Tuesday 15 October 2019

Ethiopia appoints its first ever female president to 'set the standard for future'

President Sahle-Work Zewde takes the oath of office. Photo: Reuters
President Sahle-Work Zewde takes the oath of office. Photo: Reuters

Elias Meseret

Ethiopian lawmakers unanimously elected the country's first female president on Thursday, days after approving one of the world's few "gender-balanced" cabinets as the country's dramatic reforms continue.

As seasoned diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde assumed the largely ceremonial post, many celebrated Africa's only current female head of state. The continent's first female president, Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, left office this year.

"Congratulations, Madam President! Women do make a difference. We are proud of you!" the female president of the United Nations General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garces, said in a Twitter post.

"In a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalises women as decision-makers in public life," the chief of staff for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Twitter.

The East African country long has shown some of the lowest indicators of gender equality in sub-Saharan Africa, UN Women has said. "Women and girls in Ethiopia are strongly disadvantaged compared to boys and men in several areas, including literacy, health, livelihoods and basic human rights." Female genital mutilation continues in some areas despite the government declaring it illegal.

But the new prime minister has clearly decided to include women's leadership in the sweeping political and economic reforms he has announced in Africa's second most populous country since taking office in April.

Ethiopian lawmakers last week approved a cabinet with women making up a record 50pc of ministers, including the country's first female defence minister. Likely inspired, Rwanda two days later announced its own cabinet with 50pc women.

Irish Independent

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