Sahle-Work Zewde, a UN veteran, appointed as first female president for Ethiopia
Sahle-Work Zewde’s appointment is the latest in a whirlwind of progressive change for the country. (Reuters: Noor Khamis )
Chart of the day: The only country in the world where 6 in 10 lower house MPs are women
Ethiopia’s parliament has appointment its first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde, just days after a cabinet shake-up ushered in gender parity for the first time.
- Highly respected UN veteran becomes first woman president in an east African country
- Role is ceremonial but highly symbolic
- Ethiopia is going through significant reform on gender equality
Ms Sahle-Work, 68, made history as the east African country’s first woman in the ceremonial but symbolic role.
She is a distinguished veteran of the United Nations, where she most recently worked as under-secretary-general and special representative of the secretary-general to the African Union.
The appointment marks yet another important shift in the country’s political system from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has made gender equality a key issue for his government.
Mr Abiy’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, welcomed the news on Twitter.
“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,” he said.
“In a historic move, the two houses have elected ambassador Shalework Zewde as the next President of #Ethiopia.”
The appointment is the latest in a whirlwind of progressive change in Africa’s second-most populous country.
Last week, the Prime Minister reshuffled his cabinet to include an additional 10 female ministers, making Ethiopia the third country in Africa, after Rwanda and Seychelles, to achieve gender parity in their cabinets.
Mr Abiy, who came to power in April, has presided over a raft of reforms that have turned the region’s politics on its head, including promoting the need to include women in all parts of public life in the patriarchal and conservative country.
He has also pardoned dissidents long outlawed by the Government and ended two decades of hostilities with its chief opponent, Eritrea.
In Ethiopia, the role of president does not come with executive powers, but is considered highly symbolic.
Ms Sahle-Work replaced Mulatu Teshome Wirtu, who resigned from the role he has held since 2013.
“When there is no peace in country, mothers will be frustrated. Therefore, we need to work on peace for the sake of our mothers,” Ms Sahle-Work told parliament after her approval.