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A Profile of Ethiopia’s First Female Head of State

Ethiopia recently got its first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde, on October 25, 2018, and she is now Africa’s only female head of state. This is a monumental change for the patriarchal country, and even though the position is mostly ceremonial, this symbolizes a shift in ideology about gender roles for Ethiopia. Ethiopia still has a long way to go in terms of promoting gender equality, but by having a woman as head of state, this shows that the country is making great strides to shape its own narrative around this topic.

Fitsum Arega, chief of staff to the prime minister’s office said in a tweet: “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.”

When the previous president, Mulatu Teshome resigned from his position, parliament named Sahle-Work to replace him. Sahle-Work was previously director-general of the U.N. Office in Nairobi and held a range of diplomatic posts, including Ethiopia’s ambassador to France and Djibouti.

The appointment of president Sahle-Work has been called ‘historic’ by many on social media. She has openly stated that those who think she has already talked too much about women should expect even more. All this happened in the context in which the dynamic prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, had given half of his cabinet posts to women. He has publicly expressed the need to promote women amidst Ethiopia’s more traditional and patriarchal society.

-Written by Maranata Zemede (Intern), edited by Ntama Bahati (Policy Analyst)

Photograph courtesy of Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

References:

https://www.npr.org/2018/10/25/660618139/ethiopia-gets-its-first-female-president

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/ethiopia-appoints-first-female-president-in-its-modern-history-in-latest-reform/2018/10/25/3514d3a4-d82b-11e8-a10f-b51546b10756_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.328f9bccdda1

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-45976620