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Unchained. Unbothered.

May 1, 2020

Ethiopian by birth, but raised in Rwanda, Marianne Mesfin Asfaw has committed her professional life and her personal projects to gender equality on the continent she calls home. On this episode, she talks about how her job with an international women’s rights organization and her involvement with a collective of largely African feminists have informed how she navigates the world as a young feminist with global experiences. Marianne shares that her background as a global citizen began as early as her teens – where she studied in the West and lived with her sisters. She explains that such an early taste of independence makes it difficult now to deal with older people who don’t take her seriously just because she’s in her twenties. Having returned to Rwanda in the past year, she also is finding it difficult to deal with the suggestion that she devote more time to preparing for marriage or otherwise tailoring her behavior to fit the cultural standards of a young woman who is on the marriage market. Marianne shares stories of professional conversations with mentor figures turning into guidance on how to seek a life partner, older women dismissing her indifference to starting a family with edicts that “you’ll get over that,” and the occasional free spirited auntie showing her how to push back against such restrictive cultural norms. Marianne also shares how her studies in gender politics and her maturity as a young adult have caused her to critique pop culture and the media she consumed as a high school student. She even reflects more seriously on what her work in women’s rights has shown her about how much danger and fear large segments of women around the world must navigate on a daily basis. “As a young woman who does feminist work,” Marianne explains. “I am aware of how much we have to think about our own safety.” Marianne then goes on to cite what it would take for her to be able to claim the title of free. “I always wonder what it would be like to feel safe and not have to calculate my every move to avoid potential harm. I think once we have that for more women, I would feel free.”