Stories of Accomplished Ethiopian Women
Welcome to Ethiopian Women Unleashed, a collaboration between the Network of Ethiopian Women’s Associations.
Ethiopian Women Unleashed documents the stories of Ethiopian women of achievement who we hope will serve as inspirational role models for young women and girls growing up in Ethiopia – and all over the world. The women whose profiles we have gathered here have pushed the boundaries of their worlds and have opened possibilities for themselves and others, in many different ways. They come from all kinds of backgrounds, all walks of life, from within Ethiopia and from the diaspora – and all have made a difference to creating more opportunity for Ethiopian women in the future, whether at the level of their family, their community, the country or the world. Some are historical figures and most are contemporary women. All are strong, courageous, and determined, and many are extraordinarily committed to giving back to others. Their stories give a taste of what is in store for Ethiopia and the world when every girl in Ethiopia has the opportunity to unleash her potential.
We hope this is just the beginning of collecting stories of accomplished Ethiopian women. The profiles included here are those whom we were able to identify, to contact, and to interview during the last three years, or, for historical figures, those whom we had time to research. The contemporary women’s stories are based on the information they provided to us in personal interviews designed to solicit information that might be of interest to young women looking forward to their own lives. There are many women whose profiles we know we would like to include who simply were not available during the research period so far and many more whom we have not yet learned about. We will continue to add stories as we collect them.
We invite you as readers to use our Get Involved Page to suggest names of women we should include along with their contact information and a little bit of information about them, by sending us an email. We have researchers ready and waiting to interview and learn from more wonderful women. And we invite anyone interested in helping to conduct interviews with fascinating women to volunteer; interested volunteers should have the ability to listen thoughtfully and to write well in English and Amharic.
Members of The Advisory Board
Aïda Muluneh is a photographer and filmmaker, whose award-winning work is shown internationally and in Ethiopia. She is the Founder/General Manager at Desta For Africa Creative Consulting PLC as well as founder and director of the first international photography festival in Ethiopia, the Addis Foto Fest. She is the 2007 recipient of the European Union Prize in the Rencontres Africaines de la Photographie, in Bamako, Mali, as well as the 2010 winner of the CRAF International Award of Photography in Spilimbergo,Italy.
Azeb Girmai is a consultant working in environmental advocacy and policy. She was formerly the Executive Director of ENDA Ethiopia, an Africa-based environmental advocacy and policy organization, engaged in programs that initiate and strengthen efforts of community development to bring about sustainable livelihood. She has worked for the last 12 years in the non-governmental sector, mostly in the area of environmental advocacy; she believes that tackling the main environmental issues and challenges means tackling the main questions of women in Africa.
Bizualem Gebeye is the former Chairwoman of the Addis Ababa Women’s Association; during her term as Chair, AAWA made significant progress in its effort to support women entrepreneurs, women’s maternal health, women’s access to reproductive health care, women’s and men’s awareness of women’s right to freedom from violence, girls’ access to education, and women’s political participation. The Addis Ababa Women’s Association has more than 154,000 women and 6,600 men as members. Born in Gonder, Ethiopia, Bizualem worked as an accountant in governmental institutions for 14 years before leading the Addis Ababa Women’s Association.
Singer, model, and humanitarian, Chachi Tadesse has used her Ethiopian roots to build an international career. Best known as one of the first Ethiopian artists to blend the sounds of reggae with Amharic, Chachi has successfully produced a musical style of her own. She has used her superstar status to raise awareness about street children in Ethiopia and to advocate for the rights of children. Her dream is to work for the welfare of African children and educate millions of children and their parents through music, media and educational materials.
One of the pioneers in radio and television journalism Ethiopia, Ellene Mocria was the first female English language program presenter in the Ethiopian Radio Agency, and, In the early years of Ethiopian television, she was the first woman to work as an announcer, program producer, presenter, newscaster and head of the film section. A founder of the Ethiopian Media Women Association, she continues in her retirement to be an activist for women and an author.
Emebet Kebede is a lawyer by profession and has years of experience as a women’s rights activist. She has worked on issues of gender and justice for several years with local and international non-governmental organizations as well as donor agencies. She has wide experience in public sector reform especially in the justice sector. She is currently in the United States pursuing postgraduate studies at Harvard University.
