Sehin Teferra (PhD) was born and raised in Addis Ababa where she lives to date. Sehin attended Nazereth School up to the sixth grade but confesses she found the rigidness too confining. She credits her father for her move to the Sanford English Community School during the seventh grade, where she completed her high school education, earning an International Baccalaureate diploma. Sehin received her first degree in Sociology from the University of LaVerne, an American University in Athens, Greece. Immediately after, she was employed in the aid sector in Ethiopia where she wanted to work. She went back to school for her master’s degree in Clark University in Massachusetts in the United Stated for a Master’s in International Development with a focus on Gender.
Reflecting on her career choices, Sehin states that:
“I have always been aware there is a limited time to work in your life – at best, you will have a small impact. There are many entry points but it is important to identify the one that will lead you to where you can work to influence change. Everything I have ever done has had the intention of serving Ethiopian women, and it has formed my path to Setaweet.”
Following her Master’s, Sehin worked in Chiang Mai Thailand for one year. Back in Addis, she joined an international NGO as the first Gender Advisor.
“Working in development raised a lot of questions for me. It felt very colonial. I really struggled with it.” she says.
While her experience has given her a lot in terms of experience, learning from the women she worked with and traveling all over Ethiopia; she felt a disconnect between what is perceived in Addis or abroad and the experiences of the women she worked with was “very top down, very condescending.” It was at that point in her life when realization dawned of what she wanted to do with her life, how she wanted to make her impact, she wanted to do something academic.
All of this combined with a lot of curiosity, especially concerning feminism, resulted in her decision to quit her job seven years ago and pursue her PhD.
After applying to three PhD programs with no success, she was accepted to SOAS University in the United Kingdom with a scholarship. Coincidentally, within a month, she was engaged to be married, she was pregnant and she was accepted to a PhD program. All at once she had everything that happens once in a lifetime, she wanted her PhD, she was happy to be pregnant and she was to be married. She shares her reserve that perhaps doing all that in one year was not the best idea but she did it anyway.
In 2010, she was in a PhD program, living in London and dealing with a very difficult pregnancy. “We are told that we can have it all but it is extremely difficult,” she says recalling that time in her life. She spent a year in the UK pregnant and alone, away from her husband and her family.
“Pregnancy is no joke.”
At the end of the year, she was ready to welcome her daughter, having scheduled her exam early so she can come back to Addis to deliver. However, her daughter arrived three weeks early. Two weeks after her daughter was born, she was back to attending class, wearing her newborn in a sling. As with most women, she found being a first-time mom to be a shock. She found the physical exhaustion of breastfeeding and the challenges of being a new mother something she was completely unprepared for.
None the less, by the end of the academic year, she had passed her exams and was officially a PhD candidate and traveled back home with her daughter. After that point, she recalls it being an easier time. Her schedule fit in well with her new role as a mom. Working on her paper on sex workers in Addis Ababa, she scheduled her interviews and took her daughter along and at home, her mother supported her while she worked. While so many are surprised how she managed it, she confesses she found it to be much easier than her time in London.
“My baby was up all night, I was up all night…It was manageable.”
Around the time, the work to found Setaweet was underway, however; she had to put it on hold for her second pregnancy. Again, it was a very difficult pregnancy. In 2015, she passed her examination and finally received her PhD. After working part-time while taking care of her children, she shares she found clarity after that. With two children in school, she was more focused. Within a month of her son entering pre-school, the office was set up and Setaweet was operational.
Sehin is the co-founder of Setaweet, the feminist movement in contemporary times, and the managing partner of Setaweet Plc, the custodian of the movement. There are seven people working in the small but vibrant Setaweet office on the Comet building in the Haya Hulet area. According to Sehin, the best part of being your own boss is that you have the luxury to work around your children’s schedule. She works until 3pm, picks her children up from school and does not get back to work until after they are asleep.
Following a hybrid social enterprise model, Setaweet covers its expenses through the research and training activities of Setaweet Plc. There is limited financial return, Sehin states, but she finds the response to the work they do very rewarding. Setaweet, to her, is all about giving back, where her team works on strategic activism with a goal of consciousness shift within the community.
Setaweet activism takes the form of the monthly flagship women’s circles, bi-monthly Open Sessions, a strong engagement with both social and mainstream media, and periodic campaigns such as #ArifAbbat (with the Embassy of Sweden), #PagumeActivism (with the leadership of the Yellow Movement) and #AcidAttacks. Setaweet also supports the work of the Yellow Movement around sexual assault and harassment at Addis Ababa University. Disability is a strong area of focud for Setaweet, and we have recently conducted a training of gender-based violence and rights to blind women students of Addis Ababa University supported by the Tsehay Zaoude Memorial Scholarship. Lastly, the Setaweet team makes an effort to make sessions as accessible and as inclusive as possible. Sehin recognizes Setaweet as a movement whose time has come and she credits other organizations she works with, such as EWLA and Yellow movement, for their partnership.Setaweet also works with AWSAD, donating clothes during holidays and spending the holidays there as a show of solidarity.
In addition to Setaweet, Sehin co-organized a women’s conference while in graduate school and has worked on environmental issue while undertaking her undergraduate studies. Her biggest contribution, according to Sehin, is to contribute to a movement that is popularizing women’s rights as an important issue. Sehin’s most important role is to raise feminist, conscious and respectful children that are proud of their Ethiopian heritage.
Her greatest accomplishments are her children and of course, Setaweet. She acknowledges AWiB for the influence in initiating Setaweet, which contributed to Setaweet.
While Sehin does not have as much free time as she would like, she likes to read, enjoys live music and spending time with friends. She has recently taken on the challenge by a fellow feminist, to read up and educate herself on various topics she feels she has fallen behind on concerning feminism. She contributes to various charitable initiatives but prefers to interact first hand by volunteering, which she regrets not having enough time for.
Her message for the younger generation is: “Be humble”.
To learn more about Setaweet, please visit them at: www.setaweet.com.
The social media sites of Setaweet are:
Facebook- Setaweet Movement
SoundCloud- Setaweet Movement
YouTube- Setaweet Movement
LinkedIn- Setaweet movement.