Leading Ethiopian Women Dialogue with Students

This story originally appeared on UN in Ethiopia website

The International Women’s Day event at the Faculty of Business and Economics Campus was organized by the UN Communication Group in collaboration with the Addis Ababa University (AAU) Gender Office and attracted high level female panellists from the arts, business, legal, international organisations and civic engagement actors.

The panel discussion helped young women and men from various faculties of Addis Ababa University to have a chance to interact and dialogue with some of the leading women figures in the country. In addition, the event helped to build youth consciousness towards women’s role in development, social welfare and overall human progress, taking the Ethiopian context into perspective.

Panellists shared their experiences and personal stories of struggles and triumphs to break through barriers to achieve the leadership roles in their area of expertise.

Moderating the discussion, Ms Nahu Senay Girma, Founder and Executive Director of the Association of Women in Business (AWIB) Ethiopia, urged the young youth who attended the discussion to ‘actively participate by asking questions and in general, to always grab opportunities to network’ such as the panel discussion.

Networking
Young women network with Ms Birtukan, Vice President at Enat Bank & Ms Aster, Founder of Tsehaye Zewde Memorial Foundation after the panel discussion

Ms. Birtukan Gebregzi, Vice President of Enat Bank outlined gaps existing in access to finance for women in Ethiopia, often disadvantaged by factors such as lack of ownership of property and land. She stated that being the first bank to be set up by women in Ethiopia, there has been an encouraging growth in numbers of women clients, standing at ‘65%’ however, compared to their male counterparts, ‘women often take lower loans and hence the increment in female clients is more of numerical than financial gain nature’.

Advising the young students to ‘follow their passion and have strong self-belief’, Ms Desta Hagos, one of Ethiopia’s first female artists, who is planning her 50th exhibition this month, also urged the students to ‘not be afraid to pursue dreams but in a focused manner’.

The regional and continental perspective of women empowerment were shared by Ms Aster Zaoude, former regional director of UNIFEM for West Africa, and founder of the Tsehaye Zaoude Foundation supporting visually impaired female students at AAU. She urged the students to ‘work together and build solidarity’ to address issues faced by girls and women.

Ms Zenaye Tadesse, Managing Director of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association encouraged the students to learn about rights while Ms Chachi Tadesse, performer and activists for street children cautioned the participants against a ‘poverty mentality’ that lets thoughts of scarcity translate to physical barriers.

Ms Engedaye Eshete, Chair of Ethiopian Women Entrepreneurs Association spoke of the opportunities opening up for women entrepreneurs and the linkages across the country that her association was establishing including for the disabled.

Selamawit Adugna, a youth activist and a gender and child protection officer for CHADET, urged the university students not to focus on negative issues and barriers but instead find their passion and look for opportunities. ‘There were days when I was doing a job that wasn’t that exciting and if I hadn’t had passion and vision I would not have gotten out of bed.’

The half day discussion reflected on various issues including the laws and policies enacted in the Ethiopian Constitution to create favourable conditions for women and the challenge remaining when it came to execution; deep rooted traditions and stereotypes that continue to impede progress.

The exciting dialogue between the panellists and the auditorium full of students highlighted building awareness in communities; engaging influential people to spearhead change to address attitude-based setbacks; recognizing that men are important partners in empowering women; and investing in building leadership capacities of women.

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