Following a career of more than forty years as an international civil servant, HirutBefecadu is a community volunteer, inspirational speaker, and activist for women and health. During her career serving in the African Union as Head of the Women’s Section and then as a member of the peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone for the United Nations, Hirut has been an advocate for women’s rights and equality internationally. Her involvement in gathering ideas from women across Africa to prepare the African Platform for Action at the 1995 Beijing UN Women’s Conference was one of the high points of her long career. Hirut has served as a valued editor for this project.
Dr. Hirut Terefe Gemeda
Dr. Hirut Terefe is Associate Professor of Social Anthropology in the Department of Social Anthropology in the College of Social Sciences at Addis Ababa University, with over thirty-two years of teaching experience at the university level. She served as Director of the Institute of Gender Studies at Addis Ababa University from February 2010 to December 2011. She is widely published.
Konjit Seyoum was born in 1963 in Addis Ababa. She was trained as a translator at the University of Trieste, Italy, School of Interpretation and Translation. She opened ASNI Gallery in 1996 in Addis Ababa with the aim of promoting contemporary Ethiopian art focusing on experimental works and encouraging young and upcoming artists. She has curated several solo and group shows, and organized talks, workshops, residencies, and children’s activities. While Konjit’s own artworks initially were installations that explored socio economic and political issues, her most recent works involve cotton spinning that she transforms in black and white photography subtly exploring womanhood, sexuality, the personal and spirituality. Konjit offers vegetarian cuisine at her gallery launching new recipes inspired by traditional Ethiopian cuisine. Konjit continues to work as a free-lance conference interpreter. She is married and has two children.
Mary-Jane Wagle is a retired volunteer and women’s rights activist who began visiting Ethiopia and learning about its amazing women in March 2011. Trained as an urban planner, she worked in the fields of economic and social development, senior housing development, low-income housing development, and women’s reproductive health care services and advocacy in the United States before moving to Ethiopia.
Nigest Haile is the founder and executive director of the Center for African Women Economic Empowerment (CAWEE), an organization that works to advance women’s entrepreneurship development, with a focus on export promotion, targeting women involved in manufacturing and services. She is one of the founding members of Enat Bank, the first women’s commercial bank in Ethiopia, and currently serves as a board member. She is a former Department Head in the Ministry of Trade and Industry of the Federal Democrat Republic of Ethiopia. In the promotion of women in business, Nigest is actively involved on several boards and juries, both regionally and internationally. Nigest is the recipient of a 2012 Pan-African Award from UN Women and the International Labour Organization, the 2012 TIAW award from The International Alliance for Women 2012, Canada, and an award from the Department of State of the United States – all for her work to promote women’s economic empowerment and women-led businesses. Nigest has been generous with her connections to help this project succeed.
Nahu Senay Girma
After a career spanning the private sector, the non-profit sector and consultancy in the United States, Nahu Senay Girma returned to Ethiopia where she founded and leads Optima Consultancy and Marketing, plc, providing business development services to Ethiopian firms. She also conducts leadership skills training programs for private and international organizations, and mentors small scale women entrepreneurs. She is one of the founders and the president of the Association of Women in Busines (AWiB).
A lawyer by profession, Original Woldegiorgis served as a High Court Judge in Ethiopia for several years. One of the founders of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association in 1995, whose aim is enhancing the rights of women in all spheres, Original has participated in all of the organization’s activities, including legal aid and representation for poor women in court, lobbying, and research and training in reproductive rights, gender-based violence, political participation, decision-making and harmful traditional practices. A survivor of prison during the Marxist military Derg regime, Original is a fearless advocate for women and the oppressed.
Saba Gebre Medhin
Saba Gebremedhin has served as the Executive Director of the Network of Ethiopian Women’s Associations (NEWA) for the last nine years, working on development and rights for women, bringing stakeholders together, securing funds for member organizations and leading public efforts and campaigns for women’s rights. A lawyer by profession, she previously served as an assistant judge, and as a special prosecutor and assistant chief prosecutor in the Special Prosecutors Office.
