Former Minister, Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Ambassador; Founder and Director, Women’s Development Fund

Background

Tadelech Hailemikael

Ambassador Tadelech was born at the center of Addis, Piassa. She went to Lycee Guebre Mariam and Princess Zenebework School for her elementary schooling and to Etege Menen to complete her secondary school.  After studying for one year in the Addis Ababa University, Ambassador Tadelech went to Switzerland, State University of Fribourg and studied History and Journalism.

In Switzerland, Ambassador Tadelech joined the students’ movement and became an editor of the journal of the Ethiopian Female Student Association of Europe, called ‘Tagey.’  Upon her return, the Derg regime imprisoned her for being a part of the opposition movement. Tadelech was imprisoned for close to thirteen years. Tadelech’s husband, Birhane Meskal Reda was one of the top leaders of the opposition movement and was considered a menace to the dictatorial regime. He was executed along with many of Tadelech’s revolutionary friends.  She was spared because of her pregnancy and later on delivered her baby in prison.

In prison, she served as a history teacher for 12th graders and prepared them for matriculation exam. “The prison school,” she says, “was one of the best, where there were many got distinction grades. There were brilliant people who had strong passion to succeed in life.”

Ambassador Tadelech was the first woman Minister of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. It was then that she took the initiative to connect with different UN agencies to build up the office. The first Ethiopian National Women Policy was drafted and ratified in 1995.  This policy has been used as a guideline to address women’s issues by which the government later on made it mandatory for organizations working on development to incorporate gender concerns to implement the policy.

Having one government body at the Ministry level was one thing but one Ministry cannot address gender issues in all the civil service organizations. Hence, based on the results of a research Ambassador Tadelech had commissioned, she argued that women should come at the forefront as heads of women’s office departments in different ministries.  The government rather resisted claiming that there were no skilled women for the stated posts.  To their surprise, Ambassador Tadelech had already recruited and organized capable women who were strong to serve as watchdogs and her request got acceptance. As there was no structure for the posts, no budget was allocated to enable women to assume the post. Hence, institutional mechanisms had to be created for sustained results.

Ambassador Tadelech shares, “we had to fight for the incorporation of articles that affect women in the constitution.”  She took a stand, ‘Now or never.’ She also argued that women, children, and disabled people were not supposed to be treated in one category as minorities.  She said, “Women are not minorities, rather half of the population.”

After completion of her task as a Minister, she became an Ambassador to West Africa with a base in Ivory Cost in 2002; and to France, Morocco, Tunisia, Spain and UNESCO from 2006 – 2010.    As Ambassador, she worked on peace building and conflict resolution as well as inter-African trade.

Passion in life

Prison life helped Ambassador Tadelech to listen to different perspectives and read different books which gave her a greater appreciation of life.  She shares, “we cannot be humans if we don’t appreciate life.”

Socializing, team building, recognizing others for their efforts and encouraging and understanding others’ perspectives are some of the things she does with passion. Ambassador Tadelech’s other passion is growth.  She strongly claims to be the foundation for achievement is a strong desire for growth.  One of her colleagues testified, “I don’t have enough words to express Tadelech. She really fought for women’s issues and she was unbreakable through the challenges. She is one of a kind.  I remember that there was a time she picked up a naked insane woman from the street and took her to Amanuel Hospital, saying women deserve access to mental health servicesThe naked woman does not deserve humiliation and hence, ensured the lady got proper treatment.”    Her kindness as in this one is reflected in so many other generous acts.

Ambassador Tadelech shares, “there is no such thing as losing. You learn from failure as well and then you gain a lot.”  Seeing things positively is also her passion.  She sees the positives in every person and even in the worst case scenarios; she tries to see the positives in the murderers and thieves.  She continues, “because I even saw murderers who really were good people when you get closer to them, I started questioning reasons for their actions.  In my world, there is no such thing as all negative as I believe everybody has something good in him or her.”

Achievements Ambassador Tadelech is Proud of:

  • She initiated and established the grassroots Women’s Development Fund which is operational for the last ten years.
  • Her contribution to the endorsement of the first National Women Policy set the ground to bring women’s concerns to the table.  She also designed the institutional mechanism for implementing the policy.
  • She initiated the participation of women as members of the Constitution Drafting Committee and strong provisions in the Ethiopian 1995 Constitution undergirding the rights of women and children (Articles 35 and 36);
  • She opened many opportunities to different organizations to organize and voice their concerns. As nationalist as she is, she enabled the acknowledgement of Ethiopian millennium as a world heritage by UNESCO.
  • Because of her harmonious relationship, five cities in France became sister twin cities with Addis Ababa, which enhanced people to people relationship; some of Addis Ababa projects are now financed by them.

Enabling Others:

Enabling, assisting, and giving opportunities, appreciation and building teams are Tadelech’s way of life.  Appreciation and focusing on the positive side of each person is the way she uses to enable others. She brought more than eighteen NGOs and UN agencies to work together with her office. She encouraged the Blind Women Association and HIV associations, to come out and voice their agendas. Since she is a credible reference, her support and exposing and linking women to different organizations are her mode of enabling others to get opportunities. One of her subordinate colleagues of twenty-two years said very strongly, “I have deep respect to Ambassador Tadelech, she has fought for justice and equality; she has a very humble and kind character and picks the disadvantaged and the sick from the street for them to get assistance.  She always calls me to help those who need medical attention because I work as a nurse.”

Helping Other Women:

After ensuring the right candidates were appointed as the head of the women departments in every government ministerial offices, Ambassador Tadelech organized trainings to increase the capacity of those heads of the women department. This was one of the ways to build women’s ability to lead.  She ensured the right candidates were trained and officially appointed. These women were also given opportunities to take part in key committees and poverty alleviation program.

Ambassador Tadelech has also created a girl’s scholarship fund, which officially gives educational support for those who excel in their studies.  She shares, “There was a time where I was informed that a girl student disappeared from AAU because her period was seen on her cloth. The girl did not have money to afford sanitary pads. Based on this saddening fact, I took proactive role and enabled the collection of 25,000 birr from Rotary Club, which was allocated for the purchase of sanitary pads for the girls in university.  Moreover, different offices contributed their share to add to the money raised.”