The Ethiopian society can be regarded as a “traditional, ancient and conservative one. “Horrendous” traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation, abduction, marital rape and early marriages would require an attitudinal change not only on the part of men, but also on the part of women.  Female genital mutilation, for example, has long been practiced in the country and is not unique to any religious group.  Throughout the ages, female genital mutilation, (a practice that affected some 80 per cent of the female population), had been endorsed by women.  In her view, education, the “great liberator”, would emancipate women from such harmful traditional practices. Some progress has been made despite great socio-economic, political and cultural odds. The minimum punishment for rape is five years, whereas previously it was the payment of a camel.  A new family code has been adopted by some of the regional states and a new criminal code has come into effect.  A growing grass-roots movement was working to bring women’s issues to the forefront.  Women’s rights had first been recognized as a result of their military contribution to fighting a fascist regime and further progress would only be realized by their continued hard work and toil.

Human Rights of Women: Ethiopia has ratified both the UN Charter adopted in 1948 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1949. Both these international instruments prohibit the negative discrimination of women based on their sex. The UDHR identifies targets and requires the promotion and protection of civil, political, economic, and social rights of people. Though the UDHR prohibits all forms of discrimination based on sex, an additional instrument was necessary, to accommodate the special situation and needs of women, and accelerate the process of closing the gap between men and women. Accordingly the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1981. Ethiopia ratified the convention in the same year. CEDAW outlines a variety of political, social, economic, and legislative issues that States have to work on to eliminate discrimination against women and create equality between men and women. It also reiterates that state parties will adopt the necessary measures to achieve human rights of women identified in the Convention. CEDAW also discusses a procedure for reporting and follow up of the measures states have taken in order to eliminate discrimination against women.

The Constitution adopted in 1995 by the FDRE has amplified the provisions given to women, and assures women of equal rights with men in every sphere and affirmative actions would be taken in order to remedy the sufferings of women because of past inequalities. It also reiterates the rights of women to own and administer property. It sounds women’s right to family planning services and to paid pre-and post-delivery maternity leaves. Since the ratification of the 1995 Constitution, a number of strides have been made in the past few years in amending discriminatory laws. Now the pension benefits of women civil servants is given to their survivors, maternity leave has been extended from 45 days to 3 months, and the family law has been revised. However, there is still a lot to be done. For example, women who marry foreigners are still losing their Ethiopian nationality.

Beijing Plus Five: The United Nations Fourth World Conference, held in Beijing, in September 1995 came up with the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action. The Platform showed a renewed commitment to the goals of equality, development, and peace for all women. It was divided into six chapters and identified 12 critical areas of concern that were thought to be the main barriers to the advancement of women. These were poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, economic participation, power sharing and decision-making; women focused institutions, human rights, mass media, environment, and the girl child. In October 1998, the UN Division for the Advancement of Women (UN/DAW) sent out a questionnaire to all United Nations Member States requesting a report on the implementation of the Beijing Platform. The responses showed that, except for a few isolated examples where women's lives have improved, in many cases progress has been slow.

Many of the concerns that were included in the Beijing Platform had been considered and placed at the priority list of the Ethiopian government. Attempts have been made to implement policies and proclamations aimed at bringing about gender equality though not much progress has been observed. The constraints include high illiteracy rate, deep-rooted gender stereotyped cultural beliefs and practices, and lack of resources including qualified human labor. In preparation for the Beijing Plus Five, countries the world developed ways of measuring their countries' progress for women. The UN held five preparatory meetings and at the meeting of March 2000, 'the outcome document' was produced. The document reaffirms the 12 areas of the Platform for Action, including measures to:

  • •identify violence against women as a human rights violation;

address the issue of honor killings;

  • monitor trafficking of women and condemn exploitation of women and girls for   economic and sexual purposes;
  • •respond to the impact of HIV/AIDS on the health of women and girls

internationally, particularly in Africa;

  • •expand entrepreneurship and credit availability, including micro-credit;
  • •emphasize "gender mainstreaming" in all economic policies, institutions, and resource allocations;
  • •promote women's role in conflict resolutions and peace-building, and the role of men in promoting gender equality.

