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Women on the pedestal

Women on the pedestal

Five women will be honored with the Women’s of Excellence Awards at Sheraton Addis tomorrow evening. This is the fifth year AWiB – Association of Women in Business is honoring women from a number of arenas for excelling in fields that they are the exceptions, not the norm.

Since the awards’ inception in 2012, the event has been one of the move coveted events of the year costing thousands of birr a ticket. The event hosts heads of governments, banks and companies to its rooster.  For several years, it has honored more than three dozens of individuals from all sectors. 

This as the narratives of the Ethiopian women remains dismissal and many institutions lack any women at leadership positions. Last week for instance, one-time government Education Minister Genet Zewdie highlighted how in the Addis Ababa University long history of 70 years, there has only been two women elevated to full professorships. This as the nation’s lone women’s bank also has a man as president.

While most of the attendees are capable of changing the narrative of women and leadership, almost all institutions in the country remain a man’s world.

There is no denying the dazzling crowd of the rich and famous with their Gucci watches and crystal white accessories and immaculate styles are no indication of the reality of the nation. While they may endorse the old feminist cry of “A women’s place is not necessarily in the kitchen, but where ever she chooses to belong”, the average Ethiopian women are at the position that is secondary, at the “back of the bus”.

According to Metasebia Shewaye Yilma a.k.a. Meti, the new president-elect of AWIB and a media personality, the group is not just in the business of granting awards, but has an ongoing program to empower women. Such are an ongoing monthly support group that meets at a local hotel to inspire its members and also a networking opportunity to support women leaders.

Almaz Tewolde, a young entrepreneur is critical of AWiB. “How is it honoring established leaders, who do have connections and money, any way connected to moving our agenda forward?” she asked. “This is more of a show, than anything else.”  

Meti told The Reporter how they are honoring these established women, not only because they are individually powerful, but because they have created opportunities for other women to have a voice, and because they are used as a source of inspiration, as worthy to emulate in the future.

Meti, who has transitioned from radio-to-TV, describes herself as a “constant student of life, a teacher of life”. She joined the group in 2015 and quickly rose up to an executive position. She wanted to inspire, mentor others join the sectors that have fewer in them, like this weekend’s honorees, which includes a football referee.

She calls AWiB as a “transformative space to unleash potentials of great Ethiopian women leaders” and shares its vision of personal conviction, transformation journeys from fringe to mainstream members of society”.

To the critics who challenge the notion that the award only glorifies the already glorified women, who unlike the civil rights or the feminist movement where the dream was to use funds to endorse or protest against or for something, Meti is quick to explain the organization spends its resources where ever it gets the best service and does not go out of its way to spend its money where its mouth is.

For instance, the Sheraton was picked to host the award ceremony, not because it necessarily empowers women, but because it was the best hotel in the nation.

“We are about leadership, we celebrate these women in the most elegant and classy way, as these women have given their life, blood, sweat and tears for the community,” Meti said. “At least for one day, we make it special for them,”

For Almaz, that is progress backward, not forward. “That is why we have less female entrepreneurs in the country, not because women do not want to be business, but because we do nor have the infrastructure not the support to be in successful.”

However, Meti sees it differently.  

“We look at excellence, on what is the best provider; we don’t endorse anyone because its women run only,” she said. “The way we empower women is by working with men. We have realized we cannot accomplish our goals by working exclusively with women-to-women alone.”