Women in Ethiopia Still Struggle Despite Leadership in Government

By Bethlehem Mengistu
ADDIS ABABA, Apr 19 2019 – Following 2018 elections in Ethiopia, a record-breaking number of women now hold leadership positions in the country’s government. But women still struggle to rise up the ranks in other sectors.

I am thrilled to witness the fantastic changes that have taken place in Ethiopia over the recent months, with women assuming leadership positions at the highest levels of government.

The best part of this narrative is that little Ethiopian girls will now see a woman president or minister as the new ‘normal’, and no longer the exception. I find this quite inspiring!

But in my field of work – the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector – we are yet to see a sensible percentage of women in leadership roles. The participation of women is most often seen in community water supply management frameworks, where women are included within the team that manages the water supply system.

Bethlehem Mengistu

This is important as the intention is to sustain the benefits of the system by both genders, but also ensure both men and women are equally engaged. However at sector level (i.e. where policy, resourcing and planning are usually discussed and decided upon) there are very few female decision-makers.

Where are the women?
I am often one of the only women leaders in the meetings I attend.

And when the question ‘why aren’t there more women present?’ is raised, the response is often ‘there aren’t enough qualified women out there’.

This is not an accurate response. There are qualified women out there, but we need a reform in the sector’s approach to reaching those women professionals.

For example, organisations like CARE Ethiopia have achieved good results through reforming their entire recruitment process.

CARE re-graded all their job descriptions, re-advertised positions 1 to 3 times if no women applied, head hunted, instituted a competency-based assessment system with written examination (coded so the panel does not see which applicant wrote it), and assessed and reconfigured the interview questions using a gender lens.

This has brought the organization closer to meeting parity.

Lessons from a (woman) leader

However, getting women a seat at the table is not enough. Leading in a sector that is traditionally male-dominated comes with a distinct set of challenges, as I soon found out:

    • I was and still am the youngest female in most sector meetings. For some time after I assumed the directorship, most assumed I was in an administrative or a support role rather than a leadership role (until I corrected them). It’s not enough to be in a role or to sit at the table.

    • Speaking up confidently is critical (I have a colleague that is fond of the saying ‘fake it till you make it’). The greatest barrier that I and most of my female leader friends face in speaking up is fear of being ostracized or scorned – the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’.

    • I have learned that respect comes when one’s voice is heard. I have seen how our voices can help shape policy and perspective. I choose to ensure my presence is known as a leader and that it’s to be regarded as a contributor for good. Nearly three years into my current role as director, my voice is now sought after, and I can choose to be picky about how I collaborate with others.

    • Trusting my voice by learning to control self-doubt was quite tasking, but I soon learnt to spot patterns of negative thought, identify them for what they were and train myself to trust my expertise. This led to speaking up more at meetings, ensuring I usually always sat at the front and participated.

    • Celebrating unapologetically is not as easy as it sounds. I always found it interesting that many women in meetings, when introducing themselves, state their name and then their familial status while the men state their name and then their title. This is linked to the fact that the type of accomplishments that are given weight by society is what we sub consciously align ourselves with to garner acceptance.

    • Finding a sisterhood to lift and celebrate one another has been paramount to my confidence. Given that most of the issues we face as women are partly similar, I find it very helpful to surround myself with women leaders who are on a similar journey and with similar moral values. One of my mentors is a woman whom I deeply admire, and she provides me with invaluable support.

I am thrilled that this past year has been the year where barriers have been shattered, and we are seeing better gender balance in leadership. We are invited to the party, but it is important for the rules of engagement at the party to be equally accessible.

UN’s Empty Promises to World’s Indigenous Peoples

By Tupac Enrique Acosta
Apr 19 2019 – The United Nations, as in so many other areas, gives lip service in support of Indigenous issues while lacking the political will and enforcement power over individual member states to comply with the protection of fundamental human rights for the Original Nations of Indigenous Peoples of the world.

