Right Based Approach to Women’s Access to Clean Energy

Right Based Approach to Women’s Access to Clean Energy

Filagot Tsefaye & Mahlet Desalgn 


In Ethiopia, 57% of households have access to at least one source of electricity and 43% have no access to any electricity source. 88% of people’s energy source is from biomass and from this, the household sector accounts for 88.2% of total final energy consumption, the majority of which is collected and used by women. Ethiopian Women are more vulnerable to the lack of energy access as women are primary caregivers and providers of both food and fuel. The use of traditional wood-fired stoves and open fires cause indoor air pollution which can result in serious health problems, primarily for women and children who are primary users. The strenuous task of collecting firewood for cooking is usually carried out by women, which exposes women to the risk of injuries, pregnancy complications and even maternal mortality. In the rural areas of Ethiopia, women and children endure injuries due to kerosene burns. With only 24% of female Ethiopian Electric Utility employees, female participation and representation in the energy sector is very minimal as is women’s representation in the energy sector. The lack of female involvement in the energy sector is holding back development.

Women can play a critical role in response to energy poverty by using their local knowledge and skills regarding sustainable resource management at the household and community levels. Incorporating female representation at the institutional and community level is crucial for women to ensure their access to clean energy. It is time for decision makers to find mechanisms to fully support women as important stakeholders in the energy sector and as citizens with the basic right to energy. Additionally, engaging more women as decision makers plays an important role in reaching female customers, creating employment opportunities and ensuring the sustainable utilization of technology.


Keywords – Clean energy, Women, Poverty, Representation, Rights 


Today, more than 70% of the world live in the 20 most populous countries, of which Ethiopia is ranked 12th with a population of 115,485,981 (Country meter, 2020). In Ethiopia, 21.3% of the population lives in urban areas and 78.7% reside in rural areas where women carry out the majority of the household and agricultural labor. The work includes washing, cleaning, preparing meals, child-rearing, and taking care of the family’s needs. In rural communities, apart from their various household responsibilities, women are involved in tending to livestock for the purpose of land cultivation, harvesting, food storage, and construction of houses. On top of that, in many rural communities, girls are trained from a young age to assist with household responsibilities (Slmeida & Alphina, 1994). Women are producers, procreators and active participants in the community’s social and cultural activities. 

The development of a country is correlated to its consumption of electric power. A developed country consumes higher volumes of energy and underdeveloped countries have lower consumption rates. The quality of life also depends on the electric power infrastructure (Getie E. M., 2020). Ethiopia has abundant electric power resource potential with nonrenewable and renewable energy resources. However, 55% of the population use wood for food preparation and have no electrical infrastructure (IEA, 2019).

All around the world, women’s contribution goes largely unrecognized. They face restrictions on access to resources, participation in decision-making roles, and engaging in income-generating activities. Many women in developing countries like Ethiopia have direct contact with the natural environment as they collect essential items for their daily needs. In lower and middle-class households and across rural Ethiopia, women use traditional open fires fueled by firewood and charcoal. 

Women have numerous responsibilities that are undeniably essential at the household, community, and national levels yet they are denied the right to access energy. Women are vulnerable to lack of energy access due to their role as primary caregivers and providers of food and fuel. The indoor air pollution caused by the use of traditional wood-fired stoves and open fires exposes women and children to serious health problems. 

Access to Energy 

Energy is crucial for socio-economic growth, the alleviation of poverty, and the improvement of living standards. At the household level, energy is critical for basic functions, such as lighting, cooking, heating, and the operation of appliances. Energy is needed to support livelihoods, education, and overall wellbeing. There is no universally adopted definition of what ‘access to energy’ means, however, most definitions are aligned with the delivery of energy or electricity to safe cooking facilities and a minimum level of consumption (Ritchie & Roser, 2019).  The International Energy Agency (IEA) definition entails more than just the delivery of energy to households, it specifies the minimum level of electricity that households need. The minimum level of electricity, although increasing over time, is determined based on whether the household is in a rural or urban area. For rural households, the minimum threshold is 250 Kilowatt (kW) per year and for urban households, it is 500 kW per year (International Energy Agency, 2019).

Access to energy is increasingly being recognized as a key enabler of economic growth, sustainable development, and poverty reduction. So much so that it is a stated goal in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). However, despite significant progress in recent years, the world is falling behind in meeting the global energy targets set in the UN SDGs for 2030 (World Bank, 2019). According to a new report produced by a cohort of international energy experts, ensuring affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by the year 2030 is still possible. However, it will require more sustained efforts to reach some of the world’s poorest populations and to improve energy sustainability. The report stating this was produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank and the World Health Organization (United Nations, 2019).

Energy poverty is pervasive. One in five people in Africa and South Asia do not have access to electricity. Close to 3 billion people (40% of the global population) burn solid fuels like wood, charcoal, animal waste or crop residue in open fires or sub-par stoves for their daily cooking and heating needs (United Nations Development Programme, 2017). The electrification rate in Africa increased by 12.9% (to 43%) in the 20 years from 1990 to 2010 going from 186 million to 444 million people with access to electricity with an increase of 12.8 million people gaining access per year. However, the total population during the 20 year period increased annually by 20.65 million, outpacing electrification efforts (UNECA, 2018). Between 2010 and 2012, the electrification rate in Africa increased to 45.1% with 25 million people gaining access to electricity per year while the total population grew by 27.5 million per year (IEA, 2019). From 2012 to 2014, the electrification rate in Africa continued to grow, reaching 46.9%, while the global average was 85.6% (ECA, 2017).

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has the lowest energy access in the world. Electricity reaches only about half of its people, with one-third of the population cooking with clean energy and roughly 600 million people cooking with traditional fuels (International Energy Access, 2018). A World Bank Sustainable Energy for All 2020 report shows that in 25 sub-Saharan countries including Ethiopia, less than 50% of the country has access to energy; in 5 countries, it is below 25%.

Ethiopia has a final energy consumption of around 40,000 GWh, whereby 92% is consumed by domestic appliances, 4% by the transport sector and 3% by the industrial sector. Most of the energy supply is bioenergy, which in the case of domestic use, usually comes from unsustainable sources (Energypedia, 2020). Ethiopian households that have access to at least one source of electricity account for 57% of the population. 88% of people’s energy source comes from biomass and from this, the household sector accounts for 88.2% of total final energy consumption, the majority of which is collected and used by women (Hossain, Elizabeth, Claudia, Mekonnen, & Rosegrant, 2018). Ethiopia is now focused on utilizing hydropower as the main source of energy. Nevertheless, political issues with neighboring countries that have been dependent on the Nile river, with 85% of its water source coming from Ethiopia, have made Ethiopia’s plans precarious and unpredictable (Mukum, 2020).

Access to Clean Energy

Clean energy is energy that will not pollute the environment. Also referred to as renewable energy, it is energy that does not incur environmental debt by using up resources that cannot be replaced or severely damaging the environment so that the future generation must solve problems created today (Christensen, 2020). The basic forms of clean energy are energy sources that are generated from water, wind, or solar.  Clean energy works to combat climate change by creating little to no emissions that pollute the environment.  

