Advancing Ethiopian Women Leadership in Ethiopia

We can only build on our success and tackle the gaps through partnership.

Remarks by Resident Coordinator, UNDP Resident Representative & UN Humanitarian Coordinator Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie on Advancing Ethiopian Women Leadership in Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Enkwan Dehna Mettachu.

It gives me the greatest pleasure to personally welcome all of you for this special dinner that brings together women leaders from all sector, walks of life and generations to dialogue on how to advance our common agenda.

We are meeting tonight on the sidelines of the Second Women Leaders Forum for African Transformation that is taking place at the African Union this week to light a continental fire under this burning issue facing all of us.

Let me from the onset thank the Ambassador of Finland H.E. Ms Helena Airaksinen for graciously providing the financial support for this evening’s event. I look forward to the ambassador joining us later in our discussion to share her perspective on how Finland has been making strong progress in gender equality and what lessons we in Ethiopia, and the rest of Africa, can take from that Nordic experience. Finland is currently placed as the happiest country in the world according to the 2018 World Happiness Report so it’s certainly a country that is investing in doing things right.

My distinguished sisters,

As I look out at this room tonight I have to confess that I find myself instinctively feeling somewhat unsettled, this nagging feeling that there is something unusual  - and I  know It is because I have been conditioned to accept an official event with a roomful of men as the norm. As we pat ourselves on the back for flying against the norm this evening – and on all those special occasions when we dare to get together – each time is also a stark reminder of the daily shortcomings that we have accepted as the reality. Much like we can count on the sun rising every morning and setting at the end of the day, it is accepted by too many of us, as an act of nature that men lead and women are led -  with a few exceptions, seen as mutations, grudgingly allowed.

I was lucky enough to be born to one of the most feminist parents you can imagine – and I am not speaking here about my mother. My father was a proud Igbo man from Nigeria, and when called for he proudly stood up to the culture that emphasizes the limited space for power as the reason why there is no room for including men.

I grew up hearing proverbs such as A naghi ekunyere nkita abuo mmiri n’otu eju - You do not put water in one jug for two dogs – to let it be known that the scarce resource, the euphemism for leadership role, is wisely put aside for the man.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

When mankind moved from four legs to two and started walking upright six million years ago, the resulting fundamental anatomical modifications was preceded by a shift in the mind – It was the decision to walk upright that caused the change in the anatomy, and not the other way around.

It is fair to say that we have been waiting for over six million years for a shift in thinking when it comes to mankind welcoming the role of women in leadership. I would hazard a guess that this shift in mindset would not lead to another anatomical modification for mankind.

Of course over these millions of years we have been cautioned not to challenge the status quo  - Ye Bas’e Allena – that there is something worse out there so don’t rock the boat. But I say let us rock the boat – We have been standing upright for the last six million years so let us now stand with dignity as leaders. And for those who feel the world will lose out, we have the data to show how countries and regions are losing out economically and socially from marginalizing half their productive population.

My distinguished sisters,

As I look out at this room tonight I have to confess that I find myself instinctively feeling somewhat unsettled, this nagging feeling that there is something unusual  - and I  know it is because I have been conditioned to accept an official event with a roomful of men as the norm.

As we pat ourselves on the back for flying against the norm this evening – and on all those special occasions when we dare to get together – each time is also a stark reminder of the daily shortcomings that we have accepted as the reality. Much like we can count on the sun rising every morning and setting at the end of the day, it is accepted by too many of us, as an act of nature that men lead and women are led -  with a few exceptions, seen as mutations, grudgingly allowed.

I was lucky enough to be born to one of the most feminist parents you can imagine – and I am not speaking here about my mother. My father was a proud Igbo man from Nigeria, and when called for he proudly stood up to the culture that emphasizes the limited space for power as the reason why there is no room for including men.

I grew up hearing proverbs such as A naghi ekunyere nkita abuo mmiri n’otu eju - You do not put water in one jug for two dogs – to let it be known that the scarce resource, the euphemism for leadership role, is wisely put aside for the man.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

When mankind moved from four legs to two and started walking upright six million years ago, the resulting fundamental anatomical modifications was preceded by a shift in the mind – It was the decision to walk upright that caused the change in the anatomy, and not the other way around. It is fair to say that we have been waiting for over six million years for a shift in thinking when it comes to mankind welcoming the role of women in leadership. I would hazard a guess that this shift in mindset would not lead to another anatomical modification for mankind.

Of course over these millions of years we have been cautioned not to challenge the status quo  - Ye Bas’e Allena – that there is something worse out there so don’t rock the boat. But I say let us rock the boat – We have been standing upright for the last six million years so let us now stand with dignity as leaders. And for those who feel the world will lose out, we have the data to show how countries and regions are losing out economically and socially from marginalizing half their productive population.

Distinguished Ladies,

Of course, it is not all gloom and doom. We have the odd woman here and there that are like beacons of light for the rest of us – we have such women in this room. The UN Country Team in Ethiopia that I have the pleasure of coordinating has gone from one or two women heading agencies to now almost 60% female headed UN presence in Ethiopia.  But it is way too early to rest on our laurels.

We can only build on our success and tackle the gaps through partnership. As the famous African proverb notes, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We need to go far – Each progress, each minority female voice in leadership is a bittersweet victory that shines the spotlight on the glaring darkness that continues to be the dearth of women in leadership.

Tackling this calls for a strong, comprehensive and inclusive partnership - bringing together all women from all walks of life in Ethiopia with partners from the African Union, diplomatic community and development partners.

This is a significant and pivotal time for Ethiopia with the renewed commitment to women articulated by H.E. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during his inaugural speech earlier this month when he noted that there was more work to be done to ensure that women play a leading role in the developmental transformation of the country  -  and he ended with the commitment ‘Our government is deeply committed to the full participation and benefit of women more than ever’. 

As you well know, the status of women in Ethiopia need further attention by all of us here tonight. Women participation in politics has improved remarkably in Ethiopia as demonstrated through the increased number of female parliamentarians– some of them we are having the privilege to have amongst us tonight. We are also happy to acknowledge some of the Ethiopia female ministers amongst us tonight. Women are also occupying other important seats in the running of the government like the ever first female speaker of the House of Peoples Representative. Despite this commendable progress, women representation at high positions in the executive organs still remains too low. The representation of women in the newly announced cabinet remains low at 13.3 %. In the same manner, the representation of women in the regional cabinet is also limited. We also all know that that young people, as especially young women and girls are often left outside decision making processes that affect their lives. Too often also the opinions of the millions of women in the rural communities are overheard by the elites in the towns. The role of women in peace and security sectors remains also underutilized in the country.

Let me take this opportunity to assure you - the spiritual daughters of Empress Taitu and all the amazing Ethiopian women throughout history - that the UN will be a strong partner to support the government and partners to deliver on its commitment to ensure the full participation of women to lead the transformation of Ethiopia.  Gender equality and empowerment of women is one of the key focus areas for the UN in Ethiopia – and it is also one of the goals set out in the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, to help us transform our planet by 2030.  

Ameseginalew

Speech by
Author
Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie
UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator
UNDP
Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie
UN entities involved in this initiative
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women