Many great things can happen when #BlackGirlMagic and girl power combine—and the latest result is historical for the residents of Ethiopia. Sahle-Work Zwede was recently appointed as the first woman to hold the presidential office.
It was recently reported that Ethiopia’s Parliament officially approved the appointment of Sahle-Work Zewde as the country’s first female president. In addition to being the East African country’s new president, she is also a veteran of the United Nations and the diplomatic corps.
While the position of president is a ceremonial one in Ethiopia, due to the executive power vested in the office of the prime minister, Zewde’s appointment is a very special one amid the recent cabinet reshuffling in the favor of women. Half of the ministers in the government are women in Africa’s second-most populous country, Ethiopia.
During her remarks in Parliament after she took her official oath of office, Zewde, 68, stressed the importance of respecting women and the increased need to build a “society that rejects the oppression of women.” She also promised to work for peace and unity in the country and added that those who think she has already talked too much about women should expect to hear even more.
Zewde was previously the special representative of the U.N. secretary general to the African Union. Prior to that position she was the head of the United Nations’ Nairobi office with the title of undersecretary general. Her diplomatic career as ambassador to Senegal began in 1989 with responsibilities in neighboring African countries and later branched out to Djibouti before eventually serving as ambassador to France, where she studied previously.
Some of Zewde’s duties include being the head of state with ceremonial duties such as opening Parliament, appointing ambassadors following the prime minister’s recommendation and receiving the credentials of foreign envoys.
The happiness of this historic appointment was shared by many, especially prominent women in the country. Sehin Teferra, co-founder of the feminist Setaweet movement, said Zewde’s appointment is important because of the lack of gender equality in Ethiopia, which she described as “abysmal,” and with “very high levels of violence against women.” She also added that, “we are always in the top of the gender inequality index, and we do very badly in terms of representation.”
She continued by acknowledging that the local government is currently making a powerful statement with Zewde’s appointment and the new cabinet. “I think appointing one or two women would not have made the change, but with this critical mass, when you have 10 [ministers] out of 20, then yes, I think it will do a lot in terms of addressing people’s attitudes,” Sehin said.
We want to send our sincerest congrats to Sahle-Work Zewde and the people of Ethiopia!