Taoiseach forced to leave high ranking female officials to visit monastery in Ethiopia
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was forced to leave a number of high ranking female officials outside a section of a famous ancient monastery during his visit to Ethiopia.
Despite being accompanied by Ireland's Ambassador to Ethiopia Sonja Hyland on his three day tour of the visit to the country, as well as his Aide de Camp Caroline Burke and Assistant Secretary in the Department of the Taoiseach, Helen Blake, Mr Varadkar toured part of the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion monastery with only men.
In the part of the monastery viewed the site believed by many to the be the place where the Ark of the Covenant containing the ten tablets reputedly brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses reside.
While the move may raise eyebrows in the wake of controversy over the attendance of male diplomats at events run by gentleman's only clubs in the US, the site has held to the tradition of allowing only men to enter for centuries.
Mr Varadkar met during his visit with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has appointed a gender balanced Cabinet and also with President Sahle-Work who is the first female president in Ethiopia.
Speaking at the Irish embassy in Addis Ababa Mr Varadkar said he had a special interest in the education of women and girls in relation to vaccinations and the prevention of HIV and Aids. A number of Irish Aid projects in Ethiopia relate to the education and economic development of women who currently face substantial challenges in relation to equality.
Speaking after his meeting with Prime Minister Abiy the Taoiseach was not able to commit to a 50:50 gender split following his planned Cabinet reshuffle this summer. He said scope would be limited due the make-up of the parliamentary party but said he is committed to seeing more women elected.
A spokesperson for the Taoiseach told Independent.ie said it is "appropriate to respect the rules and customs of different cultures and religions especially when you are in their countries, holy places or homes".
"The Taoiseach has completed a week-long visit to Africa to see at first hand the work of the Irish Defence Forces in peace support and training duties in Mali, and the vital work of Irish Aid helping tens of thousands of people in Ethiopia. The itinerary in Ethiopia included a visit to a United Nations refugee camp, and Irish Aid funded facilities benefiting communities and families. There was also a heritage aspect with the ancient churches at Lalibela.
"The Taoiseach was brought to the religious sites at Axum by the mayor which includes a monastery. This monastery sets its own access code and has done so for hundreds of years. Like many churches, convents, temples and mosques, they have rules about who may enter and how they should dress. It is appropriate to respect the rules and customs of different cultures and religions especially when you are in their countries, holy places or homes. The Taoiseach and Irish government imposes no such rules when it comes to properties owned by the Irish State and does not support such rules."