SEATTLE, Washington — Ethiopians elected Sable-Work Zewde as the country’s first female president on October 25, 2018, sparking change for gender equality in Ethiopia. Throughout the country’s history, men were given greater power than women, resulting in a huge discrepancy in resources distributed between the sexes. Access to resources, political power and support of women are all about to change under the new presidency in Ethiopia.
Women’s Access to Resources
In Ethiopia, resources have been mediated through men up to now, which has seriously hindered women’s access to those resources. For example, girls’ access to education has been difficult. USAID reported that only 30 to 35 percent of women enroll in University. This limits their access to resources even more because only a small percentage of women in the country are able to provide for themselves due to the lack of education.
Men also have had the upper hand when it comes to access to healthcare as well. This includes health issues unique to women, such as birth control and reproductive health. As a result, 12 percent of those giving birth in Ethiopia are women aged 15-19, half of which are from unintended pregnancies due to lack of birth control access. Although the country has improved its laws on safe and legal abortion, one-third of the women, usually adolescents, still obtain illegal, unsafe abortions.
In addition, very few of the women who give birth receive the proper newborn care recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ethiopian Ministry of Health. With only 10 percent of births taking place in a health facility, maternal and infant mortality rates remain a huge risk factor. Furthermore, fewer than 15 percent of young women receive adequate antenatal care.
Women in Politics
The patriarchy has controlled political, social and economic aspects of Ethiopian society. By becoming Ethiopia’s first female President, Sable-Work Zewde is securing the idea that women can be powerful public decision-makers. She is paving way for a hopeful future and abolishing the patriarchal way of thinking.
In fact, one of Zewde’s most important goals is to work towards equality for women, promising in her acceptance speech, “if you think I am talking a lot more about women, well, I have not even started.” These words ring strong for any woman who has felt oppressed in the country because Zewde is giving these women a powerful voice.
Zewde’s election is paving the way for women leaders not only in the highly patriarchal continent of Africa but around the world where women have struggled to access resources, rise to power and influence governmental decisions. Her previous experience includes being the first woman appointed by the international body as a special representative to the African Union and head of the United Nations Office to the African Union among many other impressive accomplishments.
Zewde’s accomplishments bring hope to Ethiopia and gender equality, although there is a long way to go. The Independent reported that “Women are more prone to disease than men…and although half of the country’s labor force is made up of women, a majority of them are unpaid because most work as farm laborers. Female genital cutting and child marriages are still prevalent, particularly in rural areas, which make up about 80 percent of the country.” By taking important steps in gender equality in Ethiopia, the country should see a great deal of improvement in these areas.
Support from the Prime Minister
Zewde is striving to change these issues, urging Parliament to make gender equality a reality and promote laws that reject society’s oppression of women. Zewde and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed are working together to make Ethiopia a country of equality. On October 16, Ahmed filled 50 percent of his cabinet with female ministers, creating a gender-balanced approach to Ethiopian politics.
This is a huge shift in paradigm from the previous patriarchal ruling to more equal power between the genders in government. The hope is that this gender equality and a shift in thinking will change laws and policies, so society can promote rather than oppress women. Both Ahmed and Zewede are also working with the U.N. “Leave No Woman Behind” program to approach and improve issues of gender inequality in Ethiopia.
This new equal representation of women in government is paving the way for a brighter future for gender equality in Ethiopia by pushing for rights, fair treatment and increased opportunities for women. The election of Sable-Work Zewde as Ethiopia’s President and Ahmed filling his cabinet with equal gender representation are two big steps forward towards gender equality in Ethiopia.