Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed is rewarding women’s contributions to the nation’s progress.
In a cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday (Oct. 16), Abiy cut the number of ministries from 28 to 20 and named 10 women among the new appointees. Women will now run key dockets including defense, trade, transport, and the newly-established ministry of peace that will tackle the wave of ethnic violence that has swept the country. Abiy said the move was meant to “show respect” to the women’s participation in nation-building and to “disprove the adage that women can’t lead.”
The record 50% female representation is a win for the new premier who has undertaken strategic and radical reforms, both domestically and externally, since coming to power in April. The sweeping reshuffle is also a win for Ethiopia’s diverse federalism: with over 80 ethnicities, the Horn of Africa nation has long been dominated by few groups. Abiy himself was elected on the back of protesters who for three years demanded land reform, full political participation, and an end to human rights abuses in the country.
His new cabinet now comprises members of the Afar community—defense minister Aisha Mohammed—besides Somalis—finance minister Ahmed Shide. At least half of the cabinet ministers are also PhD holders. Abiy said the new cabinet will be expected “to reform their respective ministries, remove the walls of bureaucracy, bring innovation and technology to provide services efficiently.”
Achieving gender parity is an issue that continues to dog electoral politics not just in Africa but across the world. Rwanda is an example that is regularly cited, with women holding the most number of seats in parliament. Yet much of that success is thanks to gender balance quotas, which the country adopted in 2003—a strategy that has proved to have moderate success in attaining a measure of gender balance in politics elsewhere. A case in example is Somalia, where female representation in parliament increased by 10% in the 2016 polls thanks to a quota system that reserved 30% of the seats for women candidates. Yet in neighboring Kenya, a country that prides itself on its progressive reputation, gender balance quotas are yet to be realized.
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Despite Abiy’s bold stride, Ethiopian women continue to face critical challenges. Women remain vulnerable to gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, early marriage, and trafficking—issues the new cabinet will have to tackle now.