Ethiopia’s parliament has made Sahle-Work Zewde the country’s first female president. And while the role is largely ceremonial, her appointment carries power in what it signifies.
Sahle-Work, an experienced diplomat, is the first female head of state in Ethiopia’s modern history. In June, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Sahle-Work as special representative to the African Union and head of the U.N. Office to the African Union — the first woman in the role. She was previously director-general of the U.N. Office at Nairobi and held a range of diplomatic posts, including Ethiopia’s ambassador to France and Djibouti.
In Ethiopia, the prime minister holds the executive power. According to the Ethiopian Constitution, presidential powers and functions include appointing ambassadors, receiving foreign envoys and granting pardons.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed overhauled the Cabinet. Abiy, who was appointed in April, reduced the size of the Cabinet to 20 from 28 — and then named women to half of the ministerial roles. Women now fill the two most prominent Cabinet positions: minister of defense and the newly created minister of peace, who oversees the intelligence and security forces.In a patriarchal society, 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.
In a patriarchal society, 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.