ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Ethiopian lawmakers on Thursday unanimously elected the country’s first female president, days after approving one of the world’s few “gender-balanced” Cabinets.
As seasoned diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde takes the largely ceremonial post, many celebrated Africa’s only current female head of state. Africa’s first female president, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, left office this year.
“Congratulations, Madam President! Women do make a difference. We are proud of you!” the female president of the United Nations General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garces, said in a Twitter post.
“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,” the chief of staff for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Twitter.
Sahle-Work called Ethiopia’s recent transfer of power to the reformist prime minister “exemplary” and said she will focus on bringing together all sides to achieve peace in a country with multiple ethnic-based conflicts in recent months.
Ethiopian lawmakers last week approved a Cabinet with women making up a record 50 percent of ministers, including the country’s first female defense minister. A woman also leads the new Ministry of Peace, will oversees the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service and the Federal Police Commission.
The Horn of Africa power joined a handful of countries, mostly European, where women make up 50 percent or more of ministerial positions, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union and U.N. Women.
Likely inspired, Rwanda two days later announced its own Cabinet with 50 percent women. The country has received international recognition for female representation in government.
The moves in Ethiopia are the latest in sweeping political and economic reforms in Africa’s second most populous country since Abiy took office in April following months of nationwide anti-government protests demanding wider freedoms.
Sahle-Work has worked in various United Nations organs and was the first director-general of the U.N. office in Nairobi. Until recently she was the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative to the African Union.