The Necessity of Women’s Leadership in Ethiopia (Full content of the presentation on March 20, 2016)

A paper presented by Assegid Habtewold

Center for the Rights of Ethiopian Women (CREW) 5th Annual Conference

In memory of Dr. Miagenet Shifferaw

Theme: Women in Leadership

Place: Resident Inn Marriott Hotel

Date: March 20 2016


I. Introduction: Interview with Dr. Miagenet Shifferaw

Last year, almost this time around, I was looking for an interviewee to talk about why Ethiopian women aren’t at the front and leading. Everywhere I asked that question, Dr. Miagenet’s name came up again and again. After a few phone and email conversations, we did set a date to conduct the interview.

When I met her the first time, I found her a very considerate and fair leader who listens intently. She was fair because she was not angry with men and blamed them for everything J. Even if I never had any more chance to meet and work with her, the leadership qualities that I witnessed prior, during, and post interview convinced me that she was an extraordinary leader, and we all are going to miss her.

II. Who are (is) the culprits for gender inequality?

Coming back to the interview, for my first question: Who is (are) responsible why women are not at the front and leading, she pointed out that the culprits are our culture first, and then some men, and women themselves too.

Dr. Miagenet enlisted the culprits:

2.1.Our men dominated and patriarchal culture, the school system that favors boys over girls, men over women, and the different religious institutions that undermine the leadership participation of women.

2.2.Conscious and unconscious biases from men who think women aren’t capable to lead like men

2.3.Lack of awareness, education, and organization of women. She pointed out that only 33% women older than 15 years are literate.

III. What should be done to narrow and finally bridge the gender inequality?

Concerning the question: What should be done, she emphasized the importance of education. In this regard, she admired the teaching model of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. She briefly explained his model:

3.1. The first stage of his model is creating awareness,

3.2. This in turn generates anger in the oppressed,

3.3. The latter leads them to organize themselves, and

3.4. Demand their rights.

IV. What women should do to bridge the gender inequality?

I agree with Dr. Miagenet, awareness and education are very critical. On top of that, I suggest the following recommendations for women to liberate themselves:

4.1.Be proactive

Women should be proactive in the process of narrowing both the gender inequality, and gender leadership gap. They shouldn’t wait until they are given the right to lead. They should take it by force J. They shouldn’t expect men to give them their rights on a silver platter. This is an insult to women. They can lead their own battle to claim their birthrights of leadership. Men’s main role should be supporting women in ways they could, especially those influential men in high places. What I’M saying is that women should lead the liberation by organizing themselves. Otherwise, as Paulo Freire said, “Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects that must be saved from a burning building.” 

4.2.Avoid Albright’s syndrome

In one of Hillary Clinton’s rallies, Madeleine Albright said, There is a special place in Hell for women who don’t help each other. As you may already be aware, it backfired. Women shouldn’t be supported because of their gender, rather, because of their competency, personality, and character. If women start to show gender prejudice, men too may follow suit, and that doesn’t help women’s right advocacy work at all. This alienates many men.

4.3. Don’t be neutral while others are oppressed

It’s a plain fact that the majority of Ethiopian women are absent from the struggle against oppression in Ethiopia orchestrated by the tyrannical government in Ethiopia. Except a few heroines, most women are at the sidelines and watching gross repression in the name of being neutral. Paulo Freire has been known worldwide for his pedagogical methods designed to educate the oppressed. Dr. Miagenet Shiferraw admired this scholar a lot. Concerning neutrality, here is what he had to say, “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

While the dictatorial regime in Ethiopia uprooting indigenous people from their ancestral land without their consent nor compensation, and while unarmed protesters including mothers and children are killed by live bullets, and citizens in thousands are jailed and tortured because of their ethnicity, and political views, women’s silence and taking neutral position is appalling, to say the least.

It’s understandable if women’s organizations taking non-partisan position to serve all women of diverse political viewpoints. They don’t need to endorse one single political party’s ideology and program. However, Fascism, Nazism, and Dictatorship are not parties, they are oppressors. Thus, those women who aren’t siding with the oppressed are siding with the oppressor. Complaining that they’re oppressed but failing to stand by the side of other sections of the society who are oppressed is paradoxical. It obviously denies them authenticity. They cannot rally a wide array of support from others in their fight against gender inequality.