Saba Kidanemariam Gebru
Saba Kidanemariam Gebru is the Ethiopian country director for Ipas, an international non-governmental organization working to advance access to a full range of reproductive health services, including safe abortion, for women across the world. Saba has been a leading advocate for improved laws in Ethiopia for reproductive health.
Yared Fekade serves as Private Sector Advisor for the Ethiopia Canada Cooperation Office. Ato Yared has twenty-three years of experience in the areas of small business and private sector development, with expertise in value chain development, microfinance and women entrepreneurship development.Holding degrees in economics and business, he played important role in the formulation of the Ethiopian Micro and Small Enterprises Development Strategy.
Yemodish Bekele is the published author of seven books, including poetry, short story collections and a novella. She is currently the president of the Ethiopian Women Writers’ Association. She is well known in Ethiopia as the godmother of many poets, both men and women, and showcases both her own work and the work of others in many poem-a-thons in Addis Ababa. She is the former editor of Polis Ena Ermijaw, the newspaper of the Federal Police in Ethiopia. She serves as the chair of the board of the Network of Ethiopian Women’s Associations.
Dr. Yetnayet Asfaw Demessie
Dr. Yetnayet Asfaw Demessie is a physician and public health professional with over 17 years of experience working to improve the quality of family planning, HIV/AIDS and other maternal and reproductive health services for women, youth, and the general public in Ethiopia. After serving as Country Director for EngenderHealth Ethiopia Office, Dr. Asfaw is currently Vice President for Strategy and Impact for EngenderHealth based in the United States. Dr. Asfaw is a passionate advocate of women’s right to access and use quality reproductive health care that best meets their unique needs and is an active mentor of young women attending Addis Ababa University. Dr. Asfaw believes in the importance of giving girls and women everywhere the opportunity and resources they need to realize their dreams and reach their optimum potential.
Interns and Volunteers
Born in 1991 in Addis Ababa, Abigeya graduated in 2014 with an LLB (cum laude) from the School of Law at Addis Ababa University, where she also served as a ember of the Student’s Law Review editorial Committe. She participate in the First World Congress of Global Partnership for Young Women in Seoul, South Korea, in August of 2012, in the John C. Marshall Moot Court Competition in Chicago, Illinois in October 2013, and in the Price E. Monroe Media Law Moot Court competition in February 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya. Currently, she is a consultant at the Secretariat of he African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child at the African Union Commission.
Astewaye Bekele– Born in 1992 in Addis Ababa, Astewaye is a fifth year student in the School of Law at Addis Ababa University, pursuing her LLB and expecting to graduate in 2015. She is a member of the Yellow Movement at the Law School, a campaign to eliminate violence against women.
Betel Bekele Birhanu
Born in 1989 in Metehara, Oromiya Region, Betel graduated at the top of her class as a master’s degree student at Addis Ababa University studying International Relations in 2013. She earned her BA in Political Science and International Relations from Addis Ababa University in 2011. After serving as a lecturer at Adama Science and Technology University and at Addis Ababa University, she is currently pursuing her PhD in Political Science at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
Born in 1987 in Addis Ababa, Bitanya earned her BA in Law and in Sociology and Social Anthropology from Addis Ababa University, graduating in 2012, as well as her MA in Peace and Security Studies from Addis Ababa University in 2014. She is currently employed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a trainee diplomat.
Born in 1989 in Addis Ababa, Hanna graduated in 2013 from the School of Law at Addis Ababa University, specializing in the public stream, and served as assistant editor of the law review. After conducting research at the Justice and Leal System Research Institute in Addis Ababa, Hanna is currently working as a consultant with McKinsey & Company.
Hawine Habte– Born in 1988 in Addis Ababa, Hawine graduated from the Haremaya University School of Law with an LLB in 2012. After serving as an Assistant Program Officer at the Network of Ethiopian Women’s Associations in Addis Ababa, she is currently in training with Ethiopian Airlines.
Helen Tesfaye – Born in 1990 in Addis Ababa, Helen graduated with an LLB from Harameya University in Harar in 2012. After volunteering at NEWA for about seven months, she is currently working in the Ministry of Justice of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia as a public prosecutor.
Hiwot Desta – Born in 1986 in Debre Zeit, Hiwot is a radio and press journalist who is currently Communications Officer at the Network of Ethiopian Women’s Associations. She is a graduate of Mekelle University with a degree in law.
