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Thu, 10.25.2018

Ethiopia Elects Its First Female President

Sahle-Work Zewde

*On this date in 2018, Ethiopia elected the country's first female president.

Sahle-Work Zewde, a seasoned diplomat assumed the largely ceremonial post, many celebrated Africa's only current female head of state. The continent's first female president, Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, left office this year.

"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," the chief of staff for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Twitter.  The East African country long has shown some of the lowest indicators of gender equality in sub-Saharan Africa, UN Women has said. "Women and girls in Ethiopia are strongly disadvantaged compared to boys and men in several areas, including literacy, health, livelihoods and basic human rights."

Female genital mutilation continues in some areas despite the government declaring it illegal.  But the new prime minister has clearly decided to include women's leadership in the sweeping political and economic reforms he has announced in Africa's second-most populous country since taking office in April.  Ethiopian lawmakers last week approved a Cabinet with women making up a record 50 percent of ministers, including the country's first female defense minister. A woman also leads the new Ministry of Peace, will oversee the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service and the Federal Police Commission.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women, the Horn of Africa power joined a handful of countries, mostly European, where women make up 50 percent or more of ministerial positions.  Rwanda two days later announced its own Cabinet with 50 percent women. The country has received international recognition for female representation in government.  U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Twitter, "The African continent is leading the way in showcasing that women's engagement and leadership are crucial to lasting peace."

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