On Tuesday October 16th, Abiy Ahmed, the reformist Prime Minister who rose to the post following the unexpected resignation of Hailemariam Desalegn, announced a new cabinet comprised of fifty percent women, according to the Washington Post. The announcement came at a meeting of the House of People’s Representatives- the Ethiopian parliament- following the news from October 12th that the cabinet would be cut from 28 to 20 ministers.
Since becoming Prime Minister in April of this year, Ahmed has issued in sweeping reforms, including a cessation of the state of emergency, the release of thousands of political prisoners and dissidents, and a start to the normalization of relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea, whose relationship has been marred by border conflict for decades. In light of these changes, the push to improve gender parity in Ethiopia’s government, which, until this most recent change, had seen women serving mostly in minor posts, can be seen as merely another progressive reform by the young minister.
This reform, however, makes Ethiopia stand out for more than simple progressive political changes; the alteration to a cabinet comprised of fifty percent women pushes Ethiopia into the highest ranks of ministerial gender parity in the world, where its peer group is comprised mostly of progressive European states (as well as Rwanda and Nicaragua), per UN Women and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Stepping into these ranks is a powerful first step for a state that has often been criticized for its lack of gender parity.
In the announcement to the House of People’s Representatives, Ahmed spoke out strongly for the women in his new cabinet, saying, as reported in the Washington Post, “Our women ministers will disprove the adage that women can’t lead,” and his choice of positions to be filled by women indicates that he intends to support those words with actions: among the ministerial seats to be filled by women are the heads of Defense, Trade, Culture, Science, and Labor ministries, as well as the head of the newly created Ministry of Peace, which will, according to the Associated Press, oversee the federal police as well as the security and intelligence services.
Ahmed’s push towards a more equal cabinet is a good first step towards gender parity in the government, but this high-level action must be echoed by increasingly equalizing policies throughout Ethiopian government and society if the Prime Minister truly seeks to reform what has been a highly patriarchal state. Female ministers, particularly in defense and security posts, which have long been political bastions of male power both in Ethiopia and the world in general, must be followed by policies that enable all women in Ethiopia to fulfill their potential. While this step, like many Ahmed has taken since becoming prime minister over six months ago, is heartening, it is yet too soon to judge if these reforms will have lasting effects on Ethiopia.
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