Access to clean energy is essential to the modernization of energy and public health services. Additionally, access to clean energy is necessary to reducing gender inequality and mitigating environmental impacts for poorer populations (The Research and Data Section of UN Women, 2014). The use of traditional biomass (wood, charcoal, and dung) in open fires or sub-par stoves for cooking and heating compromises indoor air quality. Indoor smoke contains a variety of pollutants that, when inhaled, can lead to adverse health effects, especially for women whose lungs consume it most. 

Ethiopia is facing the dual challenge of limited access to modern energy and a heavy reliance on traditional biomass energy. Access to clean cooking solutions is still very limited throughout the country (Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy, 2020). Despite the country having a rich endowment of renewable energy sources and having achieved almost total access to electricity in urban areas, access in rural areas is still limited to zero.  

With the goal of becoming a middle-income country by 2025, Ethiopia is making major strides to promote clean and sustainable energy. As part of its Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), the Ethiopian government is working on a variety of clean energy projects and initiatives to build clean energy production. Currently, Ethiopia’s main source of clean energy is hydropower; however, the government is expanding its thermal, solar, and wind energy. (Bykov, 2019).

Lack of Access to Energy 

Energy is arguably one of the major challenges the world faces today that touching all aspects of our lives. For those living in extreme poverty, the lack of access to modern energy services dramatically affects their health, limits the number of opportunities to create jobs and generate income, limits sustainable development and widens the gap between the haves and have nots (WHO, 2009). The immediate obstacle to access to energy for many poor households and governments in developing countries is the lack of financial resources. Where access to energy is lacking, the needs of other urgent human and societal needs are often not met, meaning that energy needs must compete with other priorities (Ahuja & Tatsutani, 2009).

Ethiopia has tremendous advantages.  The country has the second-highest installed and available capacity for electricity generation in Sub-Saharan Africa, at 4.5 Giga Watt (IRENA, 2012).  It has a well-developed transmission and distribution network, with nearly 80% of the population living within proximity of medium-voltage transmission lines (IRENA, 2012). It has abundant sources of renewable energy just waiting to be tapped. The wind, solar and geothermal energy possibilities are enough to easily supply the entire country’s power needs. It is one of the few countries in the world where the electric grid is nearly 100% supplied by renewable sources. 

These advantages, however, stand in contrast to the realities on the ground.  About 70% of the population lives without electricity. The lack of power also impacts basic services with only 24% of primary schools and 30% of health clinics having access to electricity. This discrepancy between abundant resources and unmet needs points to the need for a radical new approach (The World Bank, 2018).

The lack of access to modern energy poses significant economic, environmental, and social challenges. Affordable and clean energy services are critical in supporting the provision of basic needs such as food, light, utilities, water, sanitation, essential health care, education, communication, and transportation. These services also have impacts on income generation and productive activities such as agriculture and industry; this means that a lack of access to energy leads to increased poverty and inequality.

Impacts of the Lack of Energy Access on Women 

Energy poverty has a female face. Men and women use energy differently and therefore have different levels of access to it. While men are the beneficiaries of energy, women are the primary energy users and the most vulnerable to the lack of energy access. With limited or no energy access, they are the one responsible for finding alternative energy sources do meet their daily needs; they work in the home where they prepare food, wash clothes and carry out other household activities. They depend on small-scale agriculture and locally available resources to support their daily needs. Even where infrastructure is physically available, women are often hindered in gaining access to the available energy sources due to the lack of finances, appliances, information, training, and education (International Network on Gender and Sustainable Snergy, 2020). The lack of access to clean energy also has a huge impact on climate change and air pollution. 

Every day, women around the world face the consequences of not having access to modern energy. The use of electricity has a gendered impact on labor supply and labor demand, leading to different income generation outcomes for men and women. Because women are the primary energy users, it is their time that is spent finding alternative energy sources such as collecting and hauling firewood, charcoal, and animal dung. Energy access can affect the opportunities that the labor markets have to offer women when it comes to income generation (Winther, Matinga, Ulsrud, & Standal, 2017). When health facilities do not have energy, they cannot pump water for patients which costs the lives of pregnant women during delivery.  The lack of energy for water pumping forces women to travel long distances to fetch water which lessens their productivity by causing them to spend a significant amount of their energy on getting water alone. Traveling far distances to fetch water also makes them vulnerable to violence and abduction, especially if there is a scarcity of water sources in their area.

Women in rural areas usually spend hours each day searching for fuelwood or resort to collecting and using various forms of biomass, deadwood, grass shrubs, sawdust, wood chips, trimmings, twigs, animal dung, crop residue and other plant materials (Olugboji, 2016). Urban women, however, rely on firewood merchants. In addition to the daily struggles that women face in finding sufficient firewood for their energy needs, the smoke and residue from open fire stoves pose grave dangers to their health (Olanike, 2020). Women and children, particularly in rural areas, face the risk of injuries and kerosene burns.

Access to modern energy services plays a key role in facilitating access to basic necessities such as clean water, sanitation, health, cooking, mechanical power, transport, and telecommunication services (Habtezion, 2013). Access to clean energy directly benefits women’s health and wellbeing. 

Women’s Participation in the Energy Sector

Women represent the majority of the Ethiopian population at 50.2% of the population (United Nation, 2017). However, Ethiopia has one of the lowest gender equality performance indicators. The 2010 Global Gender Gap report ranks Ethiopia at 121 out of 134 countries in terms of the magnitude and scope of gender disparities. Contrary to Ethiopia’s progress in achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), improvement in women’s empowerment (MDG-3) is minimal (UN Women, 2018). Women are strongly disadvantaged compared to men in several areas. They are restricted from making decisions on matters that pertain to their interests and are disproportionately excluded from social, economic, and political spheres (UN Women, 2018). In 2016 a report revealed that only 48% of married women between the ages of 15–49 were employed in the 12 months leading up to the survey while 99% of married men in the same age group were either employed or had been employed in the last 12 months. In terms of earnings, 58% of women earn less than their husbands while 16% of women earn more than their husbands (CSA and ICF, 2016). Marriage also plays a huge role in hindering women from gaining an education. Women have a high drop-out rate from school after marriage; 25% of women were attending school when they got married and 75% of these women stopped going to school after they married (CSA and ICF, 2016). 

Efforts to address gender in energy at the household and community level is often focused on women’s access to energy sources and clean cookstoves, enhancing women’s economic situation, or building women’s entrepreneurship skills in the energy market (Elwell, Mershon, & Aguilar, 2014). However, gender issues are not addressed enough in policymaking or at the higher levels of the energy industry. 

Women’s participation and representation in the energy sector is very minimal. Globally, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) has observed disproportionately low levels of female participation in energy regulation and also noted the need for a resource that can inform and provide guidance to energy regulators on gender equality. In the local setting, a recent World Bank study indicated that only 24% of Ethiopian Electric Utility employees are female. In Ethiopia, a web of contributing factors such as harmful cultural practices and gender norms prevent women from joining the formal workforce, particularly from joining the male-dominated energy sector. This industry is one of Ethiopia’s key growth areas and the exclusion of women from opportunities in this market deepens Ethiopia’s gaps in gender equality (USAID, 2020). When women are employed in energy enterprises, social norms may confine them to more transient, lesser-paid positions. Gender biases also limit the participation of women in technology design, making systems less attuned to the needs of the primary energy users, women (Baruah 2015). These biases can also hinder the information women receive on new or updated forms of energy or energy technology (ESMAP, 2013). Discriminatory social norms and practices can limit opportunities for different demographics and socio-economic classes (Nelson & T.Kuriakose, 2017). The lack of female involvement in the energy sector is holding back the development of the energy sector.

