Girl’s Empowerment: the key to Ethiopia’s development

By: Dr Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia

 Julius Court, Acting Head of Office, DFID Ethiopia

As we rapidly approach the deadline of 2015 for reporting our progress against the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is already clear that Ethiopia will have much success to report and an inspiring story to tell. Indeed most of the MDG targets will be not only met, but surpassed by a good distance, well ahead of time.

The wedding day
Girls and women everywhere have the right to live free from violence and discrimination. Help end child, early and forced marriage in a generation. Picture: Jessica Lea/Department for International Development

And yet the median age of marriage for girls is still 16.5 years. Indeed it is no coincidence that those MDGs that have been lagging the furthest behind are those to do with women and girls: MDG three on women’s empowerment and MDG five on maternal mortality.

A study commissioned by Girl Hub Ethiopia, a UK Department for International Development (DFID) project, found that if every Ethiopian girl who drops out of school was instead able to finish her education it would add US$4 billion to the country’s economy over the course of her lifetime.

As the country approaches a period of demographic dividend, with fewer young dependents, it has a major opportunity to benefit from the kind of economic growth we saw from the Asian Tiger economies. As the evidence shows, in the context of the next Growth and Transformation Plan, it will be impossible for Ethiopia to continue its economic and development progress at the same rate without addressing the issue of girls’ and women’s rights head on.

Acknowledging this, the Government of Ethiopia is, of course, already taking bold steps. At the Girl Summit – jointly hosted by the UK government and UNICEF in London in July 2014 – H.E. Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy PM, made a ground-breaking commitment on behalf of the Government of Ethiopia to eradicate child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) by 2025.

Much work has already gone into putting this commitment into action, but there are five areas that DFID and UNICEF believe are critical to any successful plan.

A girl student hard at work at Beseka ABE Center in in Fantale Woreda of Oromia State
A girl student hard at work at Beseka ABE Center in in Fantale Woreda of Oromia State ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ose

First, keeping girls in school, particularly through transition to secondary education and ensuring high quality basic education. At the same time, we need to ensure zero tolerance for violence within the school environment and ensure they have the right facilities for girls such as adequate sanitation.

In the Somali region of Ethiopia – where many aspects of gender inequality are particularly pronounced – DFID and UNICEF are jointly supporting a multi-sectoral Peace and Development Programme that will improve girls’ and women’s access to justice by establishing legal aid services and support services for female victims of violence.

Secondly, raising national rates of birth registration from the current level of less than 10 per cent to more than 90 per cent by 2020. Proof of age will assist in implementing and enforcing laws on child marriage and will also have positive knock-on effects on trafficking and illegal labour migration, for example. UNICEF supports the government of Ethiopia in establishing a vital event registration system (for births, deaths and marriages) in the country through technical and financial support. The support has allowed the enactment of a proclamation on vital events and the establishment of a national agency. Currently, regional laws are being adopted, regional bodies established, staff recruited and capacities developed.

Thirdly, changing social norms through an evidence-based, regional approach that is cognizant of and uses local languages and customs. DFID is supporting the Finote Hiwot project in Amhara to reduce child marriage through changing social norms and providing economic incentives for girls to stay in school.

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‘Yegna’ concert in Akaki ©Rachael Canter Flickr

Fourthly, changing public perceptions through multi-media campaigns that highlight positive role models to enable girls’ and young women’s empowerment. For example, Girl Hub Ethiopia’s Yegna radio programme uses both male and female role models to influence attitudes and behaviours towards girls. It broadcasts to more than five million people in Addis Ababa and the Amhara region and early data shows that 63 per cent of listeners say the programme made them think differently about issues in girls’ lives such as child marriage and gender-based violence.

The Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs recently hosted a Girl Summit follow-up meeting to discuss how members of the National Alliance to End Child Marriage and the National FGM Network could help deliver the commitments Ethiopia made at the Summit. A 12-month communication campaign plan will be launched in the coming weeks.

