A Gender-equal Ethiopian Parliament can Improve the Lives of all Women

Sahle-Work Zewde is Ethiopia’s first female president. Since coming to power in 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has reorganised the cabinet to ensure that 50 percent of the government’s top ministerial positions have been given to women.
Never before in Ethiopia have so many high-ranking government positions been held by women. Courtesy: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By James Jeffrey
YORK, United Kingdom, Apr 10 2020 – Recent gains by women in the Ethiopian political landscape offer a chance to improve gender equality around the country and put an end to long-standing societal iniquities.

Since coming to power in 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has reorganised the cabinet to ensure that 50 percent of the government’s top ministerial positions have been given to women.

Sahle-Work Zewde became the country’s first female president, while Aisha Mohammed became the country’s first defence minister. Never before in Ethiopia have so many high-ranking government positions been held by women.

In 1991, the share of seats held by women in the Ethiopian parliament was under 3 percent. Today it stands at 38 percent, almost twice the ratio of women in the United States Congress.

But, at the same time, stark gender disparities persist all around the country. The hope is that improved representation in the federal government will tangibly affect and improve the status of Ethiopia’s more than 50 million women and girls.

“There is strong evidence that as more women are elected to office, there are more policies enacted that emphasise quality of life and reflect the priorities of families, women and minorities,” Katja Iversen, president of Women Deliver, an international organisation advocating around the world for gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women, tells IPS.

“Studies also show that women are more likely than men to work across party lines, help secure lasting peace, and prioritise health, education and other societal priorities key to the wellbeing and prosperity of both constituents and societies at large.”

At the same time, there are concerns that Ethiopia’s most recent female politicians are not in elected positions rather are making up a quota. 

“The women who are in power are more loyal to the prime minister than the public that is why they find it difficult to act—for fear of disappointing the person who put them there,” Hadra Ahmed, a freelance Ethiopian journalist, tells IPS.

“We can only say women are in politics when they are represented as candidates and as decision makers,” she adds.

Women in Ethiopia have long faced systemic inequities. The discrepancies begin early and often persist throughout Ethiopian women’s lives. Nearly twice as many men than women over age 25 have some secondary education. Women often face more economic constraints than men, including less access to credit and limited market access.

“Ethiopians strongly believe that women can never be as good as men and this is specially heart breaking when it comes from your mother [or] a well-educated person that you probably look up to [such as] your teacher,” Ahmed says.

“And the whole system tells you that you are not as capable through different policies like affirmative actions that lower the passing grade rather than helping girls to study and making sure they make it to school in time.”

Female genital mutilation rates remain high, with 74 percent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years of age experiencing FGM, according to UNICEF. Child marriage still occurs, with about 58 percent of Ethiopian females marrying before they turn 18.

Eighty percent of Ethiopia’s population resides in rural areas and women provide much of the agricultural labour in these communities, while shouldering the majority of child-rearing duties.

But the contributions of women can go largely unrecognized. Fathers or husbands often restrict access to resources and community participation. One in three women experience physical, emotional or sexual violence, according to USAID.

“Ethiopian society practices negative social norms that reinforce inequality and perpetuate deep power and gender imbalances,” Dinah Musindarwezo, director of policy and communications for Womankind Worldwide, a global women’s rights organisation working in partnership with women’s rights organisations and movements, tells IPS.

“The perceptions and attitudes that women should belong to the kitchen and men in the board room are widely spread across the world. Although we have seen changes and progress towards women participating in public sphere including in political leadership, we are seeing less progress of men entering the kitchen and taking leadership in care work. Globally, women still perform majority of unpaid and domestic work.”

Ethiopia is no exception, Musindarwezo says, illustrated by the widespread expectation that women should not only be the primary childcare providers but they should also perform the majority of unpaid and domestic work.

In Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, life for the majority of women follows a traditional course, centred on family and agriculture. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

In 2017, Ethiopia ranked 121 out of 160 countries on a Untied Nations gender equality index based on various social, health and political factors.

“If you look at the experience of other countries like India, the media representation of strong women is what helped women become stronger in the society,” Ahmed says. “Seeing a stronger version of us somewhere pushes us to be better. Assigning to women a quota in government positions and exploiting them in these positions will not solve anything.”

Iverson says that in order to make sure women’s political participation is not only symbolic, governments must also fully commit to gender equality through equal pay, affordable childcare, gender sensitive budgeting and auditing, and paid parental leave.

Parental leave—including paternity leave—has proven a significant “norm changer” in improving women’s participation in the workforce, Iverson says. When men take paternity leave, she explains, it both affirms that caregiving is everyone’s responsibility, helps improve pay equity, and makes it easier for more women to be successful and climb the career ladder.

Despite the Ethiopian government’s bold moves to empower female politicians, the country’s fraught political realm—which can be dangerous for anyone, regardless of sex—still poses many hurdles for women to overcome, especially given the pernicious influence of social media.

“Women politicians face unique forms of online and offline attacks and deliberate actions to discourage their participation in politics,” Daniel Bekele, commissioner of the Ethiopia Human Rights Commission, said during the keynote speech at the “Women’s Political Participation and Election in Ethiopia: Envisioning 2020 and Beyond for Generation Equality” national conference at the end of 2019.

“This reflects how patriarchal [our] society is in its functions.”

Musindarwezo notes that in addition to having women in political leadership, it’s just as important to create an environment that is conducive for women to be effective leaders.

“Often times we expect women to magically address all the issues especially gender issues without removing structural barriers they face,” Musindarwezo says. “Women political leaders face barriers such as their voices being overshadowed by political parties’ voices, limited access to adequate resources they need to make a difference and being held to different standards to those of men. Women leaders often face biased public criticism, harassment and intimidations just because they are women.”

Bekele says that Ethiopian women face particular challenges in times of elections that seriously impact and discourage their participation. Ethiopia is due to hold an all-important national election this year, but currently it has been delayed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

“There must also be implemented legal protections for women including laws against gender-based violence, policies regarding sexual harassment, and accessible justice systems for accountability,” Iverson says. “Countries must ditch discriminatory laws that are holding women back and enact legal frameworks that advance gender equality at work, in society and at home.”

Those at Women Deliver note how, to Ethiopia’s credit, it has brought in a new law that annulled previous legal provisions that gave authority to a husband over a couple’s assets and whether his wife could work outside of the home.

As a result of the legal change, spouses are now equal with regard to the administration of assets, and a husband cannot unilaterally prevent his wife from working. The World Bank estimates that this law has enabled an increase in the participation rate of women in productive sectors.

Despite continuing challenges for Ethiopian women, change is afoot beyond the political level. In the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Setaweet is the country’s first feminist research and training company, which offers tailor-made gender equality services for schools, agencies and corporate companies. Its flagship project is a feminist curriculum for secondary school students dealing with femininity and masculinity, healthy relationships and positive self-images.

“Women are powerful agents of change, and their participation at all decision-making levels is a prerequisite for politics and programs that reflects societies and are effective, sustainable and inclusive,” Iversen says.

The Declaration of the Human Solidarity Initiative Against the Coronavirus Pandemic

By External Source
AMMAN, Apr 10 2020 (IPS-Partners)

We find this to be a difficult time in the history of humanity. COVID-19 has brought about ever-increasing tragedies of death and deprivation all the while inflaming our social and economic problems. The time has come to form a humanitarian consensus – strong and active – to face the challenges and dangers that threaten humankind and its future onour small planet.

As a group of Muslim scholars and thinkers that share in the ethical commitment and humanitarian obligation towards others, we call on all individuals wherever they may be to take part in the blessed efforts of international, regional and national organisations and carry out their human, ethical and religious duty to overcome a deadly pandemic that has affected humankind, our ways of being, world economies and indeed a majority of life systems, and afflicted the impoverished with the additional suffering of a livelihood constricted and constrained.

