Friday, March 8, 2013

Women's day : is empowering women a mission impossible?

The 8th of March is Women's day, a day made to reflect on the position of women in the world. Last year I have shown the women I had met in rural Ethiopia and how they live (see Often they do very hard work, have very little power in their families and social environment. But not all is bad, even in Ethiopia you can find women that are slowly making their way or in rural communities or the agricultural sector and get more and more their voices heart. Today I would like to introduce you to some of these women who somehow impressed me and are part of a change.

Women presenting their work in Gorosole watershed
Firstly, last year I coordinated focus group discussions in 4 communities in Ethiopia (see, and we worked with women separately so that their voice could be heart. Some of these women never had a pen in their hand and first were afraid to draw the map and to even say something.

Women working on a participatory mapping exercise in Maksegnit
But along the discussion, most women started feeling more comfortable, started talking and even tried to take a pen and draw or use the glue. They discovered that they are in fact capable of doing many things, but they simply had never tried before. They also discovered that their opinion was valuable to us, and not just the one of their husbands. At the end of the exercise women presented their work to the men's group. I was impressed how these women managed to defend their work, when men started to criticize, something most of them had not done before.

Women presenting their work in Shambu
But it is not only about getting women into expressing their opinions in community discussions but it is also about getting more women in trainings and pushing them to gain experience. We tried to involve women into the moderation of focus group discussions. For all of them it was their first moderation exercise, they were already so much more sure of themselves for the second round... so hopefully not it was not their the last one.

training the female moderator for the focus group discussions
Also we tried to get women into all the trainings, with more or less of success. Like in the western world, it is very difficult to find women working in engineering or ict.

The only Ethiopian female participant in a training for water practitioners
Also, during the GIS training, some of the class was taught by the Ethiopian female GIS specialist of IWMI, who after giving the class once became a good teacher.

The GIS training with the female participants on the left, and the female GIS specialist second from the right

I also once had an Ethiopian intern who was very shy. It took energy and training. But when she left she gave such a breath taking presentation of her work, sure of herself and ready to defend her work.

The Ethiopian women's run last year with the Ethiopian intern

I am impressed by all these women, who all have made a big step given the situation there are in. They all show us that in fact, it does not take so much to empower women. Far from being a mission impossible, it was just a matter of giving to each of these woman the chance to do something she had never done before and giving her the possibility to grow. So why doesn't it happen more often?

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