Dr Lemlem Aregu: The Women’s Rights Advocate

Dr. Lemlem Aregu smiling

In the vibrant city of Adama, Ethiopia in 1970, the remarkable journey of Dr. Lemlem begins. The eldest of six siblings, Lemlem remembers being enveloped in a world filled with love and tenderness from her parents. She and her siblings [two brothers and three sisters] always had an equal workload around the house. Looking back, she feels fortunate to have been raised in a progressive and gender-neutral household. Her favorite childhood memory was the comforting aroma the weekends brought when her father, a dedicated veterinarian, cooked breakfast.

The pressure of being firstborn raised expectations from her family, but it didn’t deter young Lemlem from being a focused student. After high school, Lemlem joined Hawassa College of Agriculture where she excelled in her education. She continued to study for her BSc degree in the advanced standing program in Plant Science at Haramaya University. After graduating in 1997, she worked as a Junior Researcher in agronomy at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research at Holetta Center. As an agronomist, Lemlem studied plants and how they can be grown, modified, & used to benefit society. While working in this field, she started asking questions like: what are the reasons for the stagnation in agricultural transformation over the course of many years? What should be included in a high-quality national agricultural plan? How do we strengthen the capacities of farmer groups? Her curiosity led her to pursue her master’s degree at Wageningen University & Research Centre in the Netherlands in Rural Sociology. Her master’s allowed her to step into the world of social sciences and subsequently return to the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organization as an Assistant Researcher in socio-economics.

In 2003, Lemlem had an opportunity to work at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) as a Socio-Economist in a Forest Genetics Resource conservation project. The project supports the management & conservation of areas & forests in cooperation with actors from other professions. She was also a focal person for gender and HIV/AIDS in the project. Soon after, Lemlem began working with SOS Sahel Ethiopia, a national NGO, in the gender and pastoralism project. She has over 15 years of rural development experience in Ethiopia and has honed her leadership skills by working on the improvement of the economic and social status of pastoral women by linking them with new & rewarding natural product markets.

In 2007, Lemlem became a Gender Specialist at the International Livestock Research Institute [ILRI], Addis Ababa where her work highlighted the relationship between gender and agriculture. She covered issues like how gender equality goes hand-in-hand with macroeconomic & financial stability, stimulating economic growth, boosting private & public sector performance, and reducing income inequality.

Dr. Lemlem’s passion for education led her to pursue her third degree in Rural Development at BOKU University, Austria [The University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna]. She acquired specialized knowledge and skills that allowed her to uplift rural communities, particularly women. Dr. Lemlem proceeded to pursue her post-doctoral in the World Fish of the CGIAR center in the stunning country of Myanmar. She served as a Gender Research Fellow for three years before returning to Ethiopia.

Her next move was joining a social enterprise dedicated to empowering women and girls called INCLUDOVATE which stands for innovation for inclusiveness. She was the Gender and Agricultural Portfolio Lead, a women-dominated environment where Lemlem adored working in. In 2020, she joined the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Institute (ATI) as an Advisor for Gender Inclusiveness. She has since been promoted to the Director for Women and Social Affairs. Her job allowed her to work on what she loved the most – field work and conducting case studies.

Lemlem enjoys networking with friends and thrives in social settings where idea-sharing that turns into fruition ensues. She is a firm believer that one can aid communities not only financially but with ideas as well. Equipped with experience in funding research, Lemlem and her colleagues delivered assistance to agricultural and environmental sectors in need of intervention. In 2008, while on a field trip to Bure Woreda with her colleagues, Lemlem discovered that the children in Arbis village/kebele weren’t attending school. Determined to help, the group organized a local teaching program whereby young priests teach the younger kids, provide school supplies, and assign a team to foresee the progress. Eventually, the Ministry of Education took over—and to think it all began with a simple suggestion to the community!

Lemlem’s dedication to improving the lives of people led her to volunteer as a Vice President in a professional-based organization called ALEN LE’WOGEN established in 2020. The aim of the organization is to alleviate the livelihood of people who faced crisis in the flames of Ethiopia’s civil war.

‘How did I use my privilege?’ is a life principle that Lemlem attributes to her accomplishments. She believes in seizing every opportunity and having a growth mindset. Lemlem is open-minded, receptive to learning, and ready to take advantage of opportunities that come her way through education, disregarding others’ unhelpful opinions, and persevering through challenges. She continues to be grateful for her experiences.

For Lemlem, leadership entails wielding decision-making authority. She believes leadership can extend beyond formal settings and encompass social contexts as well by taking initiative and inspiring others.

Lemlem adopts a gender-focused lens in her perspective when offering advice to young women: ‘Take pride in your identity and accomplishments because as women we often need to surpass higher standards to attain similar positions. Use the challenges you encounter as fuel to propel yourself forward rather than holding you back. Embrace the power to overcome.

Lemlem expresses her admiration and pride in being an AWiB member. She shared that out of all the organizations she came across AWiB truly impresses her. Dr. Lemlem wholeheartedly appreciates AWiB for helping members nurture their personal & professional growth and actively striving for their betterment. She wishes for more women to access the opportunities AWiB provides.

AWiB extends her gratitude to Dr. Lemlem for her graciousness in sharing valuable insights from her life journey.

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