Women in Ethiopia’s Governance

The new climate of Ethiopian politics has brought smiles to the faces of the country’s inhabitants with the different political views of a young Prime Minister, who has been taking unusual steps the past six months for his people, but also considering the important of women’s voices in the country.

Women’s voices are necessary in a country’s decision making process, and for democracy, peace, and development. Even though we today see women being involved in many fields of work, and in leadership positions around the world, there are some areas which still prevent women’s representation. And governance is one of such in particular.

Though some countries are overcoming their traditional boundaries and are opening ways for women to represent politics, challenges seem to be still high in developing and underdeveloped countries.

The society of Ethiopia with its ancient conservative traditions in general is harsher with women and girls that lead towards dreadful practices such as child marriage, marital rape, and female genital mutilation. Even if Ethiopia has ratified some of the main international human rights instruments that forbids sexual and gender discrimination, the problem continues to remain unchanged for women in Ethiopia, especially or those who are less educated, and those who are poor. The determined gender roles of Ethiopia prevent both men and women to engage in particular activities of work that are not assigned to them by the society and tradition, and those who fail to adhere are considered as outcasts, mainly in the rural with less in the urban.

Yet, even amidst unfair gender roles and diverse odds in the socio, economic, cultural patterns, considerable progress is taking place in the country to educate girls, and to bring gender equality.  Thus, women in the urban are getting involved in various activities, and are taking up positions in academic, economic and political circles, even though they are still treated lesser than their counterparts, the men.

The current Prime Minister of Ethiopia broke the patriarchy systems to advocate for the increase of women participation in the country’s leadership positions. Since April this year, Ethiopia is seeing positive changes, especially the women therein.

The Ethiopian parliament was opened to more women politicians assigning women as cabinet ministers. Fifty percent of the ministerial positions were given to women, including the post of Defense Minister. This huge change in the government fell upon as a great surprise not only on the country, but also to the international community, making it the first country in Africa to have gender equality in the cabinet. Before, Ethiopia had only three women members in the parliament.

Meseret (not her real name), a woman from the village talked about her feeling of having females in the parliament.

I always admire when woman do things which we think is a man’s job. These days even young women are driving those huge buses. I feel so happy about them, but the men say discouraging words. Even some women deny believing in their own selves. If we discourage our sisters, who will be by their side? In my house, my husband and I, find it difficult to see problems or have the ability to manage our children wisely. The largest part of the work in shaping the family is done by me; my husband doesn’t pay attention to it. If we women can do it at home, then why can’t we in the society, why not for the country. We have the capacity; we women have. I am glad those ladies are given these positions. Hopefully they’ll do a better job than the men leaders. We women have the thriving capacity, and we know how to manage every situation and in any given environment.”In addition to the equal ministerial representation in the parliament, the recent presidential elections of October awed the citizens of Ethiopia. For the first time in Ethiopian history a female was elected as the President of the country. Ambassador Sahilework Zewdie who was quietly, yet steadily involved in diverse initiatives towards empowering women, became the President, bringing hope to many women of Ethiopia.

Members of Ethiopian Women’s Association, Women Lawyers’ Associations and other various organizations run by women expressed their gladness with the new changes in the political arena. This great step taken for the advancement of women is not only joy to the Ethiopian women, but for all women in the African continent.

We women of Ethiopia are extremely happy; we are amazed at all the sudden happenings.  These women in the parliament are the educated lot. Will they understand our sufferings? We have to wait and see what happens next. We hope our lives too will be changed”, mentioned Aida (not her real name), a middle-aged woman from the outskirts of Addis Ababa.

Meaza Ashenafi is the first female Judge of the Supreme Court of Ethiopia.

Lily | Ethiopia