The outcome document reaffirms human rights of women and the commitment of the international community to implement the Beijing Platform. Ethiopia has committed itself to take the measures included in the document. What needs to be assessed is the progress that the country is making in implementing the provisions outlined in the outcome document.

The Millennium Development Goal (MDG): The MDG is another instrument that Ethiopia ratified with the aim of reducing poverty. The goals include, among others, enabling all children, both boys and girls, in the world to complete full course of elementary school and eliminating the gender gap at all levels of education, by the year 2015. Though the goals are highly ambitious for most developing countries including Ethiopia, they would reinforce the implementation of CEDAW, Beijing Plus Five and other national instruments.

Labor Law Proclamation: The Civil Service Proclamation of January, 2002, cover issues of employment, salary, promotion, performance evaluation, training, leave and disciplinary measures. Under employment, it states that no discrimination shall be made on the basis of ethnic origin, sex, religion and political affiliation, and other grounds. In addition to this, the proclamation clearly stipulates that in the employment process, if two candidates a man and a woman have the qualification required for a position, preference will be given to the female candidate. There are also provisions given to female civil servants on maternity related issues. The proclamation states that a pregnant civil servant shall be entitled to paid leave for a medical examination before delivery if recommended by a doctor. She will also be entitled to a paid leave of 30 days before delivery and 60 days after delivery. Finally if she does not deliver on the presumed date she can get her annual leave after the 60 days of post-delivery leave. These provisions are supportive of female civil servants, but issues like training and promotion do not seem to take gender issues into account. The personnel statistics issued by the Civil Service Commission shows that, currently many of the training opportunities are utilized by men. These could be because female civil servants have less GPA upon graduation, a problem closely related to the economic, social, and cultural problems a woman encounters in attending and succeeding in education. Therefore, considering the gender related arrangement in our society, mechanisms need to be created to distribute promotions and training fairly among male and female civil servants. If gender issues are neglected in promotion and training the gender equality of the sexes that we are striving to attain will become a dream rather than reality.

Political Participation: In the Ethiopian context, for a woman to hold a key position in politics, economics, and administration is a difficult task. As a patriarchal society, the attitude of the majority of people towards women holding a high position, the way society and workplaces are structured, and the gender division of labor all poses a serious challenge. Women have a marginal position in accessing and succeeding in their education. As indicated earlier, the majority of women in the civil service are in clerical and manual jobs. Therefore, it is not surprising that we do not see many women in key positions both in politics and administration

National policies and inputs on promotion of gender equality


The Transitional Government and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia have formulated several policies to rehabilitate the social and economic infrastructure and create an environment for sustainable development. These include the economic Policy along with its strategy, the Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI), the National Policy of Ethiopian Women, the National Population Policy, the Education and Training Policy, Health Policy, Developmental Social Welfare Policy, Environmental Policy, Culture Policy, Policy on Natural Resources and Environment, and others.

One of the major policies formulated by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia was the Economic Reform Policy. The main objectives of the policy were to:

  • Øchange the centralized economy to free market economy;
  • Øincrease the participation of the people in order to increase the economic activity of the regions by giving ownership;
  • ØEnable  local industries to use local raw materials and supplies to strengthen the economy;
  • ØCreating relationship and interdependence among the various sectors, especially between agriculture and industry, so as to reduce dependency on imported raw materials and supplies;
  • Øgiving special attention to the agricultural sector since it is perceived to be the basis for the economic development

ADLI as a strategy is believed to have influence on those engaged in agriculture, which form the majority. It is considered to be the best alternative to revive and further develop the devastated economy. Productivity has to be improved in order for the agricultural sector to become both a supplier of food and raw materials for the industry, while creating a market for the output for the industrial sector. This can be accomplished by applying improved and modern way of farming, through the provision of extension services, agricultural inputs, and infrastructure and credit services to small farmers. In this endeavor, emphasis will be given to farmer with small lands holdings and to the establishment of large-scale farms, especially in the lowland areas. This way, it will be possible to get enough yields from limited farming activities and eventually transfer people from agriculture to the other sectors. ADLI also delineates the roles to be played by the government, the people, and the private sector in implementing the strategy. It also describes what needs to be done in the various areas such as industry, minerals, population growth and control, science and technology, infrastructure and social services.