Lydia Atomssa Tujuba
Born in 1981 in Addis Ababa, Lydia graduated from Mekelle University School of Law with an LLB in 2005 and from the University of Oslo, Norway, with an LLM in 2008; she is currently working at the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa and is the mother of two.
Mahlet Tesfaye Zewdie – Born in 1989 in Addis Ababa, Mahlet earned her BA in Philosphy from Addis Ababa University in 2011. Mahlet has taught as a graduate assistant at Debre Markos University and as a lecturer at Axum University. Mahlet is currently working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Government of Ethiopia and is a trainee diplomat.
Makeda Shimelise – Born in 1993 in Addis Ababa, Makeda is a fifth year student in the School of Law at Addis Ababa University, pursing her LLB nd expecting to graduate in 2015. She is a member of the Yellow Movement at the Law School, a campaign to eliminate violence against women.
Maryamawit Engdawork Kassa – Born in 1990 in Addis Ababa, Maryamawit graduated from Addis Ababa University with an LLB in 2012. After interning as a researcher in the Tadesse Kiros Law Office, at the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, and at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies in Addis Ababa, she is currently pursuing an MA with the Institute for Peace and Security Studies and serving as an African Union Youth Volunteer at the Center for African Leadership studies.
Born in 1979, Melat earned a BA in Accounting from Addis Ababa University in 2003 and is currently a candidate for a master’s degree in Sociology from Indira Gandhi University. She has served as Program Director for the African Center of Excellence project at the Institute for International Education. Previously she served as the Executive Director of the YWCA in Ethiopia for seven years. She is currently in the United States pursuing postgraduate work in Sustainable Development at the School of International Training in Washington DC.
Born in 1992 in Addis Ababa, Mintewab graduated at the top of her class in 2014 from the School of Law at Addis Ababa University, earning an LLB, with a strong interest in International Law. A member of the Yellow Movement at the Law School, a campaign to eliminate violence against women, she was a member of the first all-woman Ethiopian team to compete at the Jessup International Law Moot Court competition in Washington DC in April 2013. She is currently practicing law at a law firm in Addis Ababa.
Born in1991 in Addis Ababa, Redeat graduated from the School of Law at Addis Ababa University, with an LLB. A member of the Yellow Movement at the Law School, a campaign to eliminate violence against women, she was president of her class and participated in the Young Women’s Partnership organized by UN Women.
Renee Huffman – Born in 1981 in Waterloo, Iowa in the United States, Renee Huffman has a BA in Political Science and Sociology from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in Social Work from Howard University. She is a consultant on human trafficking and forced labor and has worked for the International Labour Organization and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. She has traveled extensively and works on issues affecting migrants in Central America, East Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia.
Born in 1989 in Addis Ababa, Semhal earned a BA in Psychology from Addis Ababa University in 2011. After volunteering and then working at the Network of Ethiopian Women’s Associations for more than two years, she is currently working as a Sourcing & Forwarding Specialist for THEO International General Trading LLC in their Dubai office.
Born in 1985 in Addis Ababa, Shewit holds a BA in Management Information Systems from Unity University, a BA in Sociology and Social Anthropology from Addis Ababa University, and an MA in Peace and Security Studies from the Institute for Peace and Security Studies of Addis Ababa University. She is currently a Program Officer at the Center for Development Consulting.
Tizita Tadesse Tekletsadik- Born in 1986 in Addis Ababa, Tizita has an MA in Gender Studies and an LLB from the Law Faculty at Addis Ababa University. After working for two years as a gender and Social Development Program Coordinator at Sustainable Environment and Development Action (SEDA) and than at ChildFund USA as a Child Protection and Gender Program Officer, she is currently Assistant Coordinator for the Community Wellbeing Initiative at the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Tizita has published a book entitled Violence Beyond Control in the 21st Century: The Case of Ethiopian Domestic Workers in Middle East Countries.
Born in 1990 in Gonder, Amhara Region, Woder is is studying Diplomacy and International Relations at the Ethiopian Civil Service University. She earned her BA in Political Science and International relations from Addis ababa University in 2011. She is currently a trainee diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.