There are grave consequences of policies and investments that do not take into account of the needs of women in regards to energy access. Since women often make decisions at the household level about energy use and are the primary users of energy, energy policies can tap into the social implications by better understanding the needs of women. When women serve as policymakers, executives, employees, and entrepreneurs, evidence shows that energy policies are more effective, energy-related products have higher sales, and utilities have higher returns on equity and investment (USAID, 2020). Gender equity in energy enables economic prosperity for all citizens. In addition to empowering and supporting women as employees and policymakers, the inclusion of women can reduce the negative impacts that regulatory policies have on energy users as well as the negative impacts of infrastructure projects by helping redirect those projects to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable populations (USAID, 2020).


Access to clean energy is a woman’s right. Energy allows women to engage in and have access to knowledge, finance, socio-economic development, economic independence and growth. Women and men face different challenges in the use of energy and in their access to energy. Women are energy producers and consumers which means that the lack of access to energy impacts women’s health, productivity, development, and growth. 

When women have access to the energy it contributes to poverty reduction. Energy access saves women a great deal of time, substitutes the need for arduous manual labor, and eliminates the drudgery of fetching fuelwood and water. Access to energy frees up women’s time for income-generating activities. When energy forms such as wood fuel and kerosene stoves that generate pollution are replaced by improved clean energy access, it reduces indoor air pollution levels and therefore improves the health of women and children. Women can play a critical role in responding to energy poverty by using their local knowledge and sustainable resource management skills at the household and community level. 


The following recommendations are based on the findings of this study and provided to ensure women’s right to energy access. 

  • Women should be encouraged and given the space to participate in making policy regulations in the energy sector. The inclusion of women in energy access activities is critical in understanding the barriers and special use cases for women in relation to energy access. 
  • Gender balance should be ensured in each phase of energy projects. This can be done by intentionally including the perspectives of women as both beneficiaries as well as active participants in the design and implementation of the projects. 
  • Women should gain access to economic independence and work in energy sector related business opportunities in their communities.
  • The government should encourage and invest in renewable energy technology and encourage women to use the generated energy to generate income through businesses such as barbershops, recreation centers, poultry, sewing, etc.


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Gender Dimensions of Internal Displacement in the Central Gondar Zone

Gender Dimensions of Internal Displacement in the Central Gondar Zone

Abebech Chekol
In 2018, Ethiopia was among the top three countries in the world with the largest internally displaced populations due to conflict and violence, both of which are occurring in six regions, 19 zones & 42 districts. Chilga, East Dembiya and Armachiho districts have the highest population of internal displaced persons in the Central Gondar Zone. Because internal displacement affects men and women differently, the general objective of this study was to analyze gender dimension effects of internal displacement in the Chilga and East Dembiya districts in Central Gondar Zone. Both primary and secondary data sources were used. Primary data was gathered through questionnaires, and in-depth, key informants’ interviews. The concurrent parallel design was used and 364 respondents were engaged.

Quantitative data was analyzed through the use of descriptive statistics and qualitative data was analyzed through the use of narration and thematic analysis. The results showed that the major effects of internal displacement were insecurity (90%), loss of   livelihood (84%), disruption of social life (74%), homelessness (70%), health issues (70%), damaged crops (62%), poor hygiene (58%), stress (57%) and increased gender-based violence (55%). Due to women’s limited access to resources, information and mobility, as well as gender roles, women are disproportionately affected by these issues. Displaced women have greater exposur to gender-based violence, unwanted pregnancy, menstrual irregularities, stress, and depression. Not to mention that child birth is taking place in very complicated conditions. In general, internal displacement has economic, social, cultural, political and psychological effects on displaced persons, host communities and nations. However, the effects on women are compounded by their marginalization and the nature of their roles in society.  Having noted this, it is recommended that the government take these realities into account and protect the human rights of internally displaced women accordingly.


Keywords – Internal displacement, Gender based violence, Effects and Human right



Globally, the forcibly displaced population increased by 2.9 million in 2017 with a global total of 68.5 million individuals displaced due to persecution, conflict, or generalized violence by the end of the year (UNCHR, 2017).  About 30.6 million new internal displacements associated with conflict and disasters were recorded in 2017 across 143 countries and territories in developing countries             ( Internal Displacement Monitoring center, 2018). In 2018, Ethiopia had the largest percentage of IDPs in the world (Yigzaw et.al, 2019).

According to several local and international reports, Ethiopia has topped all countries by recording the highest number of internally displaced people. For instance, a report from the Norwegian Refuge Council shows that conflict has uprooted about 1.4 million Ethiopians from their homes in  Amhara,  Somali, Oromia,  and  Southern  Nations, Nationalities, and People’s (SNNP) regions in 2018 alone (Norewegian Refuge Council, 2018). Similarly, the International Displacement Monitoring Center report indicated that a new conflict broke out in west Goji and Gedeo that caused more than a million new displacements in the first half of 2018 alone (Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, 2018).

Internally displaced people are the most vulnerable groups worldwide as compared to refugees who have legal protection by international communities. In general, internally displaced people have less legal protection because of the relatively little attention paid to them by international communities (Michele, 2013). Internally displaced people go through different socio-economic problems which extend from displacement to the recovery phases. According to a report from the International Organization for Migration on Internal Displacement, many displaced people live in camps and camp like settings where they face challenges from host communities (discrimination, exploitation and   severe deprivation) that increases their vulnerability to trafficking and risk of being recruitment into dangerous activities (International Organization for Migration, 2017).


Generally, internal displacement can have severe adverse effects on the physical, social, emotional and spiritual well-being of a person. However, the conditions affect women and men differently. Internally displaced women face a range of protection issues on a daily basis, most notably, sexual and gender-based violence (Brooking Institution, 2014). Therefore, this study is focused on the gender dimension of Internal Displacement and its specific effects on women in the East Dembiya and Chilga districts in the Central Gondar Zone.

Problem Statement of the Study

Internal displacement occurred in 6 regions, 19 zones and 42 districts in Ethiopia in 2018 and 2019 (Ministor of peace, 2019). In September 2018, more than 90,000 IDPs were displaced in the Amhara region especially from Chilga No.1 and No.2, as well as in the Eastern Dembiya and Armachiho localities due to longstanding tensions and sporadic conflicts between the Amhara and Qemant communities (International Organization for Migration, 2019). Many of those displaced are sheltered near T/Dingay town and western Dembiya’s Aymba kebeles (Amhara Region Report , 2019). According to a Chilga No.2 report, the homes and properties of around 17,000 internally displaced peoples who sheltered in Aymba and Azezo were damaged. That situation was especially difficult for women, children and elders who have limited mobility. 


Studies have been conducted on health and internal displacement related issues in Africa. These studies cover the health and social assessment of IDPs (Etikan and Ogujesa, 2019), health risks among vulnerable groups of IDPs (Suleiman, 2018) and an assessment of symptoms among IDPs (Harry et al, 2016). However, they fail to show the gender dimension effects of internal displacement. 

