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Ethiopia

Dr. Mulumebet Shegenaw, prospective candidate

The Reporter (Addis Ababa)
November 9, 1999

Addis Ababa - "I believe that the number of women in the council should at least be 25 per cent of the total"

Dr. Mulumebet Shegenaw plans to take part in the upcoming election of May 2000 as one of the few female candidates. She studied Historical Materialism and earned a Ph.D. from a university in the former Czechoslovakia.

After serving in various capacities for several years, she is now involved in the formation of a local NGO. The Reporter met her last week while she was taking part in the panel discussion "Features of a democratic order and the Ethiopian reality" organised by Walta Information Centre and the Council of Representatives and talked to her about the upcoming election in general and the panel in particular.

What prompted you to take part in next year's election as a prospective candidate?

Obviously, taking part in an election is a right and, in a way, it is also a duty. I wanted to exercise my rights and duties by myself and decided to take part. I haven't exactly consulted with anyone that much; but there have been a lot of calls for private candidates to take part and I wanted to test myself.

Currently, there are a lot of initiatives for women to take part in this election; but the reality and the comparison with other countries clearly indicate that the participation of women in elections is becoming more limited. There is no forum to address this; and I finally decided to be an example. Otherwise, except for this initiative, I haven't thought of becoming a parliamentarian for a long time.

The other reason is that I observe the inadequacy of manpower; and our kebele always makes a call for participation. I realised that being reserved from participation hurts the lower section of the society. The request of the people is not only limited to the formulation of laws but also to their effective implementation and I wanted to help the process.

Considering the reality of competition and winning, what do you expect from this election?

I don't give that much Importance to the fact of my taking part and winning the election. In fact, the support I have been already promised by several people has boosted my morale and made me feel confident that I have something to offer. I am convinced that I would do a lot if I win; but I am not looking forward to it that much. The most important issue is not my taking part in the election but the involvement of all political parties which haven't been taking part in the elections so far for a typical democratic council to come into being.

It is not the individual success or failure, but a collective effort like that made by several women that would make a real a difference in decision - and policy-making and executing them.

Do you rate the coming election to be free and fair?

It is too early to comment on this. In the previous election, only one party was effectively prepared and there was not that much of a competition. Now, a call is being made for parties to participate; but the outcomes and the problems that would emanate are not yet clear.

The Election Board has treated me in a good manner; and I hear that there is a call to assist private candidates at various levels. But when the election is in full swing and campaigns are held, then it will be possible to comment on things if they are right or wrong. We are at the stage of collecting support; and I have come across individuals and institutions that are encouraging me to participate.

At present, the number of women in the Council of Representatives is only 15. Vis a vis when military and feudal regimes were in power, how do you see this?

The representations made in the councils of the former regimes have a wide scope of issues to be raised that are limited not only to the question of women. The question of gender, which is now of a high-time profile internationally, and the attempt to realise the participation of women in different faculties as stipulated by international conventions, are highly limited in their implementation.

According to the conventions that are accepted by countries to increase the number of women engaged in various fields of work, 15 persent is a good start but I believe that the number of women in the council should at least be 25 percent of the total. Now it is very much limited. It is this history of ours that prompt us to be an example.

Currently, a lot of activities are being carried out to increase the number of women that would take part in the upcoming election. Do you think that the participation of women can be enhanced and their problems can be solved in such ways?

This kind of approach has been pursued for years now. But practical participation is the main issue. It can't be achieved because we talk about it so much and calls are made. We can't deny the fact that women make an individual effort in this regard. However, because of age-old custom and working mechanisms, their presence and participation in elections and policy-making areas are highly limited.

If they are better represented in the law-making and executive process, they would definitely contribute a great deal in solving the problems of women. We can say that women participate in various issues. If there is a demonstration of some sort, a considerable portion of society are women and may cast their ballots at the polls. Their absence is clearly felt in their first-hand participation in the law-making and executive process and in the attempt to solve their age-old problems in particular.

Women should be provided with a special opportunity and assistance so that they can have better representations in elections and in the institutions that come out of them. But that doesn't mean that they should be spoon-fed. I think the level of participation as it is evaluated during international conferences annually is low.

It is an international custom now, including in some African countries, to attempt to increase the participation and representation of all sections of the society and not only women. It is not yet a custom in our country; and there has to be an activity to bring this about. When meetings are held, a lot of women take part. But when elections for leaderships are held, women are ignored. They are only assigned to clerical and secretarial post.

You took part in the panel "Features of a democratic order and the Ethiopian reality". What are your general comments on the panel?

It is the first time for such a panel to be organised for different political groups which have opposing ideas since the introduction of the democratic process in this country. In fact, there may not be new ideas, apart from what we hear and read in the mass media. The initiative taken by the government to involve the opposition in the political process has satisfied me because a high- level democratic order can only be instituted by accommodating the ideas of the opposition.

I think the fact that we are in a state of war calls for national participtation; and the need of cooperation is felt among all Ethiopians. There is no more time for arguments and infighting. Still, the more important issue is the implementation of the commitments and pledges made. I am wondering about the tolerance and common understanding that would be realised after this panel.

Do you have one final point to make?

I have taken part in this panel by representing myself. I wish that more Ethiopians were taking part in such forums. Most sections of the society, including the youth, are reluctant to take part in such kinds of political affairs although these are crucial in our day-to-day lives. In the final analysis, when problems crop up or mistakes are made, we are frustrated. Therefore, it is essential for every one to take part in the political process and in development activities.

In particular, women shouldn't wait for a call to be made to them to take part in these debates. It is a matter of right and they shouldn't be expecting a mana to fall down from heaven. They should exercise it in various fields by promoting their personal interests and the needs of the country in general.


Copyright (c) 1999 The Reporter. Distributed via Africa News Online (www.africanews.org). For information about the content or for permission to redistribute, publish or use for broadcast, contact the publisher.

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