Finally, contributing to the national, regional and global evidence and evaluation database is central to realising the commitment made at the Girl Summit. The National Alliance to End Child Marriage and the National FGM Network are improving data gathering and knowledge sharing and fostering innovation. We must ensure that relevant indicators on child marriage and FGM/C are included in next year’s Demographic Health Survey.

Of course there is a great deal to be optimistic about as we embark on this ambitious journey together. The Government of Ethiopia has demonstrated extraordinary commitment and we look for their future leadership by integrating girl issues into the GTP 2 and future sector policies.

We are confident that just as we do now in the social sector, in the future we will view Ethiopia as a model for delivering real change for girls and women.

Leading Ethiopian Women Dialogue with Students

This story originally appeared on UN in Ethiopia website

The International Women’s Day event at the Faculty of Business and Economics Campus was organized by the UN Communication Group in collaboration with the Addis Ababa University (AAU) Gender Office and attracted high level female panellists from the arts, business, legal, international organisations and civic engagement actors.

The panel discussion helped young women and men from various faculties of Addis Ababa University to have a chance to interact and dialogue with some of the leading women figures in the country. In addition, the event helped to build youth consciousness towards women’s role in development, social welfare and overall human progress, taking the Ethiopian context into perspective.

Panellists shared their experiences and personal stories of struggles and triumphs to break through barriers to achieve the leadership roles in their area of expertise.

Moderating the discussion, Ms Nahu Senay Girma, Founder and Executive Director of the Association of Women in Business (AWIB) Ethiopia, urged the young youth who attended the discussion to ‘actively participate by asking questions and in general, to always grab opportunities to network’ such as the panel discussion.

Networking
Young women network with Ms Birtukan, Vice President at Enat Bank & Ms Aster, Founder of Tsehaye Zewde Memorial Foundation after the panel discussion

Ms. Birtukan Gebregzi, Vice President of Enat Bank outlined gaps existing in access to finance for women in Ethiopia, often disadvantaged by factors such as lack of ownership of property and land. She stated that being the first bank to be set up by women in Ethiopia, there has been an encouraging growth in numbers of women clients, standing at ‘65%’ however, compared to their male counterparts, ‘women often take lower loans and hence the increment in female clients is more of numerical than financial gain nature’.

Advising the young students to ‘follow their passion and have strong self-belief’, Ms Desta Hagos, one of Ethiopia’s first female artists, who is planning her 50th exhibition this month, also urged the students to ‘not be afraid to pursue dreams but in a focused manner’.

The regional and continental perspective of women empowerment were shared by Ms Aster Zaoude, former regional director of UNIFEM for West Africa, and founder of the Tsehaye Zaoude Foundation supporting visually impaired female students at AAU. She urged the students to ‘work together and build solidarity’ to address issues faced by girls and women.

Ms Zenaye Tadesse, Managing Director of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association encouraged the students to learn about rights while Ms Chachi Tadesse, performer and activists for street children cautioned the participants against a ‘poverty mentality’ that lets thoughts of scarcity translate to physical barriers.

Ms Engedaye Eshete, Chair of Ethiopian Women Entrepreneurs Association spoke of the opportunities opening up for women entrepreneurs and the linkages across the country that her association was establishing including for the disabled.

Selamawit Adugna, a youth activist and a gender and child protection officer for CHADET, urged the university students not to focus on negative issues and barriers but instead find their passion and look for opportunities. ‘There were days when I was doing a job that wasn’t that exciting and if I hadn’t had passion and vision I would not have gotten out of bed.’

The half day discussion reflected on various issues including the laws and policies enacted in the Ethiopian Constitution to create favourable conditions for women and the challenge remaining when it came to execution; deep rooted traditions and stereotypes that continue to impede progress.

The exciting dialogue between the panellists and the auditorium full of students highlighted building awareness in communities; engaging influential people to spearhead change to address attitude-based setbacks; recognizing that men are important partners in empowering women; and investing in building leadership capacities of women.