Profile: Emergence of women-led universities in Ethiopia

Throughout the existing 36 public universities in #Ethiopia, four additional pioneering female university presidents have risen to the top and are leading public universities in Bahir Dar, Mekelle, DireDawa and Wollo Universities located in Amhara, Tigray, and Oromia regions.

By Etenesh Abera @EteneshAb

Addis Abeba, October 16/2020  – It is almost 70 years since Addis Ababa University commenced working as the oldest and the largest higher learning and research institution in Ethiopia. The higher learning institution gradually increased to fewer numbers in the next 65 years, but quite significantly during the EPRDF regime. The data from Ministry of Education indicates that as of the year 2004/05, the number of public higher education institutions has increased, from 8 to 36 (33 take students directly from grade twelve), distributed across all regions of the country.

The inception and launching of government universities across the country also brought about an increase in number of female academic staffs to 3,904 comprising a share of female academic staffs is 12.6% according to the Education Statistics Annual Abstract, 2009 E.C. (2016/17) released by the Ministry of Education (MoE).

The number of women leaders at Ethiopian higher education institutions was significantly very low compared to that of men. It was the public’s knowledge that there were no women presidents or vice presidents in the higher education institutions for most of the lifetime of Ethiopian higher learning history. In conformation to this, a study has shown that there were no women presidents or vice presidents in the sector and fewer than 5% of deans and only 3% of department heads in public universities were women.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, recently led by a new female minister, Professor Hirut Woldemariam, who has also previously served as the vice president of the Addis Ababa University managed to positively shift the gender imbalance in the leadership of higher learning institutions to somehow better extent.

Throughout the existing 36 public universities in Ethiopia, four additional pioneering female university presidents have emerged at Bahirdar,  Mekelle, Dire Dawa and Wollo Universities.

Dr. Yeshimebrat Mersha Kassa

Ambassador Dr. Yeshimebrat Mersha Kassa (Picture: FDRE Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Dr. Yeshimebrat Mersha Kassa was noted as the first female Ethiopian University president. She has been leading Bahir Dar University from September 2008 to January 2011. She had led the University at Academic Vice President and Programs Officer and at Gender Office Coordinator posts erstwhile to the presidency.

She earned her PhD from Leopold-Franzens Universität Innsbruck of Austria in the area of Education, Gender and Development, and leadership in 2008.

Dr. Yeshimebrat previously had been assigned as Ethiopian Ambassador to the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. She had been working at various diplomatic posts in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the FDRE and currently she is working as the director for the Foreign Relations Strategic Information Resource Center.

Between the years 1990 – 2011, she studied Curriculum Instructions Pedagogy, Curriculum and Instructional Sciences, Education, gender and development studies at Master’s degree levels at Addis Ababa University graduate school.

Dr. Ubah Adem

Dr. Ubah Adem (Picture: FDRE Ministry of Science and Higher Education)

The current President of Dire Dawa University Dr. Ubah Adem is the second pioneer to be a female university president in the country. She was born in Oromia Region Western Harerge zone Daro Lebu Woreda in a small town called Mechara in 1978. She took her first Degree in Accounting from Civil Service University. 

She served in Somali Region for a year. According to Dr. Ubah, even if her family were merchants, they encouraged her and her siblings to learn to put forth efforts in pursuit of educational excellence. She earned her Master’s in Business Administration from India and came back to work at the Agriculture Bureau Somali Region and as a Regional Accountant for the World Bank project. At the time Ethiopian government opened the second generation universities, she became one of the lecturers at Dire Dawa University.

Dr. Ubah served at Dire Dawa University as Administration and Development Vice President from 2007 to 2013 while keeping her lecturing duties. After completing her PhD in 2018 she outstood the competition for Academic Issues Vice President position and held the post.

Dr Ubah was serving as acting President for Dire Dewa University after the Ministry of Science and Higher Education relieved the former president from the duty following the violence in the university in December, 2019. After a year she officially became the President of the University fulfilling requirements and winning the completion. 

Married and mother of three, Dr. Ubah while speaking to Addis Standard about the new position, said “I have been serving the university since the establishment and I do have huge experience in the administration with the proper educational background.” She added “I am one of the senior staff and I am glad to have this position out of strong competition.” 

Professor Fetien Abay

Professor Fetien Abay (Picture: Mekelle University)

Recently, Professor Fetien Abay came as an Acting President of Mekelle University. She took the position after the long serving Professor Kindeya Gebrehiwot who was relieved from his duty on September 14.

Professor Fetien was born in the Wuqro town of Kilte Awulaelo Woreda that is found in the Eastern Zone of the Tigray Region. In her childhood, at about age of 12 she was proposed for an arranged marriage that later was thwarted by her mother.

Professor Fetien first studied Plant Science and got a Diploma from Hawassa Agricultural College and worked in rural areas of Oromia, and Amhara Regions for about three years as of 1985.

Later, she pursued her studies in Plant Science and earned a BSc degree in 1991 from Haramaya University, Ethiopia and became researcher at Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR).

In 1993 Professor Fetien joined Mekelle University, at early days its establishment as the first female lecturer. She then specialized in Rural Resource Management and earned her MSc from the University of Wales in 1995.

Professor Fetien dwelled in development-oriented research and lecturing for several more years at Mekelle University until she went to Norwegian University of Life Sciences for further studies to gain her PhD in Plant and Seed Sciences and graduated in 2007. 

She has 45 recorded publications of articles, proceedings and booklets in relation to her specialty on plant breeding that she practically demonstrated their applications that is also developed with the life time experience and knowledge of farmers she works closely with.

Professor Fetien has been devoting herself in several mandates of scientific researches and on advocacy of gender balance and she was director of the Institute of Environment, Gender, and Development Studies (IEGDS).

Professor Fetien is also recognized with the “East African Laureates” prize of the African Union Kwame Nkrumah Prestigious Scientific achievement Award, in 2014 for scientific contributions in the areas of plant breeding and seed.

Dr. Atsede Tefera

Dr. Atsede Tefera (Picture: Wollo University)

Wollo University in its announcement released on October 14, 2020, another female academician Dr. Atsede Tefera as the interim President of the University following the resignation of the former president Dr. Abate Getahun.

The University indicated that the Board of Trustees of the University on October 12, 2014 informed the middle management that they were grateful for the great contribution of Dr. Abate Getahun to the University so far and have subsequently appointed Dr. Atsede Tefera on the post.

Dr. Atsede Tefera has been working as Culture and Art Director at Wollo University. She is an Assistant Professor in Folklore. AS

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