Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed formed a cabinet Tuesday with half of the positions filled by women.
To pull off the unprecedented move, Ahmed downsized the number of ministers from 28 to 20, and gave 10 of the positions to women, including top security posts such as minister of defense and the head of the newly formed Ministry of Peace, the Addis Standard reported. The Federal Government Communications Affairs office was cut out and restructured as press secretariat under the prime minister’s office.
Though women have been in cabinet before in minor positions, this is the first time in Ethiopia’s history women have been seated in top security posts.
“Our women ministers will disprove the adage that women can’t lead,” Abiy said in Parliament.
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Aisha Mohammed was placed in charge of defense and Muferiat Kamil, a former parliamentary speaker, was placed in charge of the newly formed Ministry of Peace. As minister of the newly-formed ministry, Muferiat will oversee federal police, intelligence services, the information security agency and will take the lead in tackling ethnic strife that has displaced 1.4 million people.
The push for gender equality is among several progressive moves that Abiy has made to modernize the once-authoritarian country since he took office about seven months ago. He has also released thousands of political prisoners, made peace with Eritrea by enforcing a dormant peace agreement over a turf war and promised competitive elections in 2020.
The ruling party still holds all the seats in parliament, but Awol Allo, an expert on Ethiopia from Britain’s Keele University, said the move to include more women marked significant progress.
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“It is a very important and progressive move on the part of the prime minister and very consistent with the transformative agendas he’s been pursuing,” Awol said. “I also think it sends a strong message to young Ethiopian women that one day they can take up positions in the government.”
In addition to gender diversity, the two women appointed are Muslim, adding to to the ethnic diversity of the cabinet with the country being one-third Muslim.
“Muslims were historically underrepresented,” said Hallelujah Lulie, an analyst based in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. “It is a good move. It projects a good image. It’s inspiring in many ways.”