Last week, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appointed Sahle-Work Zewde as Ethiopia’s first woman president and she will serve as president for the next six years. Sahle-Work Zewde is currently the only female head of state in Africa, although Ethiopia is one of many African nations who have had a female head of state. After taking her oath of office, Zewde has expressed that she will work to promote women empowerment and build a “society that rejects the oppression of women.”
Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed appointed Zewde as president one week after he reshuffled the cabinet and reduced the number of cabinet members to 20, instead of 28. In addition to reducing the size, Prime Minister Ahmed appointed half of the cabinet position to women, including the most prominent cabinet positions: Minister of Defense and Minister of Peace. Under Ethiopia’s constitution, the prime minister holds executive power. Presidential powers involve ceremonial responsibilities such as appointing ambassadors, receiving foreign envoys and granting pardons.
Before becoming Ethiopia’s first woman president, Zewde previously served as the Special Representative to the African Union and was also the first woman to be the head of the UN office to the African Union. Further, Zewde has served as previous director-general to the U.N. office in Nairobi, Kenya, and was also an ambassador to Senegal, France and Djibouti.
Zewde’s presidency marked a major step forward for Ethiopia’s gender equality movement. Having a woman as head of state empowers young girls and teaches them that women are capable holding such high positions. In response to Zewde’s presidential appointment, the African Union chairperson told Africa News: “The momentum to recognize men and women as equal in politics is vital as we work towards the African we want.”
The appointment of President Sahle-Work Zewde comes four years after the US-Africa Summit, where the US and over 50 African leaders committed to advancing the status of women and girls.
Newswire Sources: NPR 10/25/18; AFRICANEWS 10/25/18; The Washington Post 10/25/18; Addis Standard 10/16/18; Feminist Newswire 8/7/14; Harvard Kennedy School 5/13