UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner met with women leaders from Ethiopia’s public sector during his recent visit to the country.
The women leaders were part of the recent cabinet reorganization by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that resulted in women getting 50 percent of the government’s top ministerial positions. The meeting aimed to recognize the country’s move in advancing gender equality and women empowerment (GEWE) in the public service as well as to engage with women leaders to identify systemic and cultural impediments preempting equal opportunities for Ethiopian women.
UNDP Administrator expressed appreciation to the Ethiopian government for the historic move to ensure gender balance in the cabinmate of ministers; while urging women leaders to use this opportunity to demonstrate effective leadership and prove that women have all the capacity to assume higher level decision making roles in government structures.
Women leaders confirmed having to exert more efforts to showcase and establish their leadership capacities and authority in a male dominated institutional set-up. It was noted that the current administrative systems do not provide effective measures to ensure a balanced work-life balance for women, within a cultural framework that is still very demanding from women to perform their more ‘traditional’ role in the household and family. It was therefore noted that strategic positioning of gender equality and women empowerment can be realized through innovation, mind-set transformation, regulatory and procedural changes.
The challenges of exercising leadership in the context of male dominated and patriarchal working environment and the need to challenge such an environment was noted. It was also noted that the issue is not about women’s capacity to lead but is more on the perception about their ability to lead. Then new women leaders were advised to challenge the status quo to stark gender disparities in the country and maintain the improved representation of women in the federal government. Therefore, the need to engender institutions that women are leading and engaging men in creating convenient environment for women to exercise their leadership roles is suggested as a key action.
Women leaders committed to strengthen their advocacy role within their respective institutions and more broadly within Government and society to contribute to women empowerment and advancement.
Way forward the UNDP’s support to the women leaders
The Administrator reconfirmed of UNDP’s commitment to continued support for the government of Ethiopia in the agenda of promoting women in high level leadership roles. The focus of UNDP will be to support women leaders in addressing the challenges and obstacles they are facing. UNDP, UN Sister agencies would need to commit to sustaining their investment in GEWE in all programming, but also adopt a more targeted approach for supporting women leaders through providing them with dedicated technical support. UNDP and UNWomen would provide high level capacity development to Cabinet member, with prime emphasis on women ministers and leaders.
The importance of building coalition supporting GEWE and the need to establish stronger networks for women leaders was suggested to be given emphasis. The role played by men in promoting gender equality and the advancement of women remain critical and all UN agencies (UNDP in particular) to ensure mainstreaming gender in all its programming and ensuring that men and women gain the skills to promote GEWE at all governance levels.
For women leaders, the need to have succession plan and put in place for grooming younger women leaders to assume leadership positions in the future is suggested to be given priority. Focus on the educational system and ensuring girls and women have equal access to the education system and equal chances to complete the various cycles. Affirmative action is required from all stakeholders and UNDP with its sister agencies would provide its programmatic base as a platform for ensuring that GEWE is advanced.
Cultural barriers are a key impediment for any change of perception towards women and have traditionally been the most challenging barrier for GEWE. There is a need to create a collation among various actors (political, administrative, religious, societal, etc.) to be able to effectively influence mindset change.