Ethiopia’s march to gender parity

Under recently elected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia has reached several significant milestones in gender equality in politics. Half of Mr Abiy’s 20-person cabinet are women. In October Ethiopia’s parliament unanimously voted for Sahle-Work Zewede to replace Mulatu Teshome as President. Finally, Meaza Ashenafi was appointed as Ethiopia’s first female Supreme Court chief. Mr Aiby’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, claims “Ethiopia’s march towards gender parity in key leadership positions continues unabatedly”.


Sahle-Work Zewede was appointed President of Ethiopia on 25th October and is the first woman to hold the office. In order to become President, a nominee must receive a two-thirds majority of votes in a joint session of both houses of Ethiopia’s parliament. Presidents are expected to serve two six-year terms.

Ethiopia’s Presidency is mostly a ceremonial role, but Gérard Prunier (a researcher who specialises in the Horn of Africa) “doubts that she will remain a representative symbol”, thanks to her “great experience” as a diplomat. Zewede held the important role of Ethiopia’s ambassador for Djibouti for 9 years until 2002. This is an important role as 95% of landlocked Ethiopia’s trade passes through Djibouti. She has also worked as an ambassador to France and in 2011 was made Director General of the UN Office in Nairobi.

At her Inauguration, President Zewede welcomed the reforms set out by Prime Minister Abiy. She said that “If the changes currently being made in Ethiopia are led by both men and women, their momentum will lead to an Ethiopia free of religious, ethnic or gender discrimination.”


On the 1st November Meaza Ashenafi was appointed by Ethiopia’s parliament as the President of the highest court in Ethiopia.

Speaking of the nomination, Fitsum Arega said that “Meaza Ashenafi is one of Ethiopia’s most seasoned lawyers and a prominent women rights activist.”

A former high court judge, Ms Ashenafi advised on the writing of the Ethiopian constitution in 1995 and set up the Ethiopian Lawyers Association (EWLA). The film Difret, produced by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, was based on her defence of a 14 year old girl who was accused of murdering a man who raped her.


It is clear that one of Mr Abiy’s central reforms is the appointing of women to high offices. This can set an example not just to the rest of Africa, but the rest of the world. It will also hopefully encourage other nations to improve the role of women in politics.



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