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Emerging Women Leaders

Ethiopia’s women leaders find confidence and hope to achieve their visions

Belaynesh Worku lives in Damot Pulasa in southern Ethiopia where she farms and raised two sons. As a 40-year-old head of household (both her sons and her husband are attending university), she had been unable to obtain an agricultural loan with a local microfinance institution to invest in improved seeds and fertilizer, limiting her ability to increase her production and income. She briefly considered renting out her land, selling the iron roof of her house, or even withdrawing some of the family from university. 

Ethiopia Wegs Hero

CARD project WEG Members in Kersa Kebele draw their vision of an empowered woman. Photo: iDE

But prior to Belaynesh’s decision to resort to any of these options, iDE began working with her through our Resilient Economy and Livelihoods (REAL) project. With iDE’s support, she was finally able to access a loan, with which she bought the inputs she needed for her farm and received training from iDE’s field officers. 

Belaynesh Worku

“I am one of the respected women in my kebele, and my social, political, and economic participation has increased.” 

With a bright smile, Belaynesh proudly shows off her crops—irish potatoes, kale, and other vegetables. Her increased production has allowed her to not only feed her family, but also to sell these nutritious crops for cash income. The income then allowed her to reinvest in her farm and support her sons through university, major achievements in a community lacking land access and employment opportunities. At the same time, she’s emerged as a leader in her community, showing others how to be a successful small farmer.

Ethiopia Wegs Callout


Ethiopia’s traditional society is very patriarchal, reflected by gendered roles and responsibilities in which men are seen as the head of the household and women tend to depend on their husbands for land and other resources. Given that Ethiopia’s population is mainly engaged in agricultural-based livelihoods, these gendered roles can clearly be seen in daily farming related tasks. While men engage in plowing fields, harvesting, and selling crops and livestock, women are responsible for weeding, threshing, managing home gardens, childcare, cooking, and cleaning. Despite womens’ inputs into farming and other essential livelihood activities, women tend to have less ownership over resources, bargaining and decision-making power, and control over income. 

Empowering women socially and economically

iDE Ethiopia has made addressing gender inequities, particularly the challenges faced by women, a focus for our project implementations, working to ensure both men and women can access and use appropriate products and services and are linked to markets that create income opportunities. Our programming includes both the social and economic aspects of empowerment. In many projects, iDE specifically engages women by creating and facilitating Women Economic Groups (WEGs). The WEGs consist of 20-25 women who meet on a monthly basis to contribute money for savings, with the intention of accumulating enough money to loan to one another or invest in income-generating activities. The women also receive in-kind credit support in the form of two goats or sheep, and they are trained in how to raise and care for the animals. This model is meant to economically empower women as they invest in their livestock and save money for the future, but also addresses aspects of social empowerment through the relationships that are formed by its members and the increased agency that often results from engaging in these groups.

Members of the Kuftu Savings group carry their savings box to the meeting place. Photo: iDE

Community Role Model

With a new hopeful outlook on life, Belaynesh channels her positive energy and enthusiasm into her various leadership positions in the community. She describes how she is a respected woman in her neighborhood, and has increased her level of engagement in the community. Belaynesh is currently a leader in the local ‘health development army,’ a leader in the local women’s federation, and a cashier for a vegetable cooperative. As a role model for other women, she continues to strive towards a better life with hope and confidence.

WEGs at work

In iDE Ethiopia’s CARD project, 30 WEGs have been organized, engaging about 600 women. In addition to the economic empowerment aspect of the WEG activities, the members also describe how they’ve been socially empowered. Zukwale, a chairwoman of a WEG in Girmi, explains that the women didn’t really know each other before coming together in the WEG. Now that they meet on a regular basis, they have formed strong relationships and discuss their challenges, share ideas for solutions, and make future plans. This collective unity has also created space for leaders of all ages to emerge. Zukwale, only 22 years old, shares that she has become more confident and is more freely communicating with both the WEG members and her family. Meanwhile, Dinke, a 60-year-old WEG chairwoman in Kersa, shares how she encourages WEG members to speak their rights and pushes them to keep participating and contributing in the WEG. As these women gain knowledge and leadership skills through iDE’s support, they also earn respect within their communities and become influential female role models. 

Lessons Learned

  • While intentionally engaging with women has allowed women to step into leadership positions and generate collective action plans, entrenched gendered roles and cultural norms still inhibit women from gaining access to and control over economic assets. To more fully redress gender inequities in the communities with which we work, it is important to also engage with men to help shape and change their attitudes toward women in the marketplace.
  • iDE Ethiopia plans to do a deeper analysis into the WEG model, in particular the provision of sheep/goat in-kind credit and savings modality, to better understand the difference between short term and long term economic benefits of these activities, and make adjustments to the model to ensure these groups adequately address both social and economic empowerment of its members.

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