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Women sitting behind tables in a training

Women are underrepresented in politics 

Ethiopia was, in effect, a single party state until 1991 when EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) came into power. Even after that, the state controlled all aspects of the lives of its citizens, and civil society and political opposition were not allowed to operate freely. Since becoming Prime Minister in 2018, Abiy Ahmed Ali has launched democratic reforms, including renewal of the electoral law, increasing the freedom of political parties, NGOs and media, and release of political prisoners. However, challenges still remain. With increased freedom, the control of the state has decreased which has given space for tension and even violent clashes driven by ethnic nationalism.

Over the past couple of years, new challenges have emerged in the development of multi-party democracy, and the postponement of the 2020 elections due to the COVID-19 situation led to an unresolved conflict between Tigray Region in the north of the country and the central government. The Tigray conflict has further increased the instability of the country’s political situation.

The elections were held in June 2021, and they were reported to have been relatively peaceful considering the general security situation in Ethiopia and the conflict in Tigray. Due to the security situation, elections could not be held in all parts of the country in June, but they were held later at the end of the year, with the exception of the Tigray region. The Prosperity Party led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won an overwhelming majority with 448 seats in the 547-member House of People’s Representatives. Some prominent opposition parties boycotted the elections in the Oromia region, for example, and complained about the election process. The EU did not reach an agreement with Ethiopia on sending an election observation team, but on the other hand, the African Union election observation delegation described the elections as credible. 41.5% of MPs are women.

Our work in Ethiopia

Demo Finland has worked in Ethiopia since 2019, together with its partner Network of Ethiopian Women’s Associations (NEWA). Founded in 2003, NEWA aims to promote equality and women’s rights in all areas of society. The joint project strengthens women’s capacity and their political participation on a multi-party basis, and supports women’s active participation in elections both as voters and as candidates at the regional and national levels. The project has produced a radio program that gives voices to women in leading positions, challenging the traditional notion that only men can be leaders. The project has also provided training for social media influencers on the barriers to political participation that women face. The project maps out gender plans of different political parties and provides a material package for training female politicians. The trainings included information on electoral laws, campaign techniques and communications. The trainings have gathered women in politics from different parties and allowed the participants to also gain experience of multi-party co-operation. 

Results of our work

  • Party representatives invited to the events have appreciated NEWA’s work to promote gender equality and positively reacted to the possibility of strengthening women’s participation.
  • NEWA has supported the activities and organisation of the network of female politicians. The network has members from more than 50 different parties.
  • Trainings increased the self-confidence of female candidates.
  • Media training significantly increased female politicians’ understanding of the media’s role and how young women can act as role models.
  • The Ethiopian Women with Disabilities National Association (EWDNA), which implemented the project with NEWA, produced educational material about elections and the right to vote for its members, i.e. women with disabilities, in braille and sign language, among other things.
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