V. The 3G Leadership Gaps

That being said let me give you quick background information about why I began showing interest in the necessity of women in leadership. PRO Leadership in its 2015 annual conference, which was held at Prince George’s Community College, recognized the 3G (Geographic, Generational, & Gender) Leadership Gaps.

5.1. Geographic Leadership Gap

No one disputes the existence of leadership gap in the Southern and Eastern Hemispheres than in the West.

5.2. Generational Leadership Gap

There’s a huge generational gap globally. Research shows that, in just the US alone, 33 million baby boomer leaders are going to retire by the year 2020. The same is true in our case. Who are leading both in Ethiopia and here in the Diaspora? The Ethiopian version baby boomer leaders J are in charge everywhere. Whether it’s within the ruling party or in the opposition camp; whether it’s in the NGOs or in the religious institutions, the dominant decision makers are members of the older generation. There’s nothing wrong with this as far as the contemporary leaders are conscious about the existence of the generational gap and proactively raising their successors. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening.

5.3. Gender Leadership Gap

Likewise, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we’re plagued by gender leadership gap. Regardless of their number, which is more 50% and their lion share contributions at family, community, and national levels, enough women aren’t at the front and leading.

VI. Prices we pay due to gender leadership gap

We pay dire prices at many levels.

6.1.   Individual

When individual women unable to take leadership, they couldn’t maximize their potential, and that means we are wasting more than half of our national potential.

6.2.   Family

What an opportunity for children to be raised by their mom who is a leader? They learn what it means to take leadership by watching her do it. And, it’s obvious that a leader mom raises her children teaching them practical lessons as they grow up. When they go out to the world, nothing could be able to make them put their head down. They claim their leadership birthright and serve their community using their unique talents boldly. No barrier could stop them.

6.3.   Community

Our community has so many issues that need the leadership contributions of women. We have a disintegrated community with so many challenges, and these cannot be tackled and defeated without the active leadership involvement of women.

6.4.   National

Ethiopia has been inflicted by constant famine, food insufficiency, conflict, and the lack of freedom, democracy, justice, and good governance. Bringing a lasting change through smooth transition require the leadership of women.

VII. What is next?

What should be the roles of women’s right groups like CREW, and other organizations like PRO Leadership that aim at empowering individuals including women to bridge the leadership gap?

7.1. CREW should

1. Continue to raise the awareness of both women and men about the gap

*      By arranging Leadership Conferences like this one

2. Build capacity by arranging

*      Workshops

*      Mentoring programs to raise women leaders in collaboration with other stakeholders

7.2. PRO Leadership could provide

*      Leadership Experts to speak at the conferences, and facilitate during workshops,

*      Leadership Mentors (both men and women) to mentor, especially emerging women leaders,

*      Frameworks and Models,

*      Contents,

*      And more…

Both CREW and PRO Leadership should team up and

  1. Arrange Conferences,
  2. Workshops, and
  3. Mentoring Programs by themselves or in partnership with other stakeholders

VIII. Killing 2 Birds, Using 1 Stone

CREW as a Women’s right advocacy group should continue to engage in increasing the awareness of both women and men concerning the existing gender inequality and things to be done to bridge the gap.

The existing advocacy works, however, aren’t adequate. The advocacy works shouldn’t be left to women and to those organizations that represent women alone. Both women and men who understand the inequality that exists, and the dire consequences of this disparity should continue to push regional and global institutions, governments, companies, and community and religious organizations to make changes- Tangible changes in their perceptions, policies, and systems.

While continuing to promote gender equality, the long term and lasting solution should be to raise competent women leaders at all levels. In my humble opinion, it’s possible women advocacy organizations like CREW to kill two birds using one stone if the lion share of such organizations’ priority, focus, and investment is directed toward building the leadership capacity of women.

The more women become leaders at home, in the neighborhood, work and market places, the more they will have real chances to influence and ultimately bridge both the gender inequality, and the leadership gap that exists at all levels.

Myself as women’s right advocate, and leadership expert, I’m committed to play my share. Our non-profit organization- PRO Leadership Global Inc. is also dedicated to play its share. We look forward to partner with you to bridge the gender leadership gap, and in turn empower women to play their contributions in tackling local, national, regional, and global challenges we are facing. It’s possible. We can use 1 stone (developing women’s leadership capacity) to kill 2 birds- gender inequality and leadership gap.

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