It took 47 years since the 1960’s UN declaration in support of the right of “all peoples” to self-determination to be extended to Indigenous Peoples, with the adoption of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But twelve years later, those words have not moved far off the paper on which they are written. Indigenous issues are still being subsumed under the individual domestic rubric of the member states of the UN Nations General Assembly, in defiance of the commitment to universal human rights that self-determination invokes and professes for all humanity.

It is no accident that the last four nation states to support the Declaration – Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States – were precisely those nations where the Anglo-European colonizers of the British Empire globally entrenched their colonial relationship with the Indigenous Peoples subsequent to the decline of Great Britain as a world power.

The devastation and genocide of Indigenous Nations and territories continues till today, but under a new mantle of progress called “Development”

For the Original Nations of Indigenous Peoples of the Great Turtle Island Abya Yala [Americas], we know that the subjugation of Indigenous Peoples started 526 years ago with the sword and the cross are now perpetrated with trade agreements and the empty promises of dead letters from the United Nations.

It is all a reflection of the continuing pernicious influence of the Doctrine of Discovery, the series of 15th century papal bulls in which a succession of popes authorized European explorers “discovering” lands in the New World that were not occupied by Christians to consider those lands vacant – terra nullius, in the words of the Doctrine – and to seize those lands in the names of their sovereign and enslave those people who lived there.

Pope Francis, the first pontiff from the Americas, in a 2015 speech in Bolivia went so far as to apologize for the sins of the Church – not individual conquistadores, but the Church itself – in the subjugation and colonization of Indigenous peoples during the conquest of the Americas.

But even as the Pope denounced the “new colonialism” of global capital oppressing Indigenous peoples, he ignores the pleas by a wide array of Christian denominations, including the World Council of Churches, for the Church to renounce the Doctrine. It is ancient history; the Papal Nuncio at the United Nations has said.

But it is not ancient history. It remains the basis of all Indigenous land law in the United States, and across the continent. In Mexico, the entire legal infrastructure since independence from Spain in 1836 is also based on the dictates of the Doctrine, known as the legaloid concept of Original Property of the State.

That is why Indigenous peoples take Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s recent letter to the Spanish king and the Pope asking for apologies for those genocidal colonial campaigns with little more than a grain of salt.

We know the Doctrine of Discovery’s impact is still pernicious. We see it in the Trump Administration’s racist immigration and refugee policies in the United States, which refuses to even recognize the historical reality of the descendants of those Indigenous peoples who have traveled freely across the US-Mexican border region before it even existed.

We see it in Brazil, where President Jair Bolsinairo has emboldened racist attacks on Indigenous Amazonian communities in the name of promoting even more destruction of ancient forest and waterways that sustain the entire planet.

We see it in Mexico, where President Lopez Obrador has pushed ahead with the tourism-promoting “Maya Train” across the Yucatan peninsula, tearing through the jungles and rivers in Indigenous homelands without even legitimately consulting the indigenous peoples who have lived there since time immemorial.

And we see it in the continuing devastation that a capital-centered economy, with its extractive industries that destroy the air and water we all rely on for survival, threatens the very future of global humanity. The stakes could not be higher.

We had hoped the UN’s creation of the Permanent Forum and passage of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples had started to turn the battleship of oppression at long last, but we have been disappointed. Instead of extending the universal human rights enshrined in those actions to include protection for Indigenous Peoples, the UN member states have subsumed them to the interests of the nation states that wield the most power with the UN’s halls.

That is why we will take to the streets on Monday, April 22, in New York across from the UN on the first day of this year’s session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to let delegates know that we will not be quiet, and we will not ignore the continuing impact of the racist and white-supremacist policies let loose on the Western Hemisphere by the Doctrine of Discovery.

And we will continue to call on the United Nations to live up to the commitments it has made to ensuring that the universal human rights it professes to champion before the world extends to the Indigenous peoples as it has, at least in word, committed. We call for world peace, and peace with Mother Earth.

We know the United Nations is far better at its words than at its deeds. We are here to say that is not enough.