Netsanet Mengistu – Ethiopia

Linked with our presentation of PROGYNIST.

And linked with our presentation of towards helping women to fulfill their responsibilities.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed fort the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Goes with ‘Assuming Authority‘.

She says: “We have to be able to gain the trust and respect of those in power and the people around us, without compromising our fundamental principles and values.”

Netsanet Mengistu – Ethiopia

She works for Progynist, and for Meklit Microcreditbank.

Netsanet Mengistu has a BA in Management and Administration. She is the founder of Progynist, an Ethiopian women’s empowerment NGO, and Meklit, a pioneering local microcredit bank. Netsanet focuses on gender discrimination. She is committed to building up and enhancing the infrastructure in the underprivileged areas in Ethiopia.

As an active member in the Ethiopian opposition for many years, Netsanet mobilizes women to strive for social development and the establishment of community projects in healthcare, education and legal consultation for marginalized Ethiopian citizens.Netsanet was born in Assosa near the Ethiopian-Sudanese border among a multitude of ethnic and tribal groups, far from the privileged Amharic center of Addis Ababa. Her entry to the Haile Selassie University coincided with the beginning of the Ethiopian student movement and propelled her into the center of politics. She says, “The movement helped me to see more clearly the injustice in my country; it helped to shape my political thoughts.” By 1974, the monarchy responded with force. Netsanet adds, “Many university students were temporarily deregistered, including myself”.

After university she was employed in the Ethiopian Ministry of Interior, Department of Municipalities. Netsanet recounts, “It was at this time that the Derg began to define who was with them and who was against them. During this time I traveled extensively throughout the country, which gave me a chance to get closer to the people. I was shocked by the desperate conditions of the people there. My work simply confirmed the arguments that I had heard on campus.”

From there Netsanet went underground and worked against the regime, including four years hiding in the rural areas until she was arrested in 1980 and was imprisoned for six years. She remembers, “I considered myself lucky to have been taken to prison rather than been killed.” After her release Netsanet experienced dramatic changes. “The repression had changed people’s behavior and attitudes so much: the arbitrariness of the killings, the demoralization and the fear. There was no life at all”. Feeling dislocated, being denied to travel abroad, and everywhere seeing places reminding her of dear friends who were killed in the struggle – this made life so hard for her.

She worked in different government and NGO positions until she was encouraged by friends to establish her own NGO in 1997. She says, “I thought that through Progynist I could help Ethiopian women to take on their full positions in society’s political and economic development. It shouldn’t be a temporary solution or a springboard to something else”. With orchestrated efforts of some friends Netsanet started visiting local people and discussing with the different kebele (an amharic word for a town quarter, generally speaking an administrative entity) groups and households in the poorer quarters before setting up basic social, education, health and sanitation infrastructures – knowing better about the communities needs and how to mobilize the potentials for change.

So far about 8000 urban and 4000 rural school dropouts, single mothers without income, illiterate and HIV patients have found support to build up business and work skills to earn a living. The visible signposts of Progynist´s activities are the Microcreditbank (Meklit), the water points, health center and sanitation constructions handed over to the community boards of Kifle Ketema, Butajira and Beressa. Progynist also organizes also alternative basic education classes, provides supportive measures to give access to higher education for performing poor children and offers tutorial classes for girls to enhance their skills to pursue higher education.

At any given occasion Netsanet gives merits to her team. Talking in 2002 to some work partners: “Progynist is now more than four years old, and I am really proud of what we, as a team, board members and myself have built together. There is a tremendous dedication within the organization to the people we serve and to the values we represent.”

Progynist has grown to an organization with 5 local offices, 55 professionals and semi-professionals with 18 janitorial crew and animators. Most of them have started off the project with Netsanet from the outset, knowing that new issues are emerging, new forms of injustice. They feel the need for broader responses, not just case-management. According to her experience, constraints of women empowerment are not only economical and physical, “but in a society like ours it is more socio-cultural and thus attitudinal. Thus it follows that unless such situations are curbed, equitable and sustainable socio-economic development is unattainable,” says Netsanet.

The recent research on the effects and origin of harmful traditional practices and violence against women and female children brings new insight into the deeply-rooted forms of domestic and gender violence, and shows links to legal and operational measures in order to overcome it. Compared to past trends in violence (harmful practices and traditional law, yet certain protective mechanisms), Netsanet found that new forms have emerged. The report unveils in a broad analysis some of them: “Trafficking girls who have not even reached the age of puberty for reasons that are mostly unknown, but in some institutions it is for prostitution; forcing girls into sex-work by putting them under the influence of different kinds of drugs; the increasing incidence of rape which additionally exposes them to HIV/AIDS; and persons with HIV virus spreading the virus knowingly.”

Netsanet knows that a single NGO cannot overcome all the challenges. “We count on our boards, our staff and the networks we are in,” says Netsanet. Aside from the NGO work she acts as national project coordinator for the Ethiopian program of the ECA-promotion for informal sector development in Africa and liaises as board member with various national and local organizations – where she gives her support, stands with her values and defends so vigorously for the best of her country and its citizens. She emphasizes, “Development work requires the utmost alertness every minute of the day. You need to know your environment as perfectly as you can – you have to be able to feel it, to analyze it ,using your sense to handle it and position yourself to make the best out of every situation”.


from Social Action to Social Development;

Center for National Health Development in Ethiopia;

Dean’s List;

Half the World;

African Resources.

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