Ethiopia was awarded US $1.5 million on Monday to promote women’s rights. The African Development Bank (ADB) pledged the money to help the country meet the global anti-poverty targets – known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - by 2015.
Among key MDGs are those concerning the promotion of equal rights for women and their empowerment, as well as massive support for maternal health care. Experts regard improving the lives of women in health care and education as vital if global and Third World poverty is to be overcome.
In Ethiopia, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, women often bear the brunt of poverty, poor health care and lack of education. Only six out of 10 are literate, while less than six percent can expect to receive skilled help during childbirth. Currently, one-fifth more boys than girls attend school.
Securing additional funding for the promotion of women's rights and democratic representation is crucial, according to the government and humanitarian agencies. The ADB money will be ploughed into the newly established Women's Affairs Office (WAO) to provide institutional support. The ADB said the funding would be for the "critical areas of gender issues and the urgent need for capacity building in the country".
The government has pledged to place women at the heart of its development agenda, and accordingly established the WAO under the direction by Gifti Abasiya, the minister of state for women's affairs. Although the country has a far-reaching constitution which promotes gender equality with a legal framework to implement it, officials admit that in reality it has its shortcomings.
Ministers insist that changing the entrenched behaviour of rural communities is the main obstacle to promoting gender parity in the country. "Here in Ethiopia, as in other places around the world, there is a lot of discrimination, which I feel is mainly as a result of the system we live in," Gifti told IRIN recently. "There is discrimination because of the place and role women have in society. This is mainly the result of the discriminatory system - the undemocratic system - and because of that undemocratic system there is discrimination of women," she said.
"The discrimination of women is not as a result of men: it is the result of the system. The difficulty lies in changing the behaviour of the communities, [but] because of their backwardness and roots it takes a long time and great effort to change the situation. This is our struggle. But the women must be upfront about this to help abolish this situation where they are not seen as equal," she added.
Among changes recently introduced is the women-led national coalition against HIV/AIDS. In Ethiopia, HIV has infected some three million people, around 58 percent being women. A million children have also been orphaned. Gifti, Education Minister Genet Zewdie and the minister of state for information, Netsanet Asfaw, are members of the coalition's board.