By Prarthana Mitra
Ethiopia elected seasoned diplomat and UN veteran Sahle-Work Zewde as its first female president on October 25, signifying a bold new world for women across the country. Beginning her two-year term on Wednesday, Zewde now enjoys a special position in African political history as she is the only female head of a nation in the entire continent. The last African woman to lead a state was Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who resigned in March.
What we can expect from Zwede
Even though the position is largely a ceremonial one, the president of Ethiopia commands a lot of respect which Zewde recognises, calling for unity and social reform immediately after assuming presidency. She also promised to fight for women’s right and gender equality with the powers vested in her.
Zwede’s appointment comes at a historic time for Ethiopian women who are occupying high ranking positions across boardrooms and the parliament at an exponential rate. Sahle-Work was voted in after the unexpected resignation of her predecessor, Mulatu Teshome.
Extending political representation to women
In fact, her presidency is being termed as the perfect culmination of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad’s radical drive to fill half of his new cabinet with women lawmakers last week. He even gave the ministry of defence and the keys to the erstwhile eponyomous secret service to two women.
Fitsum Arega, the prime minister’s chief of staff, tweeted after the announcement that “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 normalises women as decision-makers in public life”.
Before the presidency
Members of the parliament who elected Zewde have expressed immense confidence and pride in their choice, a woman who has enjoyed a prolific career as a seasoned diplomat before being called to serve the state. Sahle-work Zewde, 68, has previously held positions in the United Nations and worked extensively in peacekeeping operations across the African continent. Just before agreeing to accept the position at the helm of the nation, Zewde served an ambassador for Ethiopia in Senegal and Djibouti.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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