Ethiopia: Women and Politics

Globally, women's political participation has been recognized as an important measure of the status of women in any particular country. Hence, in recent years, women's participation in politics and decision making has received significant attention across the world.

However, in many countries women remain seriously underrepresented in decision-making positions and political involvement. Politics is almost everywhere a male-oriented, male-dominated enterprise and female political participation is not as such good as expected. And, the apparent invisibility of women in politics is a worldwide phenomenon.

According to an article by Shimelis Kassa titled 'Challenges and Opportunities of Women Political Participation in Ethiopia' published on Journal of Global Economic, in Ethiopia, the issue of women participation in politics has not been in good situation for long. The study stated that women's poor representation and low level participation has been a persistent trend in Ethiopia.

"Women make up to about 51 percent of the [Ethiopian] population. In spite of this statistics, women have been having minimal political participation. Lack of commitment for increased women participation and absence of sufficient political knowledge about women representation have been some of the problems for poor participation of women in the politics," it stated.

According to Saba Gebremedehin, Executive Director of the Network of Ethiopian Women's Organizations, to enhance women's participation, the country's Constitution recognizes women's equal rights with men in the political, social, economic and cultural spheres.

"Women have the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly and through freely elected representatives, the right to vote and be elected to any level of government offices and to be a member of any political organization, labor union, trade organization or employers or professional association of their choice," she told The Ethiopian Herald during a recently held international conference aiming at improving the participation of women in peace building initiative.

Though it has not reached the desired level, Saba said, the number of women in decision making and leadership roles has increased considerably. At the same time, efforts have been undertaken practically to increase the representation of women in political processes in Ethiopia.

She also added that there is a cross section of factors that hinder women's access to political participation in Ethiopia. And the government has declared its commitment to gender equality and empowerment of women by specifying the rights of women in the constitution, issuing the women's policy and National Action Plan for gender equality to put gender mainstreaming into action in the country, she said.

Despite all these, women are still at the subordinate position and occupy low status in the society. Their involvement in policy formulation, decision making processes and political participation has been minimal, she noted.

Additionally, the active participation of women, on equal terms with men, at all levels of decision-making and political involvement is essential to the achievement of equality, sustainable development, peace and democracy and the inclusion of their perspectives and experiences into the decision-making processes.

According to her, without equal participation of women in the political process, the hope for democracy and democratization is nonsense. Thus, the democratic process would only show progress when all members of the society, particularly women are given equal opportunity to exercise their democratic rights.

It is undeniable that women's involvement in political, social, and economic affairs is showing improvement from time to time. Yet, besides ensuring their rights in the constitution, it is also important to battle other factors that deter their active participation in politics and public life, including cultural, religious, psychological, and educational factors and the society's attitude towards women capacity.

Education is the foundation for every progress. In this respect, there is encouraging progress in Ethiopia in this regard. As access to education at all levels has been expanding, so does the participation of women in public life. In the long run, this would play a key role in improving the participation of women in politics.

"The society, especially women have to bring about attitudinal change to overcome cultural factors that hinder their active participation in politics and public life," the Executive Director added.

There are women state ministers, parliamentarians and other top positions. "Yet we can do more than this," Saba said. "We can bring effective result if we actively involved in politics. Not only this, but we should also actively engage in the political discourse and discussion."

Active political engagement includes voting, standing for office, joining of political party or taking part in political campaigns and exerting influence in the decision making process through public debate, and dialogue or exercising public power by holding public office at different levels of administrations- local, regional, national and international.

Hence, without the active participation of women, and the incorporation of women's perspective at all levels of decision making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved, Saba underlined.

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