Although there have been many studies conducted in Ethiopia on the effects of internal displacement (Adisu, 2019; Dereje, 2019; Wakigril, 2019; Yigzaw et.al, 2019; Abduselam and Belay , 2018; Habtamu and Jannel, 2017), none of these studies reflect on the gender dimension of internal displacement or the compounded effects of internal displacement for women. This study is an attempt to fill this gap.

Objective of the Study

The overall objective of this study is to assess the effects of internal displacement in Chilga and East Dembiya districts in the Central Gondar Zone using a gender lens. Specifically, the aim of the study is to identify the effects of internal displacement and its effects on women and men in the study area.


Description of the Study Area

Chilga No.1 and Chilga No.2 districts are found in the Central Gondar Zone which is 52 km away from Gondar city. The districts are bordered by the Armachho district (north), Takusa district (south), Metema district (west) and the Dembiya district (east).  Currently, Chilga No. 1 has 23 rural and 2 urban kebeles and Chilga No.2 has 16 rural kebeles.  

East Dembiya is a district with 34 kebeles in the Central Gondar Zone of the Amhara Region of Ethiopia. It borders Central Gondar (east), Chuahet (west), Lake Tana (south), and lower Armachiho and Chilga (north) and is situated 35 kilometers away from Gondar city.

This study was conducted in Tereb Seroka and Eyaho Kebeles in Chilga No.1, Laza Kebele in Chilga No.2, and Shemano, Meqamiya and Aderjeha Kebeles in the East Dembiya District.

Research Methods

Research Design and Approach

The study used a concurrent parallel design which is a single respondent at a single point in time while combining both quantitative and qualitative data gathering. The study also collected mixed research which is the use of both qualitative and quantitative data as a means to cross-check and verify the reliability and validity of the data collected (Meneill and Chapman, 2005).  

Sampling Techniques and Sample Size Determination

Probability and non-probability sampling techniques were used to select the study area, kebeles and respondents. For this, a multi-stage sampling procedure was employed.  First, Chilga No.1, No.2, and East Dembiya districts where selected purposely as sample kebeles because the issue of internal displacement was high and spread out across too many areas to gather research from. Then, the simple random sampling technique was employed to select respondents.  The sample from each kebele was determined based on proportion to allow for equal representation (Yemane, 1967; cited in Israel, 1992). The sample size method is mathematically represented as:

n = N/1-N (e) 2

‘n’ designates the sample size; ‘N’ designates total number of households in all sample kebeles (4102); ‘e’ designates the maximum variability or margin of error 5% (0.05); and ‘1’ designates the probability of the event occurring. Based on the formula above, the total of sample respondents is 364. 

Data Sources and Data Collection Methods

This study used both primary and secondary data sources. Primary data was collected through surveys, in depth interviews and key informants’ interviews. In depth interviews were held with internal displaced persons. Key informant interviews were held with district leaders and community representatives in the sample kebeles.  Secondary data was gathered from books, reports, journals, policy and legal documents.

Methods of Data Analyses

After collecting the data, analysis was conducted through both quantitative and qualitative methods. The 20.0 version of Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) and Microsoft Excel was used to analyze and present the data. 

Results and Discussions

Characteristics of the Respondents

Of the survey respondents, 54 % were male and 46% were female, about which 38% were literate and 62% illeterate (Table 1). From the results, it is evident that there is a high illiteracy rate among the respondents, especially amongst women. It is important to assess literacy because access to information and knowledge is critical in being able to make decisions, negotiate and to have ownership of one’s life. Women are generally at a greater disadvantage because they have less access to educational opportunities than men.

Table 1: Sex and literacy of Respondents

Variables Frequency (#) Percentage (%)



197167 5446

              Literate – Male

              Literate – Female


              Illiterate – Male

               Illiterate – Female












Source: Field Survey Result, 2019/2020


Effects of Internal Displacement

As presented in figure 1, the respondents stated that the major effects of internal displacement include insecurity (90%), loss of livelihoods (84%), disruption of social life (74%), homelessness (70%), health problem (70%), crop damage (62%), poor hygiene (58%), stress (57%) and gender-based violence (55%). These results were confirmed through key informant interviews and in-depth interviews.


Figure 1: Effects of Internal Displacement in the Study Area (Multiple Response)

As noted, one of the respondents said:

“Internal Displacement has many negative effects. The major effects include homelessness, loss of livelihoods, loss of crops, loss of human life, violence, interruption of children’s education, food insecurity, family breakdown, stress and exposure to transmittable diseases.”


In addition to this, an in-depth interviewee added:

“Gender based violence, unwanted pregnancies, menstruation irregularity due to stress and depression, separation of family due to ethnic differences, insecurity, and limited mobility all increase women’s burdens.” 


This implies that internal displacement has many negative effects including economic, social, cultural, political and psychological effects. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (2018) findings state that internal displacement affects the lives of displaced people and their host communities in different ways which can have significant and long-lasting effects on their socio-economics development. However, internally displaced persons are more affected by internal displacement than the host communities and refugees. According to Michele (2013), internally displaced persons are the most vulnerable groups worldwide, as compared to refugees, because internally displaced persons are given less priority and therefore reveive less legal protection from international communities. Internal displacement affects the lives of displaced people in different ways according to the results and those results imply the violation of human rights.

Effects of Internal Displacement on Women & Men

The multiple effects of internal displacement affect women and men differently, especially considering insecurity, stress, gender-based violence, crop damage and poor hygiene (figure 2).  This was confirmed in both in-depth and key informants interviews.

Figure 2: Effects of Internal Displacement on Men and Women (multiple responses)

An in-depth interview participant stated…

“Women are more affected because of the three roles they play. This includes being a productive member of society that can reproduce and is community service oriented while having limited access to resources and information, limited mobility and voice in community as well as gender-based violence. Women are exposed to physical, mental and emotional strain and tension caused by their multiple responsibilities and limitations that overworks both their mind and body.”

One of the key informants who was working in Aymba said

“People who live in Aymba received around 13,000 internal displaced persons who came from Chilga No.1 & 2. The problems displaced persons have been facing so far include the lack of access to housing, food, and water. The local communities have helped by providing housing and collecting clothes and food, however, the situation was very difficult for women and children, especially pregnant women. Pregnant women have had to give birth under very complicated conditions with poor hygiene.”

The above narration highlights how internal displacement affects women and men differently, resulting in greater human rights violations experienced by women. For instance, displaced women face special challenges in accessing healthcare and have different needs, which, when not provided, can result in death, birthing complications, unplanned pregnancies and unattended childbirth (Brooking Institution, 2014; Mulugeta, 2010). Moreover, displaced women living in insecure shelters are at a higher risk of experiencing sexual violence. 

Theoretically, different international treaties have centered equal rights for women and men around economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights. For instance, International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in article (3) states that “the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the present Covenant” (ICESCR, 1966). The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in article 3 indicated that “the right to equality between women and men in the enjoyment of their civil & political rights” (ICCPR, 1966). Ethiopia ratified these international treaties and incorporated its ideals into the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.  For example, in the constitution of FDRE in Article 9(4) it states that all international agreements ratified by Ethiopia are an integral part of the law of the land. In Article 35, the rights of women are referenced in the provision of economic, political, cultural, civil and political rights equal to that of men (FDRE, 1994). However, women and men do not enjoy the economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights equally, especially those that are internally displaced. 