With a view to reviving the ethical and humanitarian responsibility towards others as the governing and organizing principle of human behavior and activity, and out of the belief that the concept and practice of Zakat, or the giving of alms, entails good formankind and with respect to the conference that the Arab Thought Forum planned to hold on the subject of the ‘Universalism of Zakat – Dimensions and Institutional Manifestations’ in Ramadan of 1441H, we issue a call of support to the initiative made by Prince El Hassan bin Talal under the heading ‘Solidarity and the Awakening of the Human Conscience’ and a call to action for the establishment of an international institution for Zakat and human solidarity, an undertaking that His Royal Highness called for many a year ago.

In all its reverberations and consequences, the present calls for reform from within. We must find inner peace and security, seek the soundness of our hearts andresuscitate acollective consciousness that leads us tothereinforcement of values that elevatethe dignity of Man above polychromatic nationality,religion, color and gender.

Reason and human existence today face monumental challenges –in awe of a miniscule organism, intelligence has stood befuddled.An egalitarian pathogen perseveres in its mightand obliges us to underline the potential of human sufferingto bring people together further than the vocabulary of interests andgains. In truth, each of us harbors the feeling that the threat to humanity is one. And, that truth ought to marshalour capabilities and give rise to thoughtful reflection on the meaning of our collective humanity in all its strengths and weaknesses whilst it uncovers for us novel spaces of convergence and joint action.

The good of an individual lies in hishumanityand his humanitya cornerstone of human solidarity around which all of our shared values revolve. An imperative that beckons us to recognize our shared responsibility towards future generations, the injunction to give serious thought to the challenges facing humanity is a corollary of the belief in the dignity and the rights of Man.

These arduous times are a test ofthe humanityof Man and his humilityjust as they are a test ofthe truth, rituals and fruits of faith: Will we fail or will we succeed? WeMuslimscarry the flag of a mercifuland compassionate religion. An international institution for Zakat and human solidarity should be preceded by interpretive jurisprudential activity on the issues of our time such as Zakat and social solidarity. Zakat could be a starting point from which mercy – which God Almighty rendered as the principal purpose behind the sending of His Messengers – is realised. The revival of our human and ethical duty towards others is in effect a revival of the common sense that God has endowed us with. A revival as such would be a faithful representation of the true religion of God in all its doctrines and fundamental parameters.

We thus refer to a fatwa byMuslim scholars that permits nay applauds accelerating the payment of the Zakat owed over the course of one or two years to the impoverished and even favors the rapid payment of Zakat over waiting for thestart of the holy month of Ramadan to give alms.The value of that Zakat in the Muslim world this year alone is estimated in excess of four hundred billion dollars–a tremendous sum which if collected in the current circumstances,where curfews and shutdowns have meantinterruptions to the livelihoods of many, may salvage the faith, lives and dignity of the needy.

The ability of the mind to innovate, invent and face challenges is resounding. The problems that arise from a knowledge alien to the idea of a balance with nature can be addressed through the integration of the natural and social sciences. An opportunity to exhibit the extent of our involvement in the deft management of a crisis and showcase our collaborative efforts to realise the common good and blunt the effects of poverty, destitution and illness on people, the present brings to the fore the role of networking and coordination, the obligation to learn from others and the importance of working together to rebuild the trust that remains lostand that which has weakened between the young and the old and the rich and the poor.

We find it vital to emphasise the role played by faith in strengthening our capacity for hardship and our ability to persevere in the face of that hardship as well as the role played by faith in encouraging supportfor and the alleviation of the suffering and pain of others. “We shall certainly test you with fear of hunger, and loss of property, lives and crops. But [Prophet], give good news to those who are steadfast” – the Qur’an (The Cow 2:155).