One of the eight issues under the investment program is the participation of women. It indicates that women would be provided with credit services and inputs that would enable them to increase their productivity; conditions will be created and improved to enable women to attend schools and to persist in their education with a view to, improving their chance of holding decision making positions at various levels; and encouraging women's participation in modern economic activities. Though women are given some provisions in the strategy, women’s issue has not been mainstreamed in all the sectors. It is obvious that the issue of gender is central to all the sectors including education, health, population, and food security, and in fact women play an important role in agriculture, which is the main focus of the strategy. Therefore, gender needs to be mainstreamed in all the strategies and programs that will be worked out in order to realize ADLI instead of putting it as one of the issues to be taken up. The main objectives of the National Policy of Ethiopian Women include, creating and facilitating conditions for equality between men and women, creating conditions to make rural women beneficiaries of social services like education and health, and eliminating stereotypes, and discriminatory perception and practices that constrain the equality of women. A number of strategies have also been designed to achieve the above objectives, two of which are the participation of women in the formulation of policies, laws, rules and regulations, and ensuring the democratic and human right of women. The structures were clearly put delineating the responsibilities of the Women's Affairs Office (WAO) under the Prime Minister Office and the Regional and Zonal Women's Affairs Sectors, and the Women's Affairs Department (WAD) in the various Ministries. However, assessments done over the years show that both the (WAO) and the (WAD) in the sectoral ministries lack capacity: they have problems with resources and qualified personnel. In many cases WADs are marginalized and gender is not mainstreamed in many of the activities in the ministries. The structure has problems reaching the grassroots since it stops at the Woreda level, a problem that has limited the implementation of the policy.

The National Population Policy formulated in 1993 was an instrument aimed at harmonizing the rate of population growth with the capacity of the country. The Policy gives serious attention to the issue of gender and describes the important roles women play in controlling population growth. It clearly stipulates that the situation of women has direct bearings on the fertility level of any society and explains how their education, employment and the provisions in the laws given to women are related to their fertility and reproductive health. The goals, objectives and strategies give a central place to the situation and empowerment of women. The goals include raising the economic and social status of women, empowering vulnerable segments of the society such as young children and women, removing all legal and customary practices constraining women's economic and social development and the enjoyment of their rights. Many of the strategies revolve around empowering women through education, employment in both government and private sectors and eliminating cultural and legal barriers.

The Ethiopian Education and Training Policy also has some provisions given to women. One of the specific objectives in the Education and Training Policy is to introduce a system of education that would rectify the misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding the roles and benefits of female education. The policy indicates that the design and development of curriculum and books would give special attention to gender issues. It further states that equal attention would be given to female participants when selecting teachers; training them, and advancing their careers. It also  states that financial support would be given to students with promising potentials. A number of initiatives have been taken to implement the policy. For example, female teachers with less GPA than male teachers are selected and this has increased the number of female teachers in elementary schools. But a lot needs to be done at the high school level. The Women’s Affairs Department in the Ministry of Education has prepared a gender policy and it undertakes a number of activities to help close the gender gap in education. Five regions, Gambela, Benshangul-Gumuz, SNNPRA, Oromiyaa, and Somalia, are targeted because of the low enrollment and high dropout rates of girls. Capacity building of female teachers, guidance and counseling services for female students, and awareness creation in the community are some of the activities. The office also gives assertiveness training to female students at the various higher education institutes and organizes panel discussion on gender issues. Women’s focal points in regional bureaus get support from the WAD in the MOE. However, just like other WADs the office is understaffed and encounters shortage of resources.

The Health Policy was one of instruments designed by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia to improve the health status of people and to facilitate the provision of basic health services. Health is such an inter-sectoral matter that it can not be addressed by any one policy or plan of action. A statement in the health policy reflects this fact: "the government believes that health policy can not be considered in isolation from policies addressing population dynamics, food availability, acceptable living conditions, and other requisites essential for health improvement and shall therefore develop effective intersectorality for a comprehensive betterment of life".

The goal of the health policy is to restructure and expand the health care system and to make it responsive to the health needs of the less privileged rural population, which constitute the overwhelming majority of the population, and are the major productive forces of the nation. The policy supports the democratization and decentralization of the health service system, and strengthening intersectoral activities. The policy accords special attention to the health needs of the family, particularly women and children, and hitherto most neglected regions, the rural population, and pastoralists, as some of its priority areas. The implementation of public policy or government plan of action involves the translation of goals and objectives into concrete achievements through various programs.

The Health Sector Development Program (HSDP) formulated in 1996, is an implementation strategy for the National Health Policy. The Cultural Policy formulated in October 1997 views culture as incorporating the different social, economic, political, administrative, moral, religious, material and oral traditions, and practices of the various peoples and nationalities of Ethiopia. It also recognizes that for development efforts to be effective and sustainable, they have to take into considerations the cultures of people, which impact on the thinking and activities. The policy recognizes that the cultural behaviors, practices, and attitudes that support and promote stereotypes and prejudices against women, those that constrain the expansion of family planning services and the promotion of reproductive health should be slowly eliminated. Instead, situations should be created to promote the equality of the sexes. The content of the Policy clearly elaborates the unfavorable situation of women, and articulates the need for a change that ensures women's active participation in all cultural activities and guaranteeing those equal rights to the benefits. However the strategies outlined in the Policy document do not include in what ways the sector could achieve the gender equality indicated in the policy and the means to eliminate harmful practices.

The Development Social Welfare Policy was formulated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in November 1996. The main objectives of the policy included studying the causes of social problems and designing preventive and rehabilitative programs with full participation of all stakeholders including the grassroots. The Policy acknowledges that war, famine, economic crises of the past decades have harmed vulnerable groups, i.e., women, the elderly, children, youth and the disabled, and makes these groups the Policy’s central focus. It also explains that women are underrepresented in every sphere including education, employment, politics, and other key decision making positions. It further mentions that one of the major causes of social problems is the economic dependence of women on men. However, talking about the various groups such as children, youth, elderly, and the disabled, it does not say anything about the special problems females encounter as children, parents, youth, the elderly, and the disabled, nor does it mention the measures that need to be taken to alleviate their problems. For example, such problems as harmful traditional practices that victimize female children, teenage pregnancy and abortion, the vulnerability of disabled women to various types of violence are not given attention. Community participation, partnership and coordination, capacity building of actors at various levels, advocacy and awareness creation, implementation of international conventions and other social welfare related laws, and the establishment of data bank system are outlined as some of the major strategies. The policy also articulates that the issues of gender will be mainstreamed in all programs, projects, and services in addressing the target groups mentioned in the policy.

The Federal Policy on Natural Resources and the Environment was formulated in April 1996 with the overall goal of improving and enhancing the health and quality of life of Ethiopians and to promote sustainable social and economic development through the sound management and use of natural, man-made and cultural resources and the environment as a whole to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The policy starts with a conceptual framework that contends that human resources are of great value in themselves and as creators and maintainers of natural resources have to be developed and cared for, if natural resources are to be developed and conserved. The policy gives importance to a participatory approach and the feeling of ownership in developing and conserving natural resources and an important place is given to gender.

It underlines the importance of the integration of social, cultural, and gender issues in sustainable resource and environmental management. Giving a high priority to raising the status of women by increasing female participation in the education system at all levels is indicated to be one of the strategies in the cross-sectoral issues. Increasing the number of women extension agents in natural resource and environmental management and designing programs that involve and benefit the most disadvantaged groups, particularly women, children, the disabled and the landless are considered important. The policy considers the disaggregating of data related to environment and to natural and man-made resource use and management, addressing gender issues by ensuring that energy plans adequately address fuel-wood requirement as two of the strategies in the development and conservation of biomass energy resources. In the area of mineral resource development one of the strategies is providing support to women in mineral development with special practical training and technical assistance particularly in small-scale and artisan mining. The policy gives a central place to institutionally supporting and establishing “Women in Development” desks at federal and regional government agencies concerned with natural resources development and environmental management. These desks would scrutinize projects, programs, policies, directives, rules, and regulations to ensure that gender issues are integrated. Capacity building for local communities to enable them to fully enfranchise their women, disables persons and, as appropriate, youth and children, to effectively participate in the planning and implementation of all development activities is also given importance. The policy is gender sensitive and it promotes highly the participation of vulnerable groups including women in conserving, sustaining, and managing the environment.

National Actors in Gender Equality and Competence Development In this section, only government machinery for the implementation of the women’s policy will be presented, as other national actors have been covered elsewhere in this materialt.

The Women’s Affairs Office (WAO)

The Women’s Affairs Office was established in October 1991, headed by a woman with the rank of a minister. It is charged with the responsibility of coordinating, facilitating and monitoring all government gender programs, particularly the implementation of the National Women’s Policy formulated in 1993. WAO is also responsible for creating a conducive environment for all implementations in the country.

Women’ Affairs Departments

The establishment of gender focal points in Federal ministries and regional councils is one of the main strategies for the implementation of gender and sectoral policies. It was also one of the initial activities undertaken by WAO, after the formulation of the Ethiopian National Policy on Women. The regional council women’s affairs department offices were opened up a little later.

Centre for Research Training and Information for Women in Development (CERTWID)

The CERTWID was established in 1991 with the financial assistance of UNFPA and Addis Ababa University. At the time of establishment CERTWID was placed under the Institute of Development Research. Currently, CERTWID has been upgraded and it is accountable to the office of the Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate studies. The center’s main goal is to enable women to empower themselves socially, culturally, economically and politically so as to be active participants as well as equal beneficiaries of the development process. This goal is realized through its research, training, and documentation activities. CERTWID undertakes its own research and sponsors other independent researchers and graduating BA and MA students to do their research on various issues related to gender. It also disseminates its findings through workshops and distribution of its publications for consumption by researchers, practitioners, and policy makers.

In its training component, CERTWID organizes various training workshops including gender sensitization, assertiveness, gender sensitive research methodology, and leadership. The Center's Documentation Unit serves a wide variety of patrons including Addis Ababa University staff, students, and employees of other governmental and nongovernmental organizations. It has an adequate collection of books, research reports, journals and other magazines published on gender. It can be said that CERTWID is making a great contribution in raising awareness about gender, providing information on gender issues and equipping researchers with knowledge and skills in gender sensitive research methodology. But the centre lacks human resources capacity.

Involvement of Men in Gender Equality Work

The ‘outcome document’ for the Beijing plus five contains the 12 areas of the platform “promote …. and the role of men in promoting gender equality. Gender refers to  both men and women, but is often taken to be women, because when we deal with gender the focus is on women. The reason for this is that up to the present time, it is women who suffer from the existing inequality between the sexes, and as such women have been the main actors to address the issue. This has probably brought about the feeling that gender is women’s issue to be handled by them. It is also true that, though not at a significant level, men are involved, in some instances showing more concern than some women do. In Addis Ababa, there are many consultancy firms managed by men and working on gender, including gender training, having themselves been trained. Many men make positive contributions in many forums. In some instances, especially in the rural setting, men have been seen to pose less resistance to changes that are introduced to achieve improved women’s status. The extent of men’s involvement and to what degree and in what ways they can contribute to gender equality,  is something that needs to be studied.

Poverty reduction strategy (PRS)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) made a move in 1999 to encourage governments of low-income and heavily indebted countries to prepare poverty reduction strategies with a broad-based participation of various stakeholders. Ethiopia saw this as relevant, because poverty is deep-rooted and wide-spread, and the country seeks debt relief and plans to continue implementing economic reform programs in collaboration with the IMF and the WB. Further, PRS offers the opportunity for close dialogue between the government, the people and among the different stakeholders, contributing to improvements of the democratic process. The Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (I-PRSP) was drafted in September 2000 and submitted to the IMF and WB in November of the same year.

The aim of the interim paper was, to present a broad picture of the poverty reduction strategy that Ethiopia has pursued in recent years, and intended to refine the preparation of the PRSP. The adjustment policies that had been made in cooperation with Breton Wood Institutions had in the mid-1990s triggered Ethiopia to adopt a long-term strategy of Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI). ADLI envisages a growth process that is inherently poverty reducing, and makes it possible to assess the connection between policies and programs on the one hand and poverty reduction on the other. Generally the link between these two was indicated in the interim document by looking at the economic performances in the 1990s. The PRSP was accepted provisionally and the government offered a period of a year to prepare the PRSP. The PRSP is a tri-annually revised dynamic national strategy, with the goal of reducing poverty by 50% by 2015. The Ethiopian government invited the public to participate and subsequently launched the consultative process of the PRSP at Woreda and Regional levels in August 2001. The majority of Ethiopians live in rural areas and are engaged in farming, and thus ADLI was justified: Since poverty is worse there, it found on poverty reduction in the rural area. It is also understood that prioritization is required since PRSP cannot address each and every poverty issue.

The federal consultation was conducted at the African Conference Centre on 28-30 March 2002. Issues common for all regions were basic necessities, water, food, shelter, and health care; environmental degradation; infrastructure; capacity; peace and stability; empowerment; traditional practices that have negative impact; governance and human rights; and macro-economic stability. Interestingly all regions identified harmful tradition as being an impediment to the struggle against poverty. Secondly, good governance and human rights was an issue raised by several regions, and the need to promote and protect democracy and human rights was highlighted. 


Impact of globalization on women


Over the past two decades, globalization has created a tremendous impact on the lives of women in developing nations. Globalization can be defined as “a complex economic, political, cultural, and geographic process in which the mobility of capital, organizations, ideas, discourses, and peoples has taken a global or transnational form. With the establishment of international free trade policies, such as North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and GATT, transnational corporations are using the profit motive to guide their factories toward developing nations in search of “cheap” female labor. Corporations prefer female labor over male labor because women are considered to be “docile” workers, who are willing to obey production demands at any price. In developing nations, certain types of work, such as garment assembly, is considered to be an extension of female household roles. Therefore, cultural influences in developing nations also impacts employment stratification.

Bringing a high demand of employment opportunities for women in developing nations creates an instantaneous change within the social structure of these societies. Although the demand for female employment brings about an array of opportunities and a sense of independence, the glass ceiling continues to exist with the “feminization of poverty”. Researchers in the fields of Sociology, Anthropology, and Economics have collected empirical data that shows the consequences of globalization on the lives of women and their families in developing nations. Given these circumstances and the empirical evidence collected in the various studies, does globalization have an overall positive or negative impact on the live of women in developing nations?

The impact of globalization is different from country to country whether it is positive impact or negative impact. But the difference is highly significant between developed (industrialized) and developing countries. Its positive impacts:

  • Employment opportunities for women especially in developed countries. It has created economic and job opportunities for women at all levels.
  • Education and knowledge which constitutes a huge advancement in the empowerment of women especially in terms of sharing information.


How globalization has affected women in Ethiopia?


To look into how women are impacted by globalization, it is better to see how globalization is taken or brought to the people. It is brought by government policies or other channels. Wrong impact of globalization implies wrong utilization of the process. For example access to information may be misused by traffickers and drug dealers when poor women seeking job get information from such people. In Ethiopia there are three major constraints to women specifically and the society can generally benefit from globalization. These are:

  • lack of proper infrastructure or other communication channel
  • low level of education and
  • language barrier

There are policies guiding governments to subsidies from public service such as education and public health. In the free market system, where market controls everything, people are forced to pay for services. Applying these policies in poor countries like Ethiopia, it is the poor who are going to be affected.

An environmental crisis (climatic change) is the result of the depletion of Ozone. Climatic change, resulting flooding and drought, has affected the production system where women are in turn affected.