National Women’s Conference 2023 Recap

The National Women’s Conference, organized by Setaweet Movement with the support of Fredrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), took place on April 6 and 7 at Hilton Hotel. This conference, co-created with the Network for Ethiopian Women’s Associations (NEWA), Timran, and Addis Powerhouse, is designed to bring different women’s rights groups and human rights activities from across Ethiopia together, strengthen solidarity and create a national women’s movement. We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to everyone who has supported this conference since its inception and look forward to a united movement that will be the voice for Ethiopian women.


Here is a brief summary of the two-day event. 

Day 1:

The National Women’s Conference commenced with a blessing from community leaders in different languages, including Afan Oromo, Guragigna, and Amharic. The opening remarks were delivered by Sehin Tefera, Director of Setaweet, and Susanne Stollreiter, Resident Representative of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. This was followed by a keynote speech from the guests of honor, Ethiopian Human Rights Commissioner for Women Meskerem Gesit, and Ethiopian National Election Board chairperson Birtukan Mideksa.

During the keynote speech, the following points were raised:

  • The purpose of discussing the traumas and challenges faced by women was not to disempower them, but to make them feel heard and understood. Emphasizing empathy and understanding the pain of survivors was crucial to building solidarity.
  • The need for adept politicization in times of conflict, while emphasizing the importance of depoliticizing suffering once the conflict is over. Politics should still play a role in addressing the needs of women, as empathy and understanding should be integrated into the political system.
  • The importance of including women’s issues in the upcoming national dialogue and peacebuilding processes, and the need to ensure that women’s voices are heard and their needs are addressed.

The day’s agenda was introduced by Yemeserach Legesse, who served as the facilitator for the first day of the conference. This was followed by the launch of the Misikir documentary movie, which showcased stories of women from different conflict-affected areas and how the conflicts had impacted them and their families. A reflection and discussion session followed, with audience members expressing emotions, and gratitude for giving voice to these stories and inviting women to share their stories in upcoming episodes of Misikir documentary.

The next sessions focused on the situations of Ethiopian women in conflict-affected areas, with presentations from NEWA (Network of Ethiopian Women’s Associations) and ELiDA (Empathy for Life in Integrated Development Association). Saba Gebremedhin, Executive Director of NEWA, presented the impacts of conflict on women, including the use of sexual violence as a tool during the war, economic and social impacts, and the need for gendered humanitarian responses to address these challenges.

Eyerusalem Solomon, the Executive Director of Timran, shared experiences on community dialogue and women’s participation in the peacebuilding process, specifically in the upcoming national dialogue. She highlighted the importance of women’s contributions to peacebuilding and their right to participate, citing examples of dialogues conducted by Timran in different regions of Ethiopia. The outcomes of these dialogues included a manifesto and peace walks in Addis Ababa, where groups from conflict-affected areas participated. Further, Timret (Civil Society Organizations involved in the national dialogue) by 50 civil CSOs focused on the need to include women in the peacebuilding and national dialogue processes. She highlighted the importance of raising women’s issues, monitoring and advocating for women’s participation, and creating awareness about how women can participate and present their issues in the national dialogue. Dialogues in regional areas, including with IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), were also discussed, with clusters formed to facilitate grassroots discussions and equip women with knowledge for meaningful participation in the national dialogue and transitional justice processes.

Audience reflections included the need for leadership, structure, and strategy in building a women’s movement, strategic inclusion of women’s issues in the national dialogue, empowerment of women, safety for vulnerable women, networking, open discussions, strategic leadership, men’s support, and inclusion of community and religious leaders in the peacebuilding efforts.


Day 2:

The second day of the conference was facilitated by Mulumebet Zenebe, Associate Professor at the Center for Gender Studies, Addis Ababa University. The day started with a Setaweet affirmation followed by a presentation on African Feminism by Hiwot Abebe from Setaweet. The presentation covered various topics such as the history of women in Ethiopia, approaches to African feminism, issues concerning African women, and the current state of the Ethiopian and African feminist movements.

After the presentation, there was a breakout session on the topic of “What feminist movement is and why we need it?” Reflections from the session included the lack of solidarity and control among organizations working on women’s issues. Participants discussed the need to work together, set clear goals, assign responsibilities, advocate for women’s rights, strategize advocacy efforts, change the term “feminist” to local languages, involve men in the movement, teach positive masculinity to children, focus on literacy and education, utilize youth voices, promote peacekeeping and conflict resolution, contextualize feminism, prioritize togetherness and mutual support, and take collective responsibility instead of blaming each other.

Dr. Mulumebet concluded the session by highlighting the importance of strategic planning, focusing on fundamental questions, innovative programs, and using digital tools. She emphasized the need for mutual support, problem-solving, and revising cultural systems that hinder progress, such as traditional views on God and luck.

Next, Hanna Lemma, founder and Director of Addis Powerhouse, gave a presentation on digital feminist movement building and young feminist networks. She discussed the principles of young feminist movement models, the pros and cons of digital feminism, and potential solutions for addressing the challenges social media poses for activists.

The conference also featured experiences shared by the Tesfaweet girls, who participated in a project under Setaweet aimed at addressing inequalities in access to education and opportunities for young married women through empowerment training. The girls expressed their gratitude for the project, which helped them become more assertive, communicate effectively with their husbands, and start their own businesses with proposed ideas. They shared that it was a great opportunity to be invited to Addis Ababa, as it was their first time leaving their community.

The Wizkids’ workshop team also presented their efforts to cultivate gender equality among children through movies and the creation of the Yetibeb Lijoch Animation series, which they showcased through sample animation movies.

This was followed by a discussion on solidarity in movement, focusing on the importance of listening to each other, maintaining support even when physically apart, and avoiding competition among movements. Dr. Mulumebet emphasized the need for an effective mobilization strategy, stating that taking practical actions toward meeting our goals is necessary for solidarity and movement building. During the breakout session, participants emphasized the need for genuine care, prioritizing peace as a core problem to address. Participants grouped themselves according to what they identified to be urgent problems regarding women and conflict: gender-based violence, peacebuilding, food security, and the need for solidarity among women’s groups. Planning and strategizing, including separate plans for different religions, were also highlighted, along with building trust through mutual understanding and safe spaces for dialogue. The groups agreed to follow up on their plans by setting up telegram groups to discuss further activities. 

The conference concluded with closing remarks from Sehin Teferra, Director of Setaweet, who emphasized the need for concrete actions and assignments to continue the support and progress made during the conference. Participants reflected on the need to extend the movement to other regions and promised to host future meetings across the country.

In addition to the presentations, the conference also featured music and poetry performances by Tarik Asteraye, who delivered a monologue titled “Yeqaqqe Wuredot,” Heran Tadesse, who presented a poem titled “Queen Sheba,” and Lidya Woldekidan and Seble Aregawi, who performed music. Women-run businesses and artists also showcased their products during breaks for conference attendees. 

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