We view Man as a part of nature rather than asa creature outside of God’s natural creation. Man is thus entrusted with the care of the Earth and the creatures that inhabit the Earth: “We offered the Trust [of reason and moral responsibility] to the heavens, the earth, and the mountains; yet they refused to undertake it and were afraid of it; but mankind [undertook to] bear it” – the Qur’an (The Joint Forces 33:72).

We call for a reconciliation betweenhumankind and nature. Mankind must develop a sense of responsibility towards the environment and begin to protect the environment. A balance between the requirements of modern civilization and the preservation of life must be found: pollution of all stripesand encroachments of all kinds must be curtailed, natural resources must be carefully managed, and troves of buried ore must be maintained and preserved. Institutional responsibility thus lies in the increase of funds made available for the purposes of scientific research in our contemporary societies

The here and now is a truly encouraging moment for the humanitarian side of religion to come to the fore and a moment conducive for the development of a civilizational discourse anchored in the shared values of humanity. In its entirety, humanitymustunite and bring repertoires of knowledge together and synchronize the endeavor to find a way out of the global catastrophe that we all face regardless of race, colorand belief.

We are all children of a civilization united by common bonds of a far greater kind than the differences – cultural, racial or other – that divide us: “People, be mindful of your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them spread countless men and women far and wide”– The Qur’an (Women 2:1). We must come to sense the moral responsibility that we hold for the disasters caused by Man, or those natural disasters that come as a consequence of the actions and conduct of Man, as the Holy Quran says,“Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of the people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done so that they may return [to righteousness]” – The Quran (The Byzantines 30:41)

In the sake of Allah/God

Signatories:

    1- El Hassan Bin Talal, President and patron of the Arab Thought Forum
    2- Abdullah Gül, Former President of Turkey
    3- The International Union For Muslim Scholars (IUMS), on their behalf
    Shaikh Dr. Ahmed Abdul Salam Raissouni, President of IUMS and Shaikh Dr. Ali Al-Qardaghi, Secretary General of IUMS
    4- MajelisUlema Indonesia (Indonesian Ulema Council) on their behalf Dr. Anwar Abbas, Secretary General
    5- Arshad Hurmuzlu,Former Adviser to the President of Turkey
    6- Khalil Al-Khalil, Former member of Shura Council – Saudi Arabia
    7- Shaikh Abdullah Azzi, Yemen
    8- Shaikh IkrimaSabri, Imam of Al Aqsa Mosque – Jerusalem
    9- Haji AllahshükürHummatPashazade, Shaik ul-Islam and Grand Mufti of the Caucasus, and Secretary General of Baku International Centre for Interfaith and inter-Civilization Cooperation – Azerbaijan
    10- Dr.HichemGrissa, President of Ez-Zitouna University, Tunisia
    11- Shaikh Abdel Karim Khasawneh, Mufti of The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
    12- Professor Mohammed Abdel Haleem, University of London
    13- Imam YahyaPallavicini, President of the Religious Islamic Italian Community; ISESCO Ambassador for Dialogue among Civilisations, Member ECRL European Council of Religious Leaders and Co-Coordinator of the European MJLC Muslim and Jewish Leadership Council.
    14- Dr. Sayed Zafar, President of Zakat Foundation of India
    15- Prof. Azza Karm, VRIJE University, Amsterdam
    16- Imam IzzeddinElzir, Imam of Florence
    17- Dr. Mohamed Hussein El Zoghbi, Federação das AssociaçõesMuçulmanas do Brasil – FAMBRAS (Union or Islamic Associations in Brazil)
    18- BAZNAS, Republic of Indonesia; on their behalf: Prof. Dr. BambangSudibyo, MBA, CA, Chairman of BAZNAS and the Vice-Chairman Dr. Zainulbahar Noor
    19- Dr. Mohammad Abu Hammour, Secretary General of the Arab Thought Forum