In mid-October, Finnish political parties organised gender equality training for the country’s predominately male party leadershipin Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. Members of the Finnish Parliament Päivi Räsänen (Christian Democrats, an opposition party) and Anders Adlercreutz (Swedish People’s Party, a government party) were guests on Political Parties of Finland for Democracy – Demo Finland’s project on women’s political empowerment. 

– We want to support Ethiopian multi-party dialogue and emphasise women’s political and civil rights as a fundamental part of democracy. Political parties have a key role in promoting Ethiopia’s development and act as gatekeepers for women’s political participation. Finland has good practices, such as the allocation of the official party funding to parties’ women’s wings, that stand as positive examples for other countries, says MP Anders Adlercreutz. 

Ethiopia’s progress towards democracy has taken giant strides since Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Abiy Ahmed rose to power in May 2018. Despite the recent positive changes, Ethiopia, a country that has practically had a single-party system for decades, lacks a tradition for multiparty cooperation and dialogue. Women are still underrepresented in politics. 

Opposition parties are nowadays freer to operate and, since the new election laws came into effect in August 2019, there now are more than 60 registered parties in the country. However, most of the new parties are weak and lack a party programme, structure and specific ideology. Despite the success the ruling party EPRDF has had in increasing the number of women in its own bodies during the 27 years in power – women currently hold nearly 40% of the seats in parliament – there is still a dire need for supporting women’s political and civil rights and increasing their capacity. All parties leadership positions are controlled almost exclusively by men. 

– When the number of women in policy making is high, it creates positive change for everyone, not just for women. When people can influence matters that affect them, and groups with differing political views can have peaceful dialogue, societies become more equal, prosperous and stable. Even Finland’s rise from poverty 100 years ago to the model country it now is, has a lot to do with the progress in equality. We Finns take peaceful dialogue for granted but many people in other countries do not have that privilege. During his visit to Ethiopia this weekalso President Niinistö emphasised equality’s significance for Ethiopia’s development, stresses Päivi Räsänen. 

Ethiopia needs peaceful dialogue between parties also from the conflict resolution point of view. Regional conflicts still take place in different parts of the country and electoral violence is considered a risk towards the May 2020 parliamentary elections. 

Demo Finland supports Ethiopia’s democracy development and multi-party cooperation through supporting women’s political and civil rights and political parties’ gender equality on the region and national levels. The training with Finnish MPs who shared their experiences had 93 participants representing 58 different parties, CSOs and media. Demo Finland’s programme is implemented together with National Ethiopian Women’s Association and is funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.