The overall objective of this study is to assess the effects of internal displacement along gender lines in the Chilga and East Dembiya Districts in Central Gondar Zone. The study identified the effects of internal displacement on women and men in the study area.

The result of the study indicated that the major  effects of internal displacement including insecurity, loss of livelihoods, social life disruption, homelessness, health issues, crop damage, poor hygiene, stress, and gender-based violence, all of which affect both women and men, but affect women more and in a variety of ways due to gender roles. Insecurity, stress, gender-based violence, health issues, and limited access to resources and information disproportionately affect women.



The following are recommendations based on the conclusions:

  • Government action to protect and ensure the human rights of internally displaced women
  • Consentrated efforts to focus stakeholder’s (non-government organizations, the Government of Ethiopia, religious and higher education institutions) efforts on raising the community’s awareness about the effects of internal displacement on individuals, groups and the nation through trainings, conferences and extension services
  • Investigative research on the causes of the disproportional effects on women and mechanisms to improve the situation that involve both men and women

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The Setaweet Way: An Articulation of Ethiopian Feminism

The Setaweet Way: An Articulation of Ethiopian Feminism

Samrawit Bekele Genet


Using feminism as a theoretical concept, coupled with feminist reflexivity as the methodology in an analysis of my own experiences, I explore the meaning and utility of feminism and feminist action in Addis Ababa today. The experiences in this article are centered on young, contemporary, Ethiopian women. I do not make the argument that my analysis is universal or applicable to all Ethiopian women, however, I provide these voices as valid and useful sources of knowledge for the focus of this article. The data used was collected through interviews in fieldwork and observations; I provide this articulation of Ethiopian feminism.

Here, I argue that despite the differences, contemporary Ethiopian women have many shared experiences that can be used to theorize and document feminism in the country. The aim of this article is to explore feminism in Ethiopia and build upon the bank of knowledge as well as for future theorizing. The title of this article came about after a conversastion, with Setaweet staff in their office at the beginning of my fieldwork, about how Setaweet is not just an organization; it is a movement, a lifestyle. We discussed the attributes of that lifestyle and called it The Setaweet Way.

Key words: Setaweet, Feminism, lifestyle, patriarchy, Ethiopian women  


The point of entry for my fieldwork is my relationship with the women’s organization and self-identified feminist movement, Setaweet. I was granted an internship position as a Research Activist during the summer of 2017, from May to August. My involvement with this group shapes the thesis and explorative nature of this chapter.

As articulated in literature by African feminists, feminism can be loosely defined as the activist response to gain economic, political, and social equality for the male and female sexes. However, this is a very general definition and has been obscured by Western interpretations of feminism. The literature and activism that occurs in the name of feminism has been saturated by discourse that is centered on the experiences of middle-class, white women. Crenshaw writes, “early feminist texts such as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique placed white middle-class problems at the center of feminism and thus contributed to its rejection within the Black community”.  Similarly, in the ways that feminism was rejected by different groups in the United States, the perceived Western concept is often dismissed in the context of Africa as well. This grave oversight has had the negative consequence of aiding the hegemonic response by co-opting the language and techniques to further distort the intentions and goals of feminism. This distortion has crossed borders and caused the mere term feminism to spark negative reactions all over the world, including Ethiopia.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty writes that “feminist struggles are waged on at least two simultaneous, interconnected levels: an ideological, discursive level that addresses questions of representation (womanhood/femininity), and a material, experiential, daily-life level that focuses on the micro politics of work, home, family, sexuality, and so on”. Organizations like Setaweet aim to dispel these negative distortions and provide necessary intervention for women in Ethiopia through a variety of events, discussions, and publications that address these interconnected aspects of feminism. Setaweet’s objective is to positively affect women’s issues in Ethiopia by strategically targeted intervention in three areas: language, curriculum, and media. Setaweet believes that a change in ideology will fuel the material changes that need to be made in Ethiopia. These initiatives are undertaken through events, conferences, media presence, online campaigns and more. The Setaweet mission, as found on their official website, states the following:

Setaweet is one of the first feminist movement and business in contemporary Ethiopia. Setaweet meaning ‘of woman’ in Amharic indicates the purpose of our movement which is the articulation of Ethiopian feminism – the struggle for equality between Ethiopian women and men. Setaweet, which was founded in 2014, is a home-grown Ethiopian movement that aims to articulate what feminism means for Ethiopian women. We are particularly engaged with investigating Ethiopian languages and cultures as avenues of equality, and we believe in constructive dialogue and a collaborative work culture. All women are welcome at Setaweet, and Sisterhood is our hallmark.

As a business, Setaweet PLC provides a range of services for private companies, NGOs and schools. Setaweet PLC is also the custodian of the Setaweet movement which was created to actively pursue gender equality through consciousness-raising efforts. The Setaweet Circle is a woman-only meeting group that meets monthly, and our Open Sessions which are open to all members of society engage on Ethiopian contemporary issues of culture, media and language (Setaweet.com).

To provide a snapshot of feminism in Ethiopia today, data was collected through the observation of and participation in Setaweet events in Addis Ababa and through semi-formal interviews.

Critiques and Limitations

The prominent critique of feminist movements and women’s organizations has been the resistance of the term feminism. In Ethiopia, due to previous movements and the history of marginalization, Setaweet has been pegged as an “elite” woman’s organization. However, most of these critiques come from women and men who have not engaged with the organization directly or attended any events that it has sponsored or organized. Also, there is evidence that suggests that this initial observation has more to do with lingering feelings of inferiority than actual exclusion. However, conducting academic sessions in English was clearly exclusionary. The English language is used in much of academia in Ethiopia maing Setaweet’s aim at change curriculum and media representation extremely relevant and important. Many, if not all, of the participants of this study, including the women I observed in Setaweet, countered this critique through their own experiences but were not blind to the threat posed by the use of English. In my own experiences and despite popular notions, I saw Setaweet abide by the intersectional reach that it stands for. The interviews conducted and analysis of the events point towards Setaweet being a movement for the everyday Ethiopian woman. As one participant said:

The greatest strength [of Setaweet] is bringing women together however, on the contrary, its weakest point is that it is not ALL women who are brought together; this is because our circles attract a lot of privileged women. I would like to see a more representative coalition of women and not just privileged women. I would love it if we included more illiterate and uneducated women from the city. We could tell them about feminism and that it shouldn’t be an abstract thing and at the same time learn their perceptions. The big challenge for everyone in doing this is breaking down the concepts of feminism in a way that they can understand and identify with, regardless of her level of education; we should be able to do this. 

The participant quoted above was speaking on the challenges in reaching marginalized groups of women such as rural women, domestic workers, sex workers and women that are illiterate or have little to no formal education. As women who are often times economically disadvantaged, these women are marginalized twofold and invisible in Ethiopian society. All of the participants spoke on the necessity of incorporating a strategy to bring these women into Setaweet. All of the participants also spoke on the importance of conducting sessions, activities and events in local languages so as to not deter, alienate, or intimidate women who did not receive a formal education.

