To All the Girls That Dare to Dream

By Redi Degefa

In late 2018 Ethiopia appointed its first female president. This is considered to be Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s curtail step toward gender parity and terminating the patriarchy that dominates the country’s social and political life.[1] President Sahle-Work Zewde is a skillful diplomat who has worked as a special representative to the African Union and as the head of the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAN), where she was similarly the first female ever assigned this role. President Zewde is currently the only female head of state in all of Africa.[2] Following Ms. Sahle-Work’s unprecedented appointment, Ethiopia also approved its first female supreme court president. Meaza Ashenafi, a notable gender equality activist, is the founder of Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association. As part of her agenda to empower women in the work force, Ms. Meaza worked with United Nations (UN) to establish an all-female bank. She also served as a judge to Ethiopia’s High Court.[3]

Although the role of the president in the Ethiopian government is limited and rather ceremonial, Ms. Shale-Work’s and Ms. Meaza’s appointment is symbolic to the future generation of women who aspire to become leaders and role models. As a result of religiously influenced mores and upbringing, Ethiopian society traditionally determines a woman’s value by her ability to bear children and to perform her housewife duties. Girls, especially in the rural parts of the country, are encouraged to remain at home with their mothers and learn “wife-like” skills as opposed to their brother who are encouraged to attend to their academic studies.

Fortunately, Ethiopia is experiencing a significant political and cultural shift since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power. In addition to Ms. Shale-Work’s and Ms. Meaza’s appointment, Mr. Abiy’s decision to fill 50 percent of his cabinet with women establishes and normalizes women as decision makers in social and political matters.[4] It is a reminder that women are capable of accomplishing more than the stereotypical responsibilities that are imposed on them by society. If there is one pressing remark to be made by this historic phenomenon, it is that women are ambassadors of leadership and aptitude in countries across the world.

[1] Hadra Ahmend and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, “Ethiopia Appoints Its First Female President” The New York Times (Oct. 25, 2018): Accessed: November 6, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/world/africa/sahlework-zewde-ethiopia-president.html. Note: In the Ethiopian culture, people are not addressed by their last names. It’s Mr./Ms. and their first name. This is also how the names appear in The New York Times.

[2] Laurel Wamsley, “Ethiopia gets Its 1st Female President” Capital Public Radio (Oct. 25, 2018): Accessed: November 7, 2018. https://www.npr.org/2018/10/25/660618139/ethiopia-gets-its-first-female-president.

[3] Elias Meseret, “Ethiopia MPs approve first female supreme court president” The Associated Press (Nov. 1, 2018): Accessed: November 7, 2018. https://www.apnews.com/10396c1fa11c4df0bc7c33bb968c1d34.

[4] Hadra Ahmend and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, “Ethiopia Appoints Its First Female President” The New York Times (Oct. 25, 2018): Accessed: November 6, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/world/africa/sahlework-zewde-ethiopia-president.html.

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