Opinion: An Open Letter to H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed
19 April 2018
This short opinion piece is penned to stir far reaching dialogue on how to ensure Ethiopian spaces are inclusive of the voice and perspectives of its women and girls. Based on the inaugural speech of H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, our open letter to the PM encourages his recognition of Ethiopian women's struggle for justice to be far reaching in action.
Your Excellency, Abiy Ahmed Ali (PhD), Prime Minister of Ethiopia,
First and foremost, we would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your premiership. As any other Ethiopian, we listened to your healing inaugural speech, absorbing each and every word in earnestness. We are together with the rest of the nation in sincerely wishing the intentions you expressed in your speech will materialize. It is our sincerest hope that you are surrounded with the good will and support that can help your government enable a new dawn for Ethiopia.
We would like to take this opportunity to stress something of paramount importance to those of us working to realize gender equality in Ethiopia. While commending your unprecedented acknowledgement of Ethiopian women’s struggle for justice and your concession that more needs to be done; we stress the importance of recognizing, on your part as well as that of your administration, the multifaceted and crucial roles played by Ethiopian women both currently and historically. This recognition and acknowledgement, we are of the conviction, will provide the encouragement and drive for the many women and men who have and continue to work for the promotion and realization of gender equality and social justice in Ethiopia. While the issues to be addressed are of significance to the betterment of the lives of Ethiopian women, we acknowledge neither gender exist in silos; and so, it is also important to acknowledge the role of Ethiopian men on the road to gender justice.
That said, it is crucial to secure political will at the highest level in order to bring about significant and sustainable progress. While noting the efforts that have been made to reflect the due benefits to women socially, economically and politically at the policy level, visible progress that translates into transformative changes in the lives of the majority of Ethiopian rural and urban women remains at snail’s pace. Indeed, the gradual integration of Ethiopia into the global economy has brought opportunities for Ethiopian women. In the same stretch, it has also introduced new questions and challenges that require efforts in raising gender equality consciousness and action.
We would like to share with you the following questions we are deliberating upon with regards to guaranteeing justice to Ethiopian women and promoting gender equality in the hopes that your administration will lead in supporting the creation of spaces for dialogue. We write to you hoping that through collective and critical questioning, we can support you and your administration in your efforts to collaboratively articulate meaningful responses.
We believe these four questions are key entry points to investigate the many layers and strands of the gender equality agenda in Ethiopia within the political, economic and social spheres.
While we are fully conscious of the many tasks that lie ahead of you and acknowledge the noteworthy steps you have taken in your first few days in office, our invitation to you and your administration is to guarantee that your work of reform and transformation is thoroughly vetted trough the gender lens. It is evident in many dialogue platforms in our country, that many still conceive of gender equality as a play on numbers, thereby paving the way for ‘mix and stir’ approaches that have done very little in introducing transformative changes in the gender equality agenda or to women’s lives. We expect that you will model how gender equality is a social justice issue which cannot be treated in silos and we must fully address fundamental interrelationship between norms, policies, institutions and implementation mechanisms that reflect how well women’s needs are reflected in politics, economics and in the social arena.
While the trials and triumphs of Ethiopian women are many, and which will continue to evolve amidst the dynamism of the world we currently live in, we would like to highlight some of the critical levers that we believe can be a catalyst for fast tracking your commitment to gender justice.
PM’s Gender Advisory Group
Convene a national advisory group, comprising men and women working to promote gender equality and gender justice in various sectors nationally, whose primary task is to inform and advise you on a gender transformative agenda contextualized to Ethiopia’s needs and aspirations.
A gender balanced cabinet is becoming the ‘new normal’ in many leading countries around the world and we encourage you to model that leadership. However, we urge the composition of this cabinet reflect a true transfer of power for Ethiopian women into positions most often considered a ‘male domain’ i.e. Foreign affairs, Trade, Industry, Finance and Defense. The selection of women and men into these posts should also reflect commitment to social justice for all Ethiopians.
