Wossen Argaw Tegegn § Vera Campbell Fellowship

“The Gender Agenda in Ethiopian Technology Universities”

Wossen Argaw TegegnWossen Argaw Tegegn2011–2012 Campbell Resident ScholarWossen Argaw Tegegn2011–2012 Campbell Resident Scholar

Wossen Argaw Tegegn was the first female lecturer hired at Ethiopia’s Adama Science and Technology University. Perhaps the people who hired her had little idea what they were in for. Tegegn has set her sights on transforming the way women are treated in higher education in Ethiopia. One of her first steps was to establish the Gender Office at Adama, the mission of which is to identify and correct discrimination against women at the school. Her research focuses on why male students traditionally outperform females in technology fields. She is conducting her research not only at Adama, where she has worked for seventeen years, but also at four other public universities in Ethiopia.

Technology and science have traditionally been fields largely reserved for males, but that has begun to change in Ethiopia. As more women came to Adama, Tegegn saw that they were disciplined and motivated in their pursuit of a degree in a technological field, yet their attrition rate was higher and their achievement rate lower. As she began studying the phenomenon, she saw that in classes the men “hold the mouse” and the surveying instruments. The women were relegated most of the time to clerical tasks, like compiling and writing. Her natural question was why.

“I hope the findings of my research will help to build a shared vision of transforming Ethiopian higher learning institutes into inclusive education centers where both young women and men can contribute and benefit.”—Wossen Argaw Tegegn

Her answer is the same as in other cultures: traditional male and female roles are hard to renegotiate. She heard from the women that the professors didn’t think they could do the work, while the male students were dismissive of them and tended to socialize with the other male students, where they exchanged important information regarding resources and scholarships to which the women did not have access. In Tegegn’s words, “It is very common to get things done in the pub, where women do not go. This is a subtle, passive form of exclusion from an important network.” Women were also afraid to go out to the lab or the library at night. In the book she worked on while at SAR, she includes a chapter titled “Fire on the Foot,” in which she tells of the rape of a female student by two university workers and the lack of institutional policies to deal with the incident. “In front of my eyes, the eyes of everybody, this happened in our university. It’s something we should not be quiet about,” Tegegn says. “Because of the appointment that I have, I am in a better position to speak it out. Who am I to have such a privilege? I was an uneducated woman, a daughter of Ethiopia. My mothers have paid and sacrificed for my education, so I have to give back to my society. I should be able to use my position to create a better environment, which will be good not only for women, but for men too.”

When asked if she is ever afraid because of the revolutionary role she has undertaken, Tegegn responded, “I don’t mind. I’m too old to be scared of this.”

Find out more about Wossen Argaw Tegegn by visiting the SAR website (opens in new browser window).

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