Women In Public, Political Life

by Gimbogish Kebede

The constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia entitles women citizens to equal right with men. Moreover, it is noted that women are entitled to affirmative actions to remedy the historical legacy of gender inequality and discrimination. The provision of special emphasis to women aims at enabling them to compete and participate in all spheres of development on the basis of equality with men. We also have the national policy on Ethiopian women, which attempts to facilitate an atmosphere conductive to the active participation of women in the socio-economic and political life of the country.

These are some of the manifestations of the government's commitment to bring about equality among men and women. However, implementing the constitutional and other rights of women is not a simple task. It requires special effort of the government, the private sector-non-governmental organizations and of the society at large.

The involvement of women in political realm has been increasing during the past few years, although the number of women in political decision making levels is still very much limited. It is noted  that during the reign of Haileselassie, only one woman had the opportunity to secure a seat in the parliament.

At present, the House of Representatives which is the highest legislative organ in the county has 548 seats of which 13 are occupied by women. Out of 126 members of the House of Federation, eight are women. Similarly, the number of women in state councils is very low. Out of the 1,432 members of the state councils, nation wide, only 77 are women.

If we take the ratio of male and female voters during the past election, at woreda level it is indicated that, for every 100 men voters, there were 87.7 women voters. At the kebele level, that ratio was 100 men to 87.9 women voters. These figures imply that women have enjoyed their right of electing their representatives though they fell short of enjoying the right to be elected.

As an Ethiopian Management Institutes research on women in management, (Nov. 1998) indicates the percentage of men recruited during the years 1986, 1987 and 1988 out-weighed the percentage of women. In the years, 1987 and 1988, relatively many male employees, resigned from their work owing to reasons such as joining higher institutes of learning and getting other jobs with better salaries and benefits. On the contrary, few women were appointed to decision making levels.

Promotion in many organizations is based on the criteria of the civil service law which demands relevant experience, performance, seniority and education qualification. Availability of few vacancies at higher level, women's low level of education and early marriage, complicate women's chance of getting promoted and makes it difficult for them to meet the requirement for higher positions which most of the time are reserved for men.

Over 70 per cent of employees in professional jobs are male while only 29.1 per cent are women of whom, only 1.53 per cent are at decision making levels.

On the other hand, it is believed that active participation of all groups in society, full and effective partnerships between women and men in leadership and other positions is essential. The constitution also guarantees equal opportunity for both sexes.

But there still are other constraints checking women's participation in politics, and other assertive positions. Some of these problems may be organizational, family and/or personal.

Cultural beliefs and practices are also among those impeding women's advancement. Traditionally, very few women are appointed to the decision making levels. Women have to work twice as much in order to be recognized equally with their male counterparts, if at all.

The life style of women who somehow manage to assume decision making levels, on the other hand, is very complicated. Such women exercise different tasks in the community and the family as wives, mothers managers or other responsible positions. all the different responsibilities including those which are not given consideration by the society, make life difficult for the fair sex.

Women, therefore, need to be provided with all the educationally and other opportunities helpful to develop their potentialities. Women have to have access to credit facilities; extension services and improved agricultural technology. The national women's policy, which aims at facilitating conditions favorable to speeding up equality between men and women, emphasizes the need for concerted effort of governmental and no-governmental organizations including any stake holders working in the country to improve the situation of the people and particularly of women.

The Ethiopian government has recognized the need for establishing special programs and actions to improve the economic status of women. Major policy changes have been made to integrate gender dimension in development. Intervention like affirmative action have been introduced to enhance women's access to and control over production resources.

There is also a trend now that encourages women who are qualified and who meet the minimum requirements to join professions and assume positions that had primarily been held by men. Most of the newly formulated policies have provisions for women's equal right to employment while action are also being taken to improve the employment status of women through the newly developed civil service codes and existing labour laws.

In real life, however, the number of women having key management and political power is very small. The beginning for political empowerment of women therefore, need to be further intensified if women citizens are to equally contribute to national growth.

Thanks to the democratic atmosphere and the ground facilitated for women, we now have a few women parliamentarians, women ministers, bureau heads, department heads, ambassadors and others having similar positions. This visibility of women at higher levels although still minimal contributes in creating gender awareness among the populace. These women also play a key role as role models for younger females in the community.

Measures more than proclamations and policies should, therefore, be intensified and continue to be taken for better results in this respect. Policies and conventions are just the beginning and never the end unless they are implemented by the society. It is wondrous that positive policies have been issued. It, however, is also mandatory that those who have the responsibility for the implementation of the policies make sure that there is a fertile ground for their implementation.