Summit Teaches Students to Promote Gender Equality
by Grace Kabel (Agula, Tigray, 2015–17)
On Thursday, March 3rd, ten Peace Corps Volunteers traveled to Addis Ababa from the Amhara, Tigray, and SNNPR regions of Ethiopia for the third annual “Action for Gender Equality (AGE) Summit.” Each Peace Corps Volunteer brought with them four of their best students to the four-day leadership training. The Summit was hosted by Peace Corps/Ethiopia’s Gender and Development Committee that was established in 2012 to encourage and support grassroots efforts to promote sustainable gender equality efforts in Ethiopia.
To gain a spot at the Summit —
- Volunteers from across Ethiopia completed gender-related activities at their sites for points.
- Each Volunteer worked with a counterpart from her/his local community to lead a gender club for their students.
- Five outstanding counterparts were selected to join their PCVs at the Summit due to their initiative and commitment to gender equality in their home country.
- The competition activities introduced students to the concepts of gender norms, gender roles, gender-based violence, and other important topics, and the students used this working knowledge to delve into the topics more in depth at the Summit.
- The Volunteers with the most points at the end of the three-month competition were invited to bring two female and two male students to the Summit.
The purpose of the Summit was twofold: to prepare the students to become junior counselors at Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) this summer, and to become ambassadors for gender equality in their communities through their gender clubs. Many of the sessions at the Summit used the topic of gender equality to develop the students’ leadership and life skills. Through various activities, participants explored leadership styles, teamwork practices, interpersonal skills, and effective communication methods. At the end of the Summit, the participants gathered with their PCV leader, fellow students from their town, and a counterpart to plan an activity to lead at Camp GLOW. Additionally, they creatively sought solutions for common scenarios at camp by performing skits that demonstrated ineffective and effective methods for solving problems.
In the spirit of leadership, the Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Mission to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Susan Page, gave the opening address. Ambassador Page spoke to the students about her career, including the humanitarian concerns she witness during the civil war in South Sudan during her time there as U.S. ambassador. She emphasized the importance of working collaboratively to accomplish common goals.
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Patricia Haslach, disappointed at being unable to attend, showed her support by creating a video message for the students. She spoke about some of the specific gender inequality issues prevalent in Ethiopia and applauded the students for their efforts to make change in their local communities.
Berhane Daba, founder of the Ethiopian Women with Disabilities National Association and winner of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award from the National Peace Corps Foundation for her work empowering disabled women in Ethiopia, gave the keynote address. One of the themes of this year’s Summit was service, so it was only fitting to have such an iconic woman speak about her work towards creating a more equal and inclusive Ethiopia.
In keeping with the themes of gender equality and volunteerism, six accomplished Ethiopians spoke about their lives and jobs as part of the career panel. On the panel were:
- Beletshachew Tadesse, the manager of the rehabilitation center at Hamlin Fistula Hospital;
- Amen Taye Bekele, a student at Addis Ababa University and a member of the Yellow Movement, an AAU group that works to speak up for women and girls’ rights;
- Aklile Mekuria, program manager of Girls Gotta Run;
- Bezuhan Endale, a football player on the Ethiopian women’s national team;
- Michael Alemayahu, an actor and journalist; and
- Tirubrhan Getnet, director of the Good Samaritan Association.
Most of the students who attended the Summit had never been to Addis or thought about the numerous career opportunities that await them if they go to university. The aim of the career panel was to show a diverse range of careers that students could pursue here in Ethiopia. It was also meant to be inspiring. While none of the students may qualify for the Women’s National Football Team, they can relate to the discrimination and hardship felt by Bezu Endale as she fought to achieve her dream.
The AGE Summit was funded by the U.S. government’s PEPFAR program – the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Many of the students attending the Summit were in the trenches of puberty, so Population Services International and Girl Effect sent staff to teach the students about their changing bodies. Once they had a grasp on the facts, we talked a lot about family planning. Everyone knows abstinence is the best policy, but the students were interested in other options to consider in the future. We talked about all of the birth control options available in Ethiopia, but emphasized the importance of condoms in preventing STIs and pregnancy. The students then completed a condom relay race with their teams. Each team member — girls and guys — had to correctly put a condom on a penile model. It was a new challenge made all the more difficult by the uproar in the room.
One of the most popular activities at the Summit this year (and every year) was “Walk a Kilometer in Her Shoes.” It’s an obstacle course relay race that places boys literally in girls’ shoes and dresses to complete stereotypically gendered chores — like caring for a baby, washing clothes, and making food. Afterwards everyone sits down to discuss gender roles in Ethiopia. One male student from SNNPR explained: “Just as we are men, it doesn’t mean we can’t do things; it doesn’t mean we can’t make buna.” Coffee ceremonies are a large part of everyday Ethiopian life. Girls and women prepare coffee by washing, roasting, and grinding the beans by hand multiple times a day for their families. This creates obstacles to their education because they are encumbered with a large amount of housework. It is important that household labor becomes more balanced if girls and women are going to truly achieve equality in Ethiopia.
Rarely do boys hear from girls about what life is like for them. That’s why the activity “Gender Stadium” is so impactful. All of the female students and counterparts sit in the middle of a circle while the males sit in a circle surrounding them. The boys listen but do not speak as the girls answer discussion questions about their experiences and the difficulties that they face due to their gender. Once the girls are finished, they switch places with boys and listen to their answers to the discussion questions. It’s always an emotional activity, but it’s one that creates a deeper empathy and understanding of the opposite sex afterwards.
On the last morning of the Summit, everyone participated in the “Women’s First 5K Race.” This is Africa’s largest all-female footrace, and all of the girls completed the race! Although the boys weren’t allowed to run in the race, they showed their support by painting their faces and cheering us on with motivational signs. One of our favorites read: “Don’t be late! Our girls are winners!”
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, which took place one day after the Summit, was “Pledge for Parity.” Students took that idea home, with many saying they pledged to fight for gender equality and share the knowledge they gained at the Summit with their classmates, friends, and family when they returned to their towns.