RECAP — Excelling as Women: It’s About the Agenda

How can women support one another in realizing their common agenda?  Do we offer a hand and let the women in our organization lean in and help them up the ladder or do we see them as competition and push them away? Do we compete for what we perceive as limited seats available for women, or do we work together to create and demand more seats?

A crowd of 70 people gathered together in Hilton Addis to find the answers for themselves. The event began with an hour-long networking session where everyone took their time to enjoy and share various ideas. Thanks to our sponsor, Enat Bank, the event was made possible.

AWiB brings the scriptwriters of Eregnaye to learn from their journey and identify how to design and be on the same agenda.  Through this event, it will be seen if women had the same agenda all along and if women supported each other to focus on a collective goal. This is about listening to our passion.  This is about living our purpose. This is about desire and action.  This is about creating a fair and equitable society.  This is about collaboration.  This is about having a common agenda.


 Azeb Worku: CEO of ARTS TV

Azeb Worku is a successful producer, director, playwright translator, actress, journalist and a feminist. Azeb is one of three scriptwriters of the TV drama series Eregnaye. The film maker is best known for her character in the Dana TV series. She stands firm on women’s issues, challenging stereotyping of women. One of her major works intentionally casted a dark color girl as the main character to defy the concept of beauty and to redefine it.

Azeb uses her expertise, position and exposure to advocate for women’s rights. One outstanding example was her campaign against an attempt by a popular social media activist who tried to hash a public uproar for justice for a girl who died of a gang rape.  The script that she wrote to fight the injustice of society’s judgment on rape victims as if the victims had it coming, won a short movie award and got grant from the US embassy.

Azeb works relentlessly to take young aspiring actresses under her wings by sharing her network, mentoring and showing them the ropes of this hard to break art world.

Beza Hailu: Writer, Director, Producer

Beza Hailu is a scriptwriter, director, and producer born and raised in Ethiopia. She is one of the three scriptwriters of the ARTS TV drama Eregnaye. Beza moved to the United States when she was fourteen and lived there for some years before moving back to Ethiopia to pursue her lifelong dream of filmmaking. She wrote, directed and produced her first feature film titled Enkoklesh, which became critically acclaimed. Since then, she has produced two more feature films and has written stories/screenplays for five features as well as producing documentaries for nonprofit organizations such as Mekedonia.

In 2015, Beza was awarded a scholarship from the U.S. State Department to attend the Professional Development Program at the Relativity Media College in Hollywood, where she got her certification for screenwriting. She is an active participant of different film associations in Ethiopia. She was also part of the Task Force of Film Makers who provided their expertise and support during the Policy Document revision and then ratification of the Ethiopian Film Policy in 2017.

Kemer, President of AWiB, and moderator for the night opened the program by welcoming attendees, introduced AWiB to non-members and asking the speakers to introduce themselves.

A famous actor, Dirbework Seifu, known for her work in Eregnaye as the graceful mother, was part of the audience.

What was the initial agenda in Eregnaye? How did it reflect women’s agenda?

Eregnaye, the word itself translates to ‘My Shepherd’. The agenda of Eregnaye is simply Ethiopia. Eregnaye was written 4 years ago, during the time that Ethiopia was faced with numerous hardships, more or less, similar to what we are facing currently. The baseline for the story in the beginning was:

“የተከፋፋለውን አንድ ላይ አድርጉ የተሰበረውን ሊጥግኑ የተበተኑትን ሊሰበስቡ መልካም እረኞች ተነስተዋለ”.The writers made their base in answering the questions that came up with this line as a way to really find what Eregnaye’s agenda was all about. Building a strong, developed and capable country is their focus agenda, which brings along a generation who can work for the community, who know their country and their history. The current situation in Ethiopia can clearly show us how not only individuals or part of a country but instead the whole country get affected with various horror when our country weakens, especially women and children, as they are the most vulnerable group in a state of chaos.

How can we include women as part of an agenda?

The agenda was created before the writing of Eregnaye, as they started writing, other agendas came through, for instance, social and economical empowerment, disabled persons, underage marriage, etc. We have all encountered the type of music videos and films that are objectifying women, either it is based on her beauty or her body, it does not get beyond that and so as women, the writers hold it upon themselves to change how women are viewed and enlighten the broad aspect of womanhood, and women’s virtue in general.

Our agenda, as women of Ethiopia, seems to be scattered to different pieces lately, which has made it difficult for women to bring their common agenda together as one by consensus. Is it possible for women with different backgrounds and sectors to have a common agenda in the first place?  If so, as AWiB, what should be raised as a women’s agenda?

The basic common feature of women altogether is their womanhood, and what we should fight against together is oppression, this brings women all around the world as one. With every difference comes some form of oppression. In every community, there is the oppression of women, either based on their colour, age, gender, work, language and every other difference found in women. Aside from that, we all face different problems based merely on our gender. Everyone should open their eyes to see problems that women are facing in their surroundings, it is our duty to be aware then create that similar awareness for those women who are getting affected. This is so they can also see how that is affecting their lives and potential. We should work towards examining and challenging the oppression we encounter in our culture and community’s moral beliefs.

Women’s agenda is usually seen to be an effort of the elite women, considered to be ‘The Elite movement’, which limits the outcome only benefiting the higher class of the society. It is crucial for women, and people, in general, to go further than the elites, and go down to the base and work towards reshaping the policy to make an impactful outcome altogether.  A successful example of a common agenda movement is the ‘Me too’ movement which made its base in the USA. Due to their development, America has reached the point where they can upgrade their agenda taking it to Hollywood. But as for Ethiopia, we can not bring this similar agenda and expect it to have a similar outcome, as it is not a prior agenda to every woman, same applies to sanitation and other far fetched agendas when bringing in new policies. As part of our community, we can each contribute by bringing in solutions that require us to come together and set a common agenda that comes prior to every other issue.

