Sahle-Work Zewde has been elected Ethiopia’s first female President by the country’s members of parliament, following the unexpected resignation of her predecessor, Mulatu Teshome.
An experienced diplomat, Ms. Sahle-Work who, until her appointment, was the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the UN representative at the African Union, has become Africa’s only female head of state. Her election came just a week after the reform-minded Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed created history by appointing 10 women to ministerial positions in his new cabinet. With the progressive cabinet formation, Ethiopia has become, after Rwanda and Seychelles Island, the third African country to have a gender-balanced cabinet. Since taking over the mantle of leadership in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has initiated a lot of reforms, including resuming diplomatic relations with Ethiopia’s former antagonist Eritrea. Both countries had fought a bloody war, which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
The newly appointed President Sahle-Work promised to do all within her power to make gender equality a reality in Ethiopia and warned the MPs that her appointment was just a beginning towards achieving that goal.
While many have applauded the appointment of Sahle-Work as the first female President of Ethiopia and called it “historic,” others may not be happy with the appointment in a patriarchal society like Ethiopia. The prime minister’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, revealed:
“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 normalizes women as decision-makers in public life”.
The question is: Will other African countries follow the right steps taken by Rwanda, Seychelles Island, and now, Ethiopia towards creating a gender-neutral government and offering women their rightful opportunity and place in the society?