On March 4, 2017the first meditation session of the year was held at AWIB resource center (ARC). It was given by the gracious Megbar Ayalew (Magi). It began at 9:00 AM and closed at 11:00 AM. 14 participants were present in the room and we were all looking forward to relaxation. Magi sitting in a comfortable way on her chair, she began explaining why we need meditation for.
Life happens only in the present moment. The past has already passed and the future is yet to come. We only have control on the present moment. What do we want in life? We should list out and ask for it to get answers. In order to getanswers we must be in the present moment and should be able to silent our chattering minds.
After an engaging networking session and delicious refreshments, the event started off with the President Elect, Sara Tadiwos’ opening remarks. Sara introduced AWiB to the attendees and spoke a little about the person who graced the spotlight this month, encouraging all to read about her as a woman making a difference. She concluded by reminding everyone on the Saturday Roundtable discussions.
The discussion for the evening was led by Billene Seyoum, Managing Director of EARUYAN Solutions. Earuyan’s, most fittingly, means Equality in Ge’ez and the team lead by Billene, kicked off the night. She started off by appreciating the “Positive Woman Energy” in the room (there was quite a bit of that) and wishing everyone a happy International Women’s Day. She also acknowledged that all three hundred and sixty five days of the year should be International Women’s Day. She introduced the objective of the session as a chance to reflect on our collective journey and invited everyone to be an actor instead of a spectator. The session was to be a dialogue to inspire individual and collective action.
On February 18, a group of 4 women including myself gathered at AWiB’s Resource Center (ARC) to discuss about understanding oneself. Each of us having our own questions about the topic, we sat across each other. The host was Megbar Ayalew, a meditation and yoga instructor. She began the discussion by asking us what we wanted from life. Finding happiness and living life to the fullest was the common answers. A question was raised in our minds if we even understood ourselves well enough to know exactly what we want.
Our mind is a powerful tool and can go to different places in a second. We can think of a million things at once. In thediscussion it was mentioned that our mind is like a wild monkey, yet we keep on feeding it bananas when we can tame it. We shouldn’t let our mind control us. We should be the ones guiding our mind to do its job. One way to do this is by keeping a journal; this helps our mind to stay focused in one place. We can also keep a list of wishes and list of things we are grateful for.
On February 4, 2017 the first RTD of the year was opened at AWIB Resource Center. The RTD hosted by Psychologist and (AAU) Addis Ababa University Lecturer Seble Hailu was entitled ‘Honest Communication’, which was very interesting for all of us. Seble started the discussion by raising a warm up question. We were asked to introduce ourselves and then to choose a particular color that we think describes us best. This seemed to me as a test to evaluate ourselves honesty to the self. It really felt good associating one’s own feeling with color and describing it accordingly.
Then after, we were asked to describe honesty by one single word. All of us gave one word that we thought best describes honesty for each of us. While doing this it became very clear to all of us how beautiful honesty is because all the words each of us used to describe it is what any human kind wants to have in her/his personality or life.
AWIB’s monthly event on February 2nd was under the topic The Art of Working with Women; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, following AWiB’s theme of creating and celebrating the culture of collaboration. The two main presenters, Wondwossen Teshome, President of Enat Bank and Azeb Retta, Manager of Global Hotel, began the discussion by speaking about their personal experience working with women.
Wondwossen gave a brief introduction of Enat Bank and the bank’s involvement in bettering the circumstances of women in Ethiopia. Founded by 11 women, with 56% of clients and 65% of shareholders female, Enat Bank deems gender equality to be a primary value. The bank employs gender mainstreaming measures to create strong teams of both male and female employees.
How can we enable each other to shine? This was the topic of discussion at the January 5th, 2017 World Café, hosted by Nadia Waber and Sarah Tadiwos.
World café is around table discussion designed to create collaborative dialogue and knowledge-sharing. The informal setting will nurture creativity as opposed to the more formal organized meeting. ‘Let me buy you coffee’ or ‘let’s have tea’ suggestions between friends result in open discussions about issues relevant to our lives. Established in the belief that great conversations happen when we have freedom and opportunity to be inspired, to meet people different from who we are, this World Café did not disappoint.
As a sequel of the Women of Excellence gala on October 30th a much more intimate conversation with the award nominees took place on December 1st in Hilton Hotel. Attendees were invited to revisit the award through a 12-minute video recap of the ceremony’s highlights. Those who were not present at the award had the chance to see the women enter the gala in all their glory to standing ovation from the audience and to observe the judges attempt to choose ‘the tallest Goliath amongst Goliaths’, a difficult feat that nevertheless resulted in the crowning of W/o Tsehay Roshli as the titleholder of 2016’s Women of Excellence award, and Hermella Wondimu as the year’s young woman of excellence. The video documented a certain judge’s speech in which he admitted that all except one of them had not known the titleholder’s name before the award despite all their lives having been touched by her work—a swift kick in the shin that served to remind attendees of why the Women of Excellence is a necessary recognition.
Following the visual recap, attendees watched short videos in which the nominees talked about their individual stories, their work, their motivating drive and their respective philosophies. The subjects the women addressed in these videos ranged from abstractions like the power of education, the significance of culture, and the importance of confidence to the inspirational prowess of Matt Damon and his charity work, but it was clear that all the women agreed on two things: mothers are strong role models and sources of inspiration, and women are pillars of the community.
Women of Excellence guests that witnessed the slow and graceful file of the six nominees to the event ballroom were moved to tears by the testament of achievement these strides on the lush carpet symbolized. The space was astir and there was no doubt everyone present was here to celebrate six triumphant individuals. This piece is a recollection of an evening of marvel and gratitude, beautiful columns of energy hewn by the power of recognition.
