Ethiopia’s Parliament appointed the country’s first female President, Sahle-Work Zewde in a unanimous decision. Prime Minister Chief of Staff Fitsum Arega tweeted, “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 normalizes women as decision-makers in public life.” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed filled his cabinet with female members, and, although the presidential role is primarily ceremonial, his intentional inclusion of women at the highest levels of government symbolize the remarkable progress occurring in the region and in the nation.
Sahle-Work is a career diplomat who previously worked with the UN and served as an Ethiopian Ambassador. She commented on the importance of the transformation underway in the country, saying, “Government and opposition parties have to understand we are living in a common house and focus on things that unite us, not what divides us, to create a country and generation that will make all of us proud.”
Although other female presidents from countries in Africa have held executive powers in addition to ceremonial responsibilities, Sahle-Work is the only sitting female president on the continent. In her first speech as president she stated, “If the current change in Ethiopia is headed equally by both men and women, it can sustain its momentum and realize a prosperous Ethiopia free of religious, ethnic and gender discrimination.”