Ethiopia has just sworn in its first-ever female president. Following a vote in Ethiopian parliament on Thursday, former diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde has become the first woman to be appointed head of state in the country’s modern history.
According to NPR, Sahle-Work has years of experience in diplomatic roles, having previously served as Ethiopia’s ambassador to France and Djibouti and as director-general of the U.N. Office at Nairobi. In June, she also became the first women to become the head of the U.N. Office to the African Union.
Now, the widely respected diplomat has again been approved for a new role — president. Though the position is largely ceremonial (in Ethiopia, the prime minister holds the executive power), her appointment still carries political and societal significance. Per the Ethiopian constitution, presidential duties include appointing ambassadors, receiving foreign envoys, and granting pardons. As president, Sahle-Work is also the only current female head of state in all of Africa.
“A career diplomat & senior official at the U.N., she brings the right competence & experience to the office,” Fitsum Arega, chief of staff to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office, tweeted of her appointment on Thursday. “In a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalizes women as decision-makers in public life.”
After being sworn in, Sahle-Work addressed parliament, promising to work towards gender equality and pledging to promote peace. “I urge you all, to uphold our peace, in the name of a mother, who is the first to suffer from the absence of peace,” she said, according to BBC.
Her appointment comes just days after the Ethiopian government took another significant step to further gender equality. Last week, the prime minister reshuffled his cabinet so that half of the ministerial positions are filled by women. The move made Ethiopia the third country in Africa, after Rwanda and Seychelles, to achieve gender parity in its cabinet.
Cover image via EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP/Getty Images.