AWIB’s 5th Women of Excellence was an exceptional display of elegance both in the character of all those present and the ambiance of the space that surrounded it. Stepping in the ballroom was equivalent to stepping through a wormhole into a utopian sisterhood. Each woman was celebrating the woman next to her and this generous appreciation lent an aura of radiance to the night.
Confusion or Contribution: The case of Ethiopian Diaspora was presented on October 6, 2016, at AWIB monthly event, Hilton. Lidet Tadessse, the moderator, introduced the three prominent Diasporas panelists who are investing, working and participating in the growth and development of Ethiopia. The three panelists were Gigi Sebsibe, Founder, Interior Motifs &Design (IMD) PLC, Zemedeneh Negatu, and Managing Partner & Head of Transaction Advisory, Ernst & Young and Mesfin Ayenew, founder and Senior Partner, Mesal & Associates Engineering consultancy / Board of Ethiopian Diaspora Association.
The panelists started by sharing their personal stories and experiences , the opportunities, contributions and challenges that Diasporas face. This event was attended by a mixed audience of diaspora from various countries as well as non-diaspora, AWIB participants.
For AWiBs second seminar series, our moderator for the day Ms. Selome Tadesse, Founder, Emerge Leaders Consultancy & Training PLC led a panel discussion with three prominent speakers whose life’s work has exposed them to the intricacies surrounding women’s leadership. This seminar entitled “The Dearth of Women in Leadership” was born out of the need to question and reflect on the tendency that demanding women’s leadership in Ethiopia is a privilege that only the elite can concern themselves with.
The question of elitism has long existed and will continue to be a core concern in the discourse surrounding women’s leadership. In her opening remarks, Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie, UNDP Resident Representative and UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Ethiopia explained that the dearth of women’s leadership was of interest to her ancestors and will continue to be relevant for future generations. According to UNDP estimations, gender inequality costs Sub Saharan Africa 95 billion USD annually. Therefore, Ms. Eziakonwa-Onochie stressed the importance of this seminar in challenging this notion of elitism and exploring the various ways in which it has been used to brand women’s leadership in the country.
The audience had the great pleasure of viewing a short video featuring the Honourable Ms. Senedu Gebru who was a visionary, a fighter, an educator, a feminist, and a patriot. She was Ethiopia’s first woman in public affairs during the Emperor’s regime and was the first woman to serve as a school director. Having been born into an upper class family and educated in Switzerland; can we argue that her leadership and her immense contribution to the empowerment of women was shaped by her elitist stature?
This question of women leaders in the public arena developed out of need, explained Amb. Tadelech Hailemichael, Former Minister of the FDRE Ministry of Women Affairs; Founder & Director, Women's Development Fund. Women became trained professionals in the health care system, gained education and ultimately served their country because of the chaos and upheaval created after the Italian invasion. Therefore, women’s ability to rise as leaders was not marked by their elitism. And if that is the case, it begs the question: Where did elitism come from and how can we deconstruct it?
According to Mr. Hadis D. Tadesse, Deputy Director, Africa; Representative to Ethiopia and the African Union, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, elitism is a social construct. It is a way of ordering a group of people based on their family lineage, their wealth, their level of education and the like. “Referring to one as an elite is not a bad thing” explained Mr. Haddis. It should not be taken as a way to discredit one’s work, but rather be used as a means to recognise one’s achievement. So the problem with the term lies in our perception, and not the meaning of the term. Therefore, part of our task in deconstructing the term requires us to question why women who concern themselves with gender-representation in leadership positions are labelled as elites?
Globally Ethiopia has a high rank for gender inequality. Given this context, there is a common perception that the needs of the urban women are given far more attention than that of the rural. According to Mr. Haddis, there are common struggles to both groups. And that is the struggle of physical violence which has been growing in the country despite growth in education and economic sectors. The question of elitisim thus aggregates all problems under one label.
Dr. Meseret Kassahun Desta, assistant professor at the School of Social Science in Addis Ababa University identified the historical and political ideologies that lead to the misconstrual of the question of women’s role in leadership as an elitist question. She mentioned that the vehement opposition of Marxism-Leninism, on which Ethiopian political ideologies today are still based, to bourgeois democracy by definition invalidates any questions for equality that arise from the elite class. Dr. Meseret further explored factors that silence not only demands for women in leadership but any questions that challenge the status quo. She argued that Ethiopia does not have a culture of discourse and debate and therefore any dissent is seen as a form of revolt against the current system. Furthermore feminist discussions, indeed all discussion related to socio-political movements are repeatedly high jacked by political agendas so no real progress is made. Add to this the adherence to a revolutionary democracy which discourages gradual continued growth leading to the creation of the proverbial wheel over and over again and you will have the current political climate where the question of women in leadership is dismissed as elitist.
What was learned from this seminars proceedings was that the argument of elitisim is not inherently bad. It has been misunderstood and misused and thus there is a need to reclaim it and use it in the correct manner. It is not only elitist women who occupy leadership positions. There is a clear disconnect between who an elite is and the use of the term to silence, segregate or “other” women who concern themselves with questions of leadership. The problem is how we have come to perceive and internalise it. Part of this problem is recognition says Amb. Tadelech Women’s work is not recognised by others, and we do not use the lessons learnt to move forward.
In concluding the seminar, Ms. Selome celebrated the huge achievement in engaging in a momentous dialogue to ask critical questions like why do we label and how has our labelling of elitism affected women’s leadership. She left the audience to wonder about the link between generations. If the question of elitisim is not intergenerational then what binds us?