2017.

Attendees where then invited to identify the fears that hold them back from taking these bold actions. After writing them down, a volunteer was asked to write these fears associated with the bold actions on the balloon placed at each table. The fears included;

  • ‘I won’t bring change’
  • ‘What will others say of me?’
  • ‘What if they stigmatize me?’
  • ‘What if they don’t support me?’
  • ‘What if they will forget about me?’
  • Fear of others’ indifference.

The volunteers were then asked to pop the balloons, symbolize the conquering of each fear and popping it away. It was a very powerful moment as the balloons popped away and everyone cheered. The facilitator, Billene, then wished everyone courage “to ensure the fears become courage in 2017”. The event was concluded after a young and powerful poet, Christine Yohannes read two of her pieces and closed the night. It was an uplifting and empowering event and everyone went home with a smile on their face and a purposeful stride. 

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