In our everyday work, it is often said that women ignore mistreatments in the workplace, women pull back other women being one of the many causes of her downfall. What was their experience in this regard? How can women support each other in the workplace?

Azeb, as a boss of Arts media, personally has encountered several clashes in the workplace, instead of reacting to them, she chooses for their actions not to affect her, and sets them aside, where later on she approaches such issues smoothly. There are always common questions she asks herself as a boss when out in these situations ‘would he have done that if I were a man?’ ‘would he have said that if I were a man?’. Working alongside women has a different positive aura to it. We focus on details and with full potential, especially if we have passion for what we do. As a woman, whether she is an employee or a boss, she does not pass silent and ignore problems aside, instead brings them to the table to find solutions and correct the wrong.

Beza made a firm distinction between behaviour and sex/gender. Working alongside other women, she has realized the issue was never gender/sex rather was behavioural. For her, working alongside two strong writers (Azeb Worku and Kidist Yilma) has been an amazing lifetime experience.

As a child, she lost her father at the age of 8, and her mom was left alone with five kids and because of that many external pressures from her society came along. Many pressured her mother to drop her education and just focus on raising her children. But her mom did not listen to any, instead, she enrolled her kids in private school, raised five kids as a single mother, graduated from college, earned her 2nd degree and worked in the UN. Relatively in the current generation, the pressure on women has somehow decreased to some extent and hopefully, there will be none by the coming generation.

To support each other, people should take the initiative themselves, rather than waiting for others to pave the way. Changemakers like Abebech Gobena, Biniyam of Mekodonia and many others in Ethiopia have taken the bold step of taking initiative beginning from their surroundings.

Audiences were given chances to discuss, suggest and raise questions. The following questions were raised by the audience to the speakers:

  • How did the writers(Kidist, Beza, and Azeb) come together in the very beginning?
  • How exactly do the writers come to one decision, how do they resolve conflicts and miscommunication among themselves during writing?
  • How should one act towards workplace problems that a woman faces, especially as a boss?
  • How can others in the film industry be able to do what you have done, or more if possible?
  • Do the writers consider themselves as a politician when writing such a story?
  • How did Eregnaye manage to tackle the problems in the media industry to air it to the audience? Is ARTS TV lucky or is Eregnaye the lucky one?
  • What kind of woman is seen as an excelling woman? Is there a double standard between excelling as a woman and excelling as a man?

In the early beginning, these three writers have never met before on a personal level, but they knew and appreciated each other through their amazing works. They had no prior friendship before getting together to write Eregnaye. Even though it is often said that women do not appreciate themselves, they do not encourage each other- it is false. It is one of the many socially constructed beliefs that women can not get along with each other; such a belief is based on a misconception. All three of them came to Eregnaya with their success, which has enabled them to work smoothly. During their work, they argue a lot, throughout their time together, they have found a common mind within themselves where it began to seem as if they share one mind. This is due to their understanding and inherent passion for the characters they have brought to life.

In the workplace, it is crucial not to react abruptly when incidents happen regarding our role as women. Even if one has been affected, they ought to themselves to try not to show the victim in them. As much as possible, give respect and peaceful responses, as we all get what we give in most scenarios which will make us present ourselves better and higher later on.

Beza shared with the audience how she found the path to art;  growing up went abroad to study and worked a ‘normal’ job outside the media. That did not fulfil her desire, so she had to move back to Ethiopia and pursue art, not just art, but art in its clearest and glorious form. As Beza has put it ‘Now I’ve reached my heart’s desire when I found Eregnaye’.

The reason Eregnaye took 4 years to air was financial incapacity, other than that Eregnaye was written a while back. They had to sell the series to companies, government institutions, and individuals to get financial backing. The writers have also expressed their gratitude to Dashen Bank, as it was the first company to support Eregnaye financially.  Finance is the major reason why other great movies can not reach the audience, it is only because of the financial support that Eregnaye has made it was possible to reach the vast population and pass out knowledge through it.

In addition to this, Kemer enlightened the audience on what AWiB is doing to come to a common agenda. AWiB has been taking steps towards common agenda by empowering women to take over their desires and achieve their goals. One of the many steps taken by AWiB, is through the Women of Excellence award held every year, it is a recognition given to women who have worked towards contributing to the community deserving acknowledgement. During the Women of Excellence, Azeb was a nominee of the 2019 Women of Excellence, where recognition and appreciation are given for her great work.

In regards to being a politician, the writers consider themselves as politicians as they are ultimately working towards changing policies that affect women and therefore the community.

ARTS TV was new at the moment when Eregnaye was to be aired, and so it was an issue since it had no audience at the moment. What the writers did together was aim at making ARTS TV grow along Eregnaye by making the channel reachable to audiences, that is when Azeb got into the CEO position to facilitate the ground for Eregnaye and as well the television channel itself to be promoted.  This has made both Arts, and Eregnaye, lucky to co-exist.

As a closing remark, the speakers shared what excelling as women meant to them. As Azeb has put it rightfully, excelling as women means to be the example we want to see. It begins by looking at what is around us, helping out in every way possible, being able to recognize and acknowledge the works of other persons. This is what makes us excel not only as women but also as a person. Similarly for Beza, a woman of excellence has fought and won her own battle. Her grandmother, for instance, is for her the woman of excellence; she left everything else to take care of her grandchildren for over 15 years. Even though one might have numerous excuses to give up, excellence comes when one has shattered those excuses and elevate above them.

‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ – Mahatma Gandhi

The event concluded with AWiB President Kemer thanking the speakers and moderator for their time, knowledge, and experience-sharing by presenting AWiB’s appreciation gifts.

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