The Setaweet Way advocates for emancipatory knowledge:

Monthly Setaweet Events: Setaweet Circle

On May 20, 2017/12/12 Genbot 2009, ten days after returning to Addis, I visited the Setaweet headquarters in the Commet Building located in the Haya-Hulet neighborhood of central Addis Ababa. I participated in my first Setaweet Circle event, a women-only discussion group held on the second Tuesday of every month. The schedule was set so that members that do not have immediate access to computers or e-mail know that they can show up with confidence that an event will be taking place on that day. Setaweet Circle is where I got a glimpse of what I would be a part of for the next three months. The discussion topic that evening happened to be about the most taboo subject for a population of repressed and silenced Ethiopian women – mensutration. It was a Saturday evening and there were about 5-7 women present. The participants varied in race, ethnicity, age, and religion. What unfolded was a surprisingly transparent and disarming exchange about the first time we had our periods. Although the topic of periods is not as taboo in the United States as it is in Ethiopia, it still isn’t a commonly discussed topic in my experience. This discussion served as my welcome and validated that I was indeed in the right place; a revolutionary and transformational space for transparent and forward-thinking women.

My experience as a young girl growing up in Ethiopia was similar to that of many. Women on their periods were considered dirty, sinful, and often discouraged from appearing in public places, especially the church. Even after immigrating to the United States, periods were never discussed in my home but there was an understood silence about it. At the age of 12, I hid my blood-stained underwear from my mother because I was afraid of the consequences. My mother did not reprimand or scold me but I was never made to feel that I could discuss such intimate issues out loud, not even with her. This experience and memories of being teased about periods by boys in both continents made discussing this topic openly at the Setaweet Circle a truly unexpected experience.

This revolutionary feeling that I had was echoed by the participants of this study who expressed feeling similarly after their first introduction to Setaweet. One of the first interviews I conducted was with a young woman who has been involved in Setaweet for about 3 years, shortly after the movement began. She shared:

I participated in every circle and open session that Setaweet had. It was a new circle for me and I never missed an event. I found something that I didn’t find in my home, family, friend circles, or school. These circles had important conversations that nourished me intellectually, something that I’ve never experienced. For me, this was a serious change and I liked it!

For women who reside in the capital, Addis Ababa, the possibility of education and upward mobility is far greater than it is for women in rural areas. However, even in the city, young women have to fight to be taken seriously and have their opinions taken into consideration. It is still common to find both young and old men and women who relegate a woman’s place to domesticity. Ethiopian women are not commonly encouraged to engage in discussions about politics, current events (outside of “gossip”), or the exchange of ideas. For those women who have tried to engage in such discussions, the Setaweet circle offers an inviting energy that is rooted in sisterhood, solidarity, honesty, and a safe space to voice concerns. 

In my experience as an Ethiopian woman, I found that the first meeting served as a safe space where the women treated eachother as sisters, regardless of their individual backgrounds. The more I participated in the different events and engaged with the Setaweet staff, the members, and their extended network, the stronger the feeling of revolutionary action grew inside of me. After a full introduction to the rest of the team on the Monday following my first Setaweet circle, I became part of the Setaweet team as a Research Activist. Because of the synergy and active role I took as part of the staff for the duration of my feminist fieldwork externship, I will intentionally use our/we/us when referencing the organization from this point forward.

The next Setaweet Circle took place on Tuesday, June 13, 2017/ 6 Senay 2009. It was titled the “Critical Analysis of Women’s Representation in Advertisement” and presented by Setaweet member, Firaol Belay. The discussion was based on her thesis at Addis Ababa University Graduate School.

The first woman to join us for the event walked in around 5:30 PM, this gave myself and the other Setaweet staff a sense of elevated hope for a good turnout for the evening. Traditionally, punctuality is not a common practice in Ethiopia and events can be negatively impacted by this norm. However, as the night progressed, women from all walks of life joined to embark on a journey through discussion based on fellowship, friendship, learning, growth and networking. It was an eye opening and enriching engagement about our role as women in resisting the negative stereotypes about women that is consistently presented in both Ethiopian and international mainstream media. This Setaweet Circle was both informative and engaging and inspired participants to participate in other Setaweet programs. During this much needed presentation, important dialogue followed about why there seems to be a consistent representation of women that is limited to the home and not as independent individuals in their own spaces. Many of the women in attendance were vocal and posed lots of questions. One woman asked the group why there was a problem with the hegemonic representation of women as domesticated caretakers and how that could be harmful for her or other young women who may not necessarily choose that life path. The presenter responded to this question by stating that the “hegemonic women’s identity is linked with family and home, this reinforces the patriarchy using our tradition(s) as the guardians of these norms.” Belay was adamant about noting that it is not the women who chose to be wives and mothers that are the issue but rather that the only overt option that many Ethiopian women have or are presented is the domestic sphere.

One of the pillars by which Setaweet aims to create an ideological change throughout Ethiopia, as it pertains to women, is through challenging our representation in the media. This event addressed this sharing academic research conducted by scholar and Setaweet member and providing the space for her to lead a much-needed discussion. “Media does not simply reflect or mirror reality, media creates and re-presents a new reality” shared Belay. If Ethiopian women want to bring the change we want to see in our country then we must challenge images and ideology that are harmful or do not benefit us.

The Setaweet way challenges oppressive images, ideologies and behavior wherever they may be:

On the second Tuesday of following month, July 11, 2017/4 Hamle 2009, another Setaweet member shared a presentation at the Setaweet Circle. Enguday Alemayehu presented her recently defended masters thesis titled “Reflections from a Feminist Classroom and the Need for Curriculum Change”. It investigated the impacts of having feminist curiculum in the classroom, especially in classes offered by the Gender Studies Department at Addis Ababa University. In this session, members discussed the necessity of cultivating and encouraging critical thinking skills for young Ethiopian women, not only in classrooms, but also in life in general. Alemayehu posed the question “what would change if classrooms were more egalitarian and harnessed a safe space for critical thinking?”. Classrooms in Addis Ababa, despite being in the capital city where modernity is to be expected, there are still a lot of oppressive instructors and peers when it comes to women and education. Women are often discouraged from voicing their opinions and the shamed or punishment for being wrong has deep social and academic ramifications. Alemayehu presented her finding that “students who were treated as experts in the knowledge they choose to share had less fear of authority and were more open to engage in dialogue.”

At Setaweet, both of the points that Alemayehu posed have found space to flourish. Setaweet is a space that promotes egalitarian and non-hierarchal modes of expression, stimulates intellectual dialogue and ultimately aspires to inspire critical thinking and growth in perspective. It is a space of encouragement that allows women to share their thoughts, feelings and questions without the fear of being ridiculed. Setaweet has garnered a unqiue reputation for promoting feminist pedagogy in academic and social events in a culture of reprehension and sensitivity to disagreement or opposing views.

Having Setaweet members present their own research and information in these circles provides members with a space for practicing presentation skills, sharpening answers to questions, and working on their overall professional development. These skills are useful for upward mobility because they enhance not only the presenter’s soft skills but also the soft skills of the participants who are carefully listening, asking questions and engaging in critical discussion. Both sessions were in English but Amharic translation was made available. Being that academia in Ethiopia is in English, presenters had the task of also making their presentations understandable for women from all walks of life. Setaweet seeks to decolonize knowledge by using Amharic, the national language, in discussions, particularly for non-academic presentations where English is not necessary. Fears of language limitations plays an integral part in the decision-making process when participants and other women consider joining Setaweet. I will discuss this is more detail later in this chapter.

