Ethiopia’s Gender-Balanced Cabinet

Ethiopia's gender balanced cabinet is sending women around the country a clear message: the patriarchy can be beaten...PM Abiy's new cabinet has a tremendous transformative potential to end Ethiopian women's experience of invisibility and the silencing of their voice and capacity, writes Awol K Allo, a Lecturer in Law at Keele University, UK. (Photo: Reuters)

By Awol K Allo

The Power of Ethiopia’s Gender-Balanced Cabinet

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is drawing admiration from all corners for his transformative leadership. Since coming to power six months ago, he has released political prisoners, widened the democratic space, ended the military stalemate with Eritrea, and averted a looming financial crisis. In short, his dynamic leadership, energy, and enthusiasm have pulled off what a Washington Post editorial described as an “astonishing turnaround” for the country.

Ahmed’s latest decision to fill 50 percent of his cabinet with female ministers is an integral part of the transformative agenda he has set out during his inaugural speech on April 2. It is easy to dismiss this move as a token gesture or a mere publicity stunt, but in a highly patriarchal society such as Ethiopia where public discourse about gender equality is non-existent or confined to the margins, the mere existence of a gender-balanced cabinet can have a transformative effect.

Ethiopia’s prime minister brought youthful vigour and bold confidence to the masculine, patriarchal, and archaic traditions of the Ethiopian state. During his inaugural address, he broke with tradition and acknowledged his mother and wife. Towards the end of his speech, he said, “in a manner that is not customary in this house, … I would like to politely ask you to thank one Ethiopian mother who … planted this distant and deep and elaborate vision in me, who raised me, and brought me to fruition.” He went on to say that “My mother is counted among the many kind, innocent, and hardworking Ethiopian mothers … In thanking my mother, I consider it equivalent to extending thanks to all Ethiopian mothers.” Given his numerous policy statements and his commitment to liberal ideas of equality, fairness, and representation visible in these policies, there is no reason to believe that these announcements had ulterior motives.

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Related:
In Ethiopian leader’s new cabinet, half the ministers are women (The Washington Post)

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