The Setaweet Way: An Articulation of Ethiopian Feminism

The Setaweet Way: An Articulation of Ethiopian Feminism

Samrawit Bekele Genet

Abstract 

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  

Setaweet:

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.

References:

  • Burgess, Gemma. “A Hidden History: Women’s Activism in Ethiopia.” Journal
    of International Women’s Studies, 2013, 96-107.
  • Crenshaw, Kimberle.”Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A
    Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and
    Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989: Iss. 1,
    Article 8.
  • Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and
    Colonial Discourses.” Boundary 2, 12/13, 1984, pp. 333–358.

Ngabirano, Anne-Marcelle. “’Pink Tax’ Forces Women to Pay More than Men.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 29 Mar. 2017.

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