Women's empowerment vital for development - government

Women must seize the opportunity of equality and fight for their rights, the Ethiopian government urged on Monday. Without their full participation in society the country could never attain rapid and sustained development, the information ministry declared in a statement.

It conceded, however, that major hurdles would have to be overcome before women could achieve equality. "The development and democratisation process under way in our country cannot achieve its goals without the full participation of women," it said. It noted that in this context "arduous efforts" were being made towards this objective, citing both a new legal framework and a schools policy launched with a view to helping women.

The statement went on to say that women's rights were upheld in the Ethiopian constitution. "The issue of women’s equality is an issue of the whole society, and this view is becoming widespread in the country. The vital role of women for development and democratisation has no alternative at all." It said women were engaging in "ever-growing participation" in the country's economic, political and social life.

However, the government also observed that the effort to emancipate women must also be made within the family. "A concerted effort must also be applied at the family level, in order to raise and strengthen awareness of women’s rights."

The enrolment rate of girls in schools is far below that of boys, despite a countrywide drive to encourage women to receive education. At present some 40 percent of girls across the country are enrolled in primary schools – compared to an average for boys of 57 percent.

The government said women had been oppressed in Ethiopia for thousands of years, but a transformation of their status was now under way. "In particular, women, cognizant that their struggle for equality has only just begun, must organise themselves and struggle. A woman must not be passive whenever her legitimate rights are violated. It must be clear to everyone that democratisation and development will never be realised without the participation of women," the statement concluded.