Women Occupy half of Ethiopia’s cabinet seats

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The new look cabinet, for the first time, in the country’s history is leaner and equally balanced between men and women.

By Tullah Stephen

There are two conspicuous novelties in the new Ethiopian cabinet announced in October by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. First the new list of ministers is leaner compared to the first one he announced at the beginning of his tenure. Abiy trimmed his cabinet from 28 ministers to 20. Secondly, and what has grabbed the attention of the world, is that half of these cabinet members are women. In addition to having half of the cabinet being women, The prime minister also gave key dockets to women. The ministers of peace, Defense, Revenue and Transport in the new look cabinet are women.

Abiy who presented the new list to the House of Peoples Representatives in October, said the decision to award half the dockets to women was to “show respect” to the nation’s women. He applauded women in Ethiopia for their participation in nation building and dispelled the notion that women cannot lead.

The prime minister said the new cabinet will be expected “to reform their respective ministries, remove the walls of bureaucracy and bring innovation and technology to provide services efficiently.”

The 20-member Cabinet is the second one, Abiy has named since he took office in April. The first one received criticism for having continued the trend of appointing a few women ministers.

With the new appointments, Ethiopia becomes the second east African nation to have a cabinet compromising of half women. Ethiopia followed Rwanda which had half of its cabinet positions taken up by women. Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame announced a new cabinet with 13 of the 26 cabinets positions held by women. “A higher number of women in decision-making roles have led to a decrease in gender discrimination and gender-based crimes,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame said as he unveiled his new look cabinet.

Kenya and Tanzania have 6 women in their cabinets which have 21 and 22 dockets respectively. Uganda on the other hand, has 22 women in a cabinet that comprises of 49 ministers.

Since taking office, Abiy has been making a raft of reforms. However the issue of achieving gender parity has continued to dog the country’s politics. Ethiopia is a patriarchal society which is known to keep women at a subordinate position. In most cases, religion and cultural prejudice supported by laws and legislation have been used to uphold patriarchy and women subordination. This means that women in Ethiopia continue to remain at risk of vices such as gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, and early marriages among other vices.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union Internationally, reports that women on average account for 23.4 percent of all the parliamentarians in 2017. The highest numbers recorded of women in parliament are mostly from the Nordic countries.

According to Paul Ochieng, political analysts based in Nairobi Kenya, there is no evidence that women in leadership position do more advance women’s right than men. However they can make a difference.  “Women across the world have been known to boost the profile of often-overlooked issues, such as violence against women and the gender pay gap.”

In Rwanda, where the parliament has more than 64 per cent women, the female legislators have helped pass crucial laws. For instance, the laws now allow women to own land and even open bank accounts. In addition, a quota that was introduced 15 years ago, allows for 30 percent of all the government positions be reserved for women. Further, the law only allows for women to vote for the ‘women-only’ seats.

Relevantly, it’s women that have been known to benefit from having higher number of women in such positions. A report by Clinton Foundation dubbed ‘No Ceiling Reports’ Rwanda now has a lower maternal mortality rate than other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. About 87 per cent of women are in the labor force. This is compared with 57 per cent of the women in the U.S.

According to the UN more women in leadership are likely to push economic growth.  One of the U.N.’s global goals is to ensure that there is women’s equal participation in politics by 2030 is.

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