By Teslim Olawore
Ethiopian parliamentary members have elected Sahle-Work Zewde as the country’s first female president, making her the only female president in Africa. Zewde is an experienced diplomat. She was until recently, the UN Director General at its offices in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
She has a rich ambassadorial track record having served as Ethiopian ambassador to several countries previously. Her resignation from the UN role this week is speculated to be to allow her take the new position of president. The position of president is ceremonial in Ethiopia, with executive power vested in the office of the prime minister. But the appointment is deeply symbolic and follows up on last week’s cabinet reshuffle, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appointed a cabinet with half the posts taken up by women.
After being sworn in, President Sahle-Work promised to work hard to make gender equality a reality in Ethiopia. She also emphasized the importance of respecting women and the need to build a society that rejects the oppression of women and promised to work for peace and unity in the country.
“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,” tweeted Fitsum Arega, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and de facto government spokesman
“All these developments are exciting, but it is something that is happening up top, in order for the shift to happen at a grass-roots level, the work is going to take years,” said Sahilu, a lawyer and women’s rights activist. She said factors such as widespread teenage marriage and the lack of access to secondary education are holding women back, especially in rural society, women are not seen as leaders.