The Horn of Africa power joins a handful of countries, mostly European, where women make up 50 percent or more of ministerial positions.
Ethiopia’s new cabinet is now a record 50 percent female, including the country’s first woman defense minister, after lawmakers unanimously approved the nominations put forward by reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Five of the 20 cabinet members are Muslim. That includes the new Defense Minister Aisha Mohammed Musa from the predominantly Muslim Afar region. Another Muslim woman, former House speaker Muferiat Kamil, will lead the new Ministry of Peace at a time when Africa’s second most populous country faces sometimes violent ethnic tensions as wider political freedoms are explored.
“Our women ministers will disprove the old adage that women can’t lead,” Abiy said while presenting his choices. “This decision is the first in the history of Ethiopia and probably in Africa.”
Ethiopia has faced sweeping political and economic reforms since the 42-year-old prime minister took office in April after months of anti-government protests and made pledges that include free and fair elections.
The Horn of Africa power joins a handful of countries, mostly European, where women make up 50 percent or more of ministerial positions, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union and U.N. Women. French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in recent years unveiled “gender-balanced” Cabinets.
Another Muslim member of the cabinet is Finance Minister Ahmed Shide, who comes from the country’s under-represented Somali region. Minister of Health Amir Aman and Minister of Agriculture Omer Husen are also Muslims.
Ethiopia has long been considered a patriarchal society and it “suffers from some of the lowest gender equality performance indicators in sub-Saharan Africa,” U.N. Women has said. “Women and girls in Ethiopia are strongly disadvantaged compared to boys and men in several areas, including literacy, health, livelihoods and basic human rights.”