Ethiopia: Women taking bigger roles as parliament elects first female president in modern history

Amb. Sahle-Work Zewde, Ethiopian President

by Engidu Woldie
ESAT News (October 25, 2018)

The government of a reformist Prime Minister in Ethiopia, which had appointed half women in its cabinet last week, has elected a female as the country’s president.

Ethiopia’s bicameral parliament today appointed Sahle-Work Zewde, a career diplomat that served her country as an ambassador and later with the United Nations in different capacities.

She told MPs that one of her priorities as president of the country was to be a role model for girls and women, and support Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government reforms, especially in bringing more women to leadership roles.

Sahle-Work Zewde, 68, is the first female head of state in a century. Empress Zewditu, daughter of Menelik II, who reigned from 1916 to 1930, was the first female head of state in Africa.

The sweeping change towards gender parity in government positions is widely admired and considered as a bold move by the government of Abiy Ahmed in the otherwise patriarchal and conservative country.

“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,” tweeted Fitsum Arega, Ahmed’s chief of staff.

Before annointed as president of Ethiopia, Ambassador Zewde has served Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union at the level of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The french educated diplomat had served as ambassador of Ethiopia to France, Djibouti and Senegal among others.

Zewde will be Africa’s only female head of state currently holding office.