Women’s Rights Defenders Forum
We have witnessed your leadership in reaching out to various sections of society in the past few weeks. We therefore encourage you to continue the spirit of listening from various stakeholders by convening Ethiopian women’s rights and human rights defenders who have been at the forefront of championing as well as articulating the needs and rights of Ethiopian rural and urban women. As Ethiopian women are not a homogenous group, we encourage this forum to reflect our heterogeneity.
The role of civil society in supporting government achieve its democratization aspirations cannot be underestimated. The impact of the 2009 CSO law in curbing the progress that had been made to nurture dialogue and awareness of gender equality issues has been felt. We encourage you to consider reforming the CSO law towards enabling women’s rights organizations to support your government by raising awareness as well as through service delivery.
A Gender Sensitive Industrialization Policy
With Ethiopia spearheading its industrial revolution, the opportunity for many women to transition from the informal to the formal sector is burgeoning. Yet, we have witnessed in many other developing countries how industrialization without people at its heart can introduce negative consequences and we would like to take this opportunity to highlight our concerns in that regard. As more women enter the labour market created through industrialization, we call for enriching this policy through setting gender sensitive targets. Of particular concern to women in industries is equitable wage labour, freedom from sexual harassment, access to information and services that cater to the changing dynamics of their lives, including but not limited to child care.
National Sexual Harassment Law and Compliance Mechanism
We cannot ignore the levels of sexual harassment that women in Ethiopia are confronted with in public and private spaces every day. The need for laws on sexual harassment, particularly within higher learning institutions is crucial, with clear compliance and redress mechanisms articulated. As a father of three daughters, it is our hope the government you lead will promote zero-tolerance to sexual harassment at a national level.
Reform the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs
We urge a review of the effectiveness of the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs and its regional counterparts in creating gender equality consciousness. Beyond the rhetoric of women’s empowerment, to what extent has the Ministry and its regional counterparts been effective in challenging the gendered narrative of Ethiopian women’s lives. To what extent has it detached the practice of gender equality from being only a ‘women’s issue’? Similarly, attaching the Ministry to oversee children’s affairs may also be stretching its ability to be an effective institution. In a review of its effectiveness to cater to the newly emerging needs of Ethiopian women, as well as to address the imbalances in society, we recommend your government urgently reform the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs to the Ministry of Gender Affairs. We urge for the integration of work to tackle negative masculinities in Ethiopia alongside women’s empowerment and social transformation work, if we really want to witness substantial shifts that would augment the work that has already been done and is currently in the pipelines. In its reformation, the Ministry’s relationship with the Ministry of Education requires closer linkage towards integrating gender sensitive norms and values through curriculum revision.
Federal Funding for Research
Finally, we stress the need for comprehensive and cutting edge national research that documents the state of gender equality in Ethiopia and can inform policy making. Federal funding to generate such research is crucial to make actionable your commitment to justice for Ethiopian women.
We look to you to be a champion for these critical levers and to shine a light that gender equality is not only a women’s issue, but an issue of social justice and inclusion that will drive Ethiopia’s true renaissance. We would also like to highlight, while we commend the current rhetoric of unity and peace, the full participation and leadership of women and girls in these processes is crucial.
We remain hopeful in urging you and your government keep sight of that and our recommendations above.
Billene Seyoum Woldeyes and Sewit Hailesellasie Tadesse
About the authors:
Billene Seyoum Woldeyes
-is Founder and Managing Director of Earuyan Solutions, a feminist writer, gender equality advocate, and creator and curator of the pan-African digital platform AfricanFeminism (AF).
Sewit Hailesellasie Tadesse
-is a feminist advocate and writer for African Feminism (AF), a pan-African feminist co-writing digital space. She is also president elect for AWiB Ethiopia and serves as Chair for the United Nations Youth Advisory Board for Ethiopia. She currently works in the development sector in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.