Genet Mengistu, a champion of Women’s Reproductive Rights

“You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion”.

~Hillary Clinton~

Genet Mengistu Haile is Executive Director of Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia, an organization that is devoted to improve the sexual and reproductive health of women, men and young people in Ethiopia. She joined the Association as an ED in October 2012 and oversees more than 700 employees working in eight branches of the Association and 56 health facilities located in nine regional states and two city administrations of the Country.

Genet served in the area of population and reproductive health over three decades at different capacities.  As Director of Population Affairs Directorate in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MOFED) and Department Head of Reproductive Health, Women and Youth Affairs at the National Office of Population, she was responsible for the coordination of the implementation of the National Population Policy of Ethiopia and worked very closely with government and non-government implementing partners to achieve the target set in the population policy and create conducive policy and legal environment.  Genet has also served at Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia from 1982 to 1992, where she had engaged in conducting, analysis and dissemination of various surveys and the first and second National Population and Housing Censuses.

Genet, the only girl in a family of eight was born on June 1958 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  Being the only girl, Genet feels, gave her the opportunity to develop the nurturing and giving character she possesses and loves to adhere to. Her first access to education was “Qes Temhirt”, a traditional school led by monks and priests from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. She went as far us reading Psalms in Ge’ez. She still appreciates the system that encourages kids to build their self confidence by letting them teach their juniors.

Genet then went to a missionary primary school and Kokebe Tsebeha Secondary School.  Even though a second child, after the loss of her elder brother at a very young age, Genet became the eldest by default and responsible supporting her mother with the house chores, the rest of the children’s studies, and their daily activities.

Although uneducated herself, Genet’s mother encouraged her to further her education, especially when her father, the bread winner, passed away when Genet was only a college freshman.

Other than being a very hard working young girl, she was also a very fast moving person. Genet remembers fondly how fast she moved in everything she did and running wherever she went, be it the school, or running errands, she was running, all the time; she might have made it to one of the biggest athletic events of the world had she continued running– for her life it seemed.

Genet joined the AAU statistics department, although her first choice was engineering. She remembers crying for one whole day because she was not assigned to the Engineering department. But, that was it! She chose to move on with what life had offered her as an option and took her studies in Statistics Department seriously.  “Demography and Population” was her special interest that led her to join the Central Statistics Agency, Population Department in 1983. It was the perfect timing because it was the time for the first National Population Census where she took part as a coordinator for Addis Ababa Census and took part in the preparation and dissemination of data collection tools. Her first few years at CSA were the best in shaping her career. She admires her immediate supervisor’s leadership style that encouraged her to read and learn more while she exercised hard work and ethics throughout her endeavor.

Her trip to Australia for a two year (1985-1987) graduate studies in Demography was her first exposure to the world outside her country. She returned home and chose to return to her old job in spite of better opportunities with other many organizations with better privileges. She ended up working on the census analysis for the 1st National Population Census which she worked hard to implement before she left for her studies:

  • 1990 she conducted the family and fertility survey
  • 1993 she was assigned committee member for population policy development
  • 1993 preparation for 2nd National Population Census

In 1994 she was assigned Head, Department of Population under the Prime Minister’s Office of Population and Head of Reproductive Health, Women and Youth Affairs Department.

She also attended the first training on Gender same year. When Women’s Affairs streamlined under each ministry, Genet became the focal person for women affairs at the department. Some of her achievements:

  • Strategy development, policy making, plan of action prep, revisions of articles with in the family law in areas of Divorce, early marriage, rape, abduction, Family planning, promotion of contraceptives, prescription of contraceptives, tax free contraception 1998
  • Awareness creation activities, from parliament to grass root level
  • Key roles Reproductive health society, gender group
  • Board member at the first HIV/AIDS secretariat
  • Conducted adolescent health survey
  • A total of 30 years service at the government office

Her Vision:

Her life time work revolves around creating a safe haven for women in relation to reproductive health and family planning that involved their partners (men) as well. She believes that the level of awareness has increased and people understood that there is no better society without access to family planning options and reproductive health provisions. Thus, she was highly involved in:

  • Formulating policies and strategies for the Government to get involved and implement family planning and mainstream women’s affairs under each ministry
  • Advocating Tax free contraception and easy access and promotion
  • Preparation and endorsing of Reproductive health strategy and implementation

What she wants to see in Ethiopia and the Community in the future

  • Women empowered to make their own choice and decision in regards to RH and live a healthy life
  • A society free from Reproductive Health  Problem
  • A society where women are self-sufficient in every way

Genet believes the three organizations she worked for more than 30 years have fully complimented her passion and her vision for the nation. She believes the way she was brought up gave her the opportunity to build confidence because she was never told that she couldn’t do it. She grew up facing challenges not shunning away from them.

About her management style, she loves involving everyone working with her and at each and every step so that they know what she knows. She believes in giving the opportunity to build their capacity through training and on job support. Thanks to her immediate supervisor while working for CSA, she appreciates the fact that there was no gender bias and that she was given the opportunity to utilize her potential and was always encouraged to read and was constructively criticized for her work. She, in return coaches young professionals and helps them learn in the process.

As a result of Genet’s unrelenting advocacy for women’s reproductive right:

  • More women have access to family planning options, empowered to making their own informed decision when it comes to FP & RH
  • Policy level activities impacted countless women and men
  • The establishment of the reputable health extension as a result of the work done on RH and FP
  • Access to Safe abortion and Contraception
  • Revision of family law, specifically divorce law
  • Pathfinder technical group team leader for 14 years

Genet is a champion of Women’s Reproductive Health and continues to advocate for the betterment of women’s health in general.

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