The Setaweet Way fosters dialogue with the Ethiopian Community: Setaweet Open Sessions:

In addition to the monthly Setaweet Circle events, Setaweet also opens up the space to include men in its monthly event called the Setaweet Open Sessions. In July, Setaweet, along with an organization called The Yellow Movement, held an event titled “A Conversation with Male Feminists” in a classroom at Addis Ababa University. Hearing Ethiopian men speak on why we need feminism and doing so in Amharic to a room full of both young women and men was a promising and uplifting conversation. While the resistance to feminism comes from both women and men, Ethiopian men display a more aggressive and negative attitude towards feminism. This is due to the misconception that feminism advocates for the subjugation of men rather than equality of the sexes. This event highlighted that there is in fact a population of Ethiopian men that are either self-identified feminists or feminist allies in conveying the message of equality to the broader community. The men spoke about the experiences of growing up male in the Ethiopian society and how it has caused them to adopt sexist ideals: one even shared that “sexism is in me”. They aslo spoke on the importance of being self-reflective about their intentions and actions, especially those that directly affect women. There was great debate about how feminism is not a rejection of Ethiopian culture but a method for heading towards greater equality for both men and women. The panelists also spoke about how socialization hurts men in Ethiopian society as well, especially pertaining to pressures of being the bread-winner and/or the pressure to display a certain kind of masculinity. The panelists dispelled the notion that feminists are trying to subjugate men or that feminist women hate men. It is not common to find Ethiopian men that are allies or speak out on women’s issues so having Ethiopian men share in these discussions in solidarity is revolutionary and a necessary part of the Setaweet initiative. 

This session was followed by a highly attended discussion led by a prominent member of the community and Setaweet ally, Semeneh Ayalew, a PhD Candidate who presented his Doctoral dissertation titled “Women, Popular Modernity and The Ethiopian Revolution (1940-70). Ayalew’s dissertation unpacked the role women played during a critical period of Ethiopian history where he coins the term ‘cultural brokers’. Despite the fact that the contributions of Ethiopian women is unrecognized, Ayalew shared that Ethiopian women, like Mary Armade, were active participants in historical events and the formation of Ethiopian culture. “History and culture are interpreted and modernity is translated by the modern institutions of culture” said Ayalew. 

The event was informative and shined a light on new ways of exploring Ethiopian history. To make it even better, it was presented by an Ethiopian man who displayed the utmost respect and understanding for women’s issues in Ethiopia. This was a pleasantly uplifting in contrast to the constant objection I get from Ethiopian men on women’s issues.

Ayalew said that “women, cultural brokers, culture benders, culture breakers, and vanguards of modernity are integral to all progress! Their stories need to be told!”. Setaweet is a women’s organization, however, we realize that feminism benefits us all and that alliances with men are beneficial to the end goal of greater equality. After the presentation, the floor was opened for comments and questions that ended up going beyond our allowed time; this confirmed the interest and need for more of these types of discussions. I found this to be common at all Setaweet led or sponsored events. One of the participants in an interview shared her experience at this event; it was the first Setaweet event she had the opportunity to attend.

“I loved the presentation about the women’s popular modernity movement. I grew up going to a German school then lived in a German environment and because of this, I never knew or learned much about Ethiopian history. Learning about the huge impact Ethiopian women had in our history was an eye-opener because… I just never knew… and knowing is very empowering.”

The lack of education on Ethiopian women’s important roles and contributions throughout history that the interviewee spoke on is the reason Setaweet aims towards creating an ideological transformation through curriculum changes in the Ethiopian education system. Like the woman quoted above, Ethiopian women and men rarely learn about the positive contributions Ethiopian women have made throughout history. For those who can get a private education, the history they learn is almost always exclusively Western. The lack of women representation coupled with the often times Western focused education system, the stories and contributions of Ethiopian women will be lost unless curriculum changes in the education system are implemented. Incorporating a gendered curriculum into the Ethiopian educational system is part of Setaweet’s mission. 

The Setaweet Way celebrates culture and tradition but knows these are not static and should not be harmful to women:

While there are some references in academia to the matrilineal and pastoral societies of Ethiopia, the dominant social hierarchy is highly traditional and patriarchal. Bisewar writes that “within this hierarchy, women are relegated to the bottom. They are expected to show the utmost respect and submission to their husbands, a trend that has also found justification in religion and has been maintained for centuries”. Submission, self-sacrifice, and silence are the perceived attributes of a virtuous woman and any emergence of behavior outside of these attributes can be detrimental to one’s social standing in the community. These strict gender roles are emphasized through an even stricter socialization processes and then validated through the community that serves as the “identity police.” The expectation to fulfill gender roles becomes an unspoken norm for Ethiopian women and opposition to it is usually negative.

In my interviews, I wanted to understand what experiences led to the interviewees to feminist consciousness and their involvement with Setaweet. The interviewees were similar in age, education, language, religious background and in their feminist journey. Their stories touched on the resistant and, at times, oppressive attitudes displayed by family members that showed them how much an ideological shift needs to happen in Ethiopia.

All but one of the participants spoke about family members and common practices at home that disadvantage Ethiopian women and young girls. The challenges women faced in their household growing up is a common topic in the monthly Setaweet Circle events. The women expressed the weight of having to always bear the household chores while their brothers did not. Many women also had mothers who adhered to this way of running the household and often discouraged boys when it comes to cleaning or cooking; the presence of a male in the kitchen is even banned in many households. These experiences played a critical role in how some of the participants were pushed to find other ways to understand the world. One participant shared:

“I used to be more of an organic feminist. I would fight for women naturally, always questioning or pointing out places and people who were sexist or oppressive. More specifically, during a family gathering one night, my uncle expressed a sentiment that is usually heard around Ethiopia, he said ‘it is because she is a woman that she is behaving like that!’ to which I responded ‘what is the matter with her being a woman? Does her vagina diminish her skill-sets?’.”

The participant quoted above was reflecting on the common dismissal of women in the work place or public spaces. If an Ethiopian woman is seen reacting emotionally way or challenging the views and contribution of men in the workplace, her actions are seen as hostile, unwelcome, and less than the appropriate, accepted behavior. Men and women alike make assumptions that her period, children or husband at home, or other factors can contribute to a woman’s “clouded” judgment and inability to complete a given task. The notion that a woman’s response is fueled by emotional triggers dismisses her contributions. 

The social capital of family is one that is held very high in the Ethiopian society. Notions of virtue and what makes a “good” Ethiopian woman are oftentimes in stark contrast to mainstream notions of what feminism is. For these reasons, coupled with the patriarchal norms engrained in the dominant religions (Ethiopian Orthodox and Islam), Ethiopian women come across a lot of push back and backlash from their own families when they exercise agency in search of self-emancipation or seek circles like Setaweet.

