The symposium provided a platform for academics from around the world to engage in enriching discussions on various women’s and leadership issues from different perspectives. It was held from 31rd of July to 2nd of August 2019 at Green Templeton College, University of Oxford.
Elshaday Woldeyesus presented on the title “Women’s Voices: Rethinking State led Mass Women’s Organizations – the Case of “Women Development Armies” in Ethiopia. In the past decade, the government of Ethiopia has mobilized large numbers of women in to what they called ‘Women Development Armies’ with the aim of “ensuring the participation of women in the development and political processes of the country”. About 12 million women are reported to be members. These women development armies are praised for bringing about measurable achievements in terms of girls’ education, decline of maternal mortality and reduction of harmful traditional practices. On the other hand, they are criticized for being used by the government as a means of control. The findings from the study show the agency of women to modify and influence these structures despite their constraining nature. Moreover, by examining and making comparison with State Socialist mass women’s organizations and their aftermath in post-communist Central and Eastern European countries the study makes the case for strengthening these women development armies, by re-designing them in a way that ensures the genuine and democratic participation of women at the grassroots level.
Elshaday Kifle Woldeyesus is a lecturer at the Center for Human Rights at Addis Ababa University and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Graz. Her doctoral research examines political representation of women in Ethiopia. Before joining Addis Ababa University, Woldeyesus was a researcher at the University for Peace – Africa Programme and previously worked for different non-governmental organizations. Woldeyesus was Fulbright Humphrey Fellow based at American University Washington College of Law in 2015/16. She holds a master’s degree from the United Nations mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica.