RECAP-Lack of Women’s Engagement in Politics

When we say “democracy”, it screams participation, but women’s engagement in politics has decreased over the years. With this problem as the main discussion point, AWiB held its monthly event at Hilton Hotel on November 4, 2021.  AWiBers, speakers, and non-members networked over dinner before the program.

AWiB 2021 President Kemer Temam welcomed participants and introduced AWiB to non-members.  She also thanked monthly sponsors who made this event possible:  HelloSolar, Flipper International School, and Nib International Bank.  She then gave the stage to a representative from HelloSolar to say a few words. Kemer proceeded to invite the guest speaker and moderator to the stage.

Abigeya Getachew, moderator for the night and AWiB Board 2021, started the discussion by stating it is a known fact that women do not engage in politics as much as men. What does one country miss out on due to this?

Saba Gebremedhin, Executive Director of Network of Ethiopian Women’s Association (NEWA), said there would be a prominent effect on the economy and politics, but the impact will mostly be on women’s rights.  One-sided participation will negatively affect society as a whole; it will rob us of ideas that could have come if women participated. Lack of women’s engagement in politics will also hinder the development of democracy in the country, because when we say “democracy,” we mean participation.  Democracy means participation, so lack of engagement from any side of society means holding it back from developing.

Abigeya posed the second question:  What have you seen in female leaders?

Saba stated that women in any position at work tend to overwork themselves.  They overwork to prove that they can do it.  They go the extra mile to prove to others that they have what it takes to be in that position. Saba mentioned through NEWA, she had met several women who could be leaders.  They can bring significant change using any amount of opportunity given to them.  She stated that experience and being informed matters in leadership.  Women from rural areas need a small amount of information to bring significant change in their communities, and that is leadership.  She said women can go far beyond what they have to offer in politics once obstacles are removed.

In politics, networking is one of the critical skills needed, but women in our country lack that skill as they are more focused on activities on the table.  Does this limit the impact of women’s engagement in politics?  We don’t have a social system that promotes the development of communication skills.  How is NEWA contributing to developing communication skills?

Working in one direction is not going to guarantee success in the world of politics, Saba said; being all-rounded is necessary.  This includes being able to network.  Women lack these skills, and NEWA tries to tackle certain hurdles through training.  NEWA has identified a lack of communication skills as a problem, and there is still work to be done.  She stated NEWA had started post-election training to improve the networking and negotiation skills of women in politics.

If women played a significant role in Ethiopia’s politics, would the current situation have been different?

Saba said it would be different.  If women played a significant role in politics, the approach we have to solve problems would be different.  This would have led to a different outcome. Women would have prioritized essential factors that have been deemed unnecessary or overlooked.

Abigeya gave the audience a chance to ask questions.  Inquiries include:

  • Are women being involved in political parties just for the sake of numbers, or is it due to their potential?
  • Isn’t it too risky being involved in politics?
  • Do women have to join political parties to have their voices heard?
  • We mostly lack awareness about politics. How can we improve this?
  • What do we mean by politics?
  • In the past Ethiopian women used to participate in politics; we even had female leaders. But currently, that is not the reality. What changed?

Saba stated diversity is essential in numbers as much as qualifications.  In a country where more than 50% are women, it is not fair to assume a person in charge will succeed just because he is a man. But when a woman is the leader, people are full of doubts, and she has to prove herself; women should be not judged on a different scale. Both women and men have to be evaluated and considered on the same scale for the same position.  All given the responsibility of leadership have to bring quality to the table.  Ethiopia’s political environment is not conducive for women, but the engagement of at least one woman will set an example for the youth, creating a more tolerable society. a better one for those coming in the future.

When political decisions are to be made, women are often neglected. This makes it necessary for women’s active engagement in the affairs of politics.

Saba mentioned that if a woman can make her voice heard in her immediate community, she can use this ability in politics.  Women’s lack of engagement in politics is not just about them shying away from the political world.  It is also attributed to several other factors, such as pressure from their families and society.  She said women used to be more involved in politics; this could be attributed to the fact that patriarchy was not as prominent.  Ethiopians had different ways of thinking back then.  The political system was also vastly different.  If you have royal blood, you would be involved in one way or another.  But now, our way of thinking is that men get to make significant decisions.  This has affected the engagement of women in the political world.  We live in a time where information is at the tip of our hands.  But we have not accepted the fact that politics affects our day-to-day lives.  Politics is not for a small number of people.  It involves a whole nation.  Politics, for Saba, is the necessary evil.  It has many complications, but it is essential.  It is the core of everything in a country.  If a political system fails, the whole system is affected.  Awareness regarding politics starts from defining it.

AWiB has a campaign advocating for 50% of boards in state-owned enterprises to incorporate women.  Do you think this will become a reality?  If not, what can we do to make it a reality?

As per Saba, for this idea to be successful, organizations must first identify what they have been missing due to the lack of women on the boards.  They also have to remember the advantage of having a diversified board and what they would gain.  Without this assessment, it would be fruitless.  But the effort should also come from the women’s side.  There are several reasons behind this fear, such as pressures from society.  Women could overcome this fear through supportive surroundings.  A supportive environment will help them build confidence.

Which country could Ethiopia learn from to engage women in politics? What role do mothers have in influencing their children+s future engagement in politics?

Saba stated that Finland has an initiative solely to engage women in politics. The reason this initiative has become successful is because of the amount of commitment to this initiative. There is consistency in the activities of the initiatives. The initiative could be taken as an excellent model to be applied in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s culture does not make it possible to accept someone else’s idea. The culture itself is not conducive to democracy. Saba stated that the next generation could have a different perspective, and this might change. But society needs to work on shaping the future generation’s values and way of thinking. Saba wrapped up by stating that people can start engaging in politics by first making themselves informed.

Abigeya thanked the guest speaker and the attendees. AWiB 2021 President Kemer Temam presented the guests with gifts and wrapped up the night.

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