The youngest participant was an 18 year old girl. She recounted one of the early experiences that ignited her feminist consciousness. At the time of this experience, she was about 12 years of age. She described a chilling yet common experience of being harassed and stalked by a man that her and her friends had hired to take pictures at a birthday pool party. After meeting her and taking the pictures, the photographer began to stalk and harass the interviewee and went as far as showing up at her school. It got so bad her mother had to take the photographer to court and file a formal complaint to make him leave her daughter alone. Going to court is not a common consequence that most men who are guilty of harassment or harmful behavior have to face in Ethiopia. Completely ignorant to the fact that his actions could be seen as threatening, the photographer claimed that he was in the right to pursue her because she was wearing a swimsuit that made her look older than 12 years old. The opinion of women and children in Ethiopia is oftentimes violently repressed; this has aided in the complete disregard or utter denial of the women’s point of view. Despite her mother taking him to court, her mother was still angry that her daughter was taking pictures in swim wear. 

“My mom asked me why I would take a picture in a bikini. That really got to me and for like a year I didn’t go swimming and my head was all messed up from this experience. I got into feminism and read about self and victim blaming and realized that was what was happening to me and my peers.”

In Ethiopia, as well as in most places, whenever a woman experiences sexual harassment or abuse, the response is to question what she was wearing or doing to provoke the assault. Women are expected to navigate the world without provoking men and expect that men will respond with harassment or aggression if they are either dressed provocatively, speak out against a man, or stay out too late. The feminist discourse on victim-blaming put a name to what she endured and validated her feelings and experience.

This same participant also remembers a different incident involving the domestic worker in her family’s home. She was supposed to give the domestic worker money to buy something from the neighborhood store but she forgot to give her the money. When she went to meet the worker at the store, she observed the neighborhood kids saying obscenities they would never say to her or her younger sister. In that moment, she was made aware that her social class safeguarded her from the misogynist and abusive comments the neighborhood boys said to her domestic worker. After running back home to tell her mother what was said, she was met again with what she now knows to be victim blaming.

“My mother asked ‘why does she go to the store a lot then?’ to which I responded ‘she could go there a thousand times a day but they have no right to say that to her!’ My mom said this is how it has always been and that it will never change. But I believe it will change. One hundred years ago none of this (pointing to the buildings) was here so it will change!” 

The participant and I laughed with a tinge of sadness that feminism is, at the end of the day, just the radical notion that women are people. We laughed about the mutual understanding between Ethiopian women who would like walk to and from places whenever they wanted without being harassed or risk being met with violence. We looked at each other with the deep belief that a new day was coming.

Yesayt Geber/ Women (“pink”) tax

The next theme will address another economic and psychological effect of being a woman in Ethiopia, “Yesayt Gebir” or “Pink tax”. Yesayt Gebir is equivalent to the Western term “Pink tax”. In a popular article titled “’Pink Tax’ Forces Women to Pay More Than Men”, the Pink Tax, “so named because of the color of products directly marketed to girls and women, refers to the price difference for female-specific products compared with the gender-neutral goods or those marketed to men”. Women are on average paid less than men and then expected to pay more than their male counterparts for many products. The same article further explains that “price discrimination adds another layer to the wage inequality women face, making it harder sometimes for women to make ends meet”. The implications of the pink tax in the West and Yesayt Gebir in Ethiopia, further contributes to the feminization of poverty observed around the world.

Not only do Ethiopian women pay more for goods while being paid less in the workplace, gebir (or tax) is also in affect through the lack of service in public restaurants, banks, or traditionally non-feminine stores, the refusal of entry into prominent hotels and meeting places without the presence of an accompanying man and often being considered available and/or a sex worker if not accompanied by a male at all times. For women who constantly face this long list of discrimination and oppression, life can be psychologically taxing in many ways.

Setaweet provides the space to air these grievances amongst understanding peers and contributes to their wellness by letting them emotionally unpack and not hold it all in. Demeaning comments and practices are very common in most gathering places in Ethiopia. Personally, all of my memories as a young girl at gatherings include sexist, ethnocentric, and indecent comments and ideas about the world and women’s place in it. The Setaweet gatherings I participated in all provided a different reality than the culturally oppressive reality of Ethiopia that at times can seem unbeatable. Spaces like Setaweet offer a different narrative for Ethiopian culture and are evidence of what we able to achieve.

The Setaweet Way understands that solidarity is political:

Accepting the term feminist and unapologetically asserting it is a means of resistance and a source of pride for Setaweet. We align with other feminist movements globally and know there are benefits of doing so while acknowledging the contextually specific means of intervention that women in Ethiopia need in their lives. We find it useful to take up the term “feminist” and align with global movments in the formation of transnational feminist solidarity. We uplift and validate the necessity of voicing individual, contextual stories and experiences and draw out the common patterns in the oppression women faced globally. This transnational feminist solidarity has a voice on social media. This medium has been integral in both my own and our participant’s ability to articulate our needs and find support.

The Setaweet way is audaciously hopeful about the future for Ethiopian women:

I got a chance to ask the participants the hard question; how can we achieve a shift in Ethiopian culture that aims to uplift women. While the answers varied, there were many similarities. This next section explains what the young participants are seeking from organizations like Setaweet to secure a promising future for women in Ethiopia. The youngest participant said that “consciousness change will happen when we realize the long-term dreams we have put together.” Another participant articulated some of these long-term goals.

“For me, making it inclusive is important. I would like to see Setaweet chapters in areas of Ethiopia outside of Addis Ababa and I believe we can actually achieve this goal! I mean, we could do different workshops. But in order to be sustainable, we need to bring awareness and advocacy to every region. We need to develop curriculum and modules in different languages. There are 9 regions in Ethiopia; I want to see a Setaweet chapter in each. Multiple if we can!”

The young lady quoted above was born and educated in Addis Ababa and her work takes her to rural areas of Ethiopia. She is already engaged in the work that has transformed her life and others. Her case study shows once again that feminism is not a western concept and that feminism, in consciousness and action, is very much alive in contemporary Ethiopian woman. Her statement below is where she envisions Setaweet going next. 

“I want to see it [Setaweet] grow, I want to see a day where we book our sessions 6 months in advance, have proper T.V. and radio representation and even our own programming. I want to express our vision to higher level officials like the Ministers of Gender, Education, and Media. I want us to work with the government in implementing curriculum in grade schools and universities across Ethiopia. These are my long-term dreams.” 

“I think it [Setaweet] should be geared towards making it as mainstream as possible. It is crucial that it is accessible to everyone here in the city and in every part of the country. Also, I would like to see classes for learning self-defense techniques. There is a lack of communication amongst women’s organizations and at times we forget that other people are also trying to do similar things. Thinking that you are alone is a problem. I would like to see more coalition-building with women’s organizations in the future.” shared another participant.

“I believe in storytelling, putting the stories out there, putting pressure on the government to be as serious as possible on punishing the guilty so that justice is actually served. Also, rape is often followed with trauma and addressing that should be another program we should be involved in” said another pariticpant.

The hope that both the interviewees and other Setaweet women have, their vigor to be involved in bringing forth a transformation, and their commitment to the work despite its many challenges calls for the formation transnational solidarity with other feminists who are engaged in this work globally. Their positive outlook is a stark contrast to archaic notions that culture is static and beyond reform. While there are many people who don’t believe these changes can happen, these young women of Setaweet are committed to doing the work that will ultimately benefit the most cynical of people.


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