Ethiopia’s parliament has made Sahle-Work Zewde the country’s first female president. And while the role is largely ceremonial, her appointment carries power in what it signifies.
Sahle-Work, an experienced diplomat, is the first female head of state in Ethiopia’s modern history. In June, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Sahle-Work as special representative to the African Union and head of the U.N. Office to the African Union — the first woman in the role. She was previously director-general of the U.N. Office at Nairobi and held a range of diplomatic posts, including Ethiopia’s ambassador to France and Djibouti.
Parliament accepted the resignation of Mulatu Teshome — who had served as president since 2013 — and named Sahle-Work to replace him.
Sahle-Work, 68, becomes modern Ethiopia’s first female head of state, though in the country’s history, there have been empresses who wielded great power.
Sehin Teferra, co-founder of the feminist Setaweet movement, said the appointment is important because gender equality in Ethiopia is generally “abysmal,” with “very high levels of violence against women.”
“We are always in the top of the gender inequality index, and we do very badly in terms of representation,” she said. However, she added, the government now is making a powerful statement with the new cabinet and with this appointment.