Hilton Hotel, March 24, 2014 at 9:00 am
I am honored to be with you today for the opening of this important Career Day workshop on Women and Diplomacy. I’d like to warmly welcome you all to our event, which I am proud to co-host with my friend, the Australian Ambassador to Ethiopia, Lisa Filipetto and with HE Ambassador Dr. Desta, Director General, Women, Children and Youth Affairs of Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Today, we are here to talk about the importance of women’s and girl’s roles in diplomacy and foreign affairs, a subject that is very important to me for obvious reasons. And, I am delighted that we have so many female university students with us here today.
Although there is no easy formula for reducing poverty, many argue that educating girls boosts a country’s development more than anything else. Educated women have fewer children; provide better nutrition, health, and education to their families; experience significantly lower child mortality; and generate more income than women with little or no schooling. Investing in girls’ education creates a positive cycle for their community.
Personally, I owe much of my success in my early days as a diplomat to strong mentors and role models, both male and female. In addition, there were many courageous and strong female diplomats who came before me and who paved the path for those of us in the profession today.
Back in the 19th century, when women were first allowed to be hired into the State Department, they served mainly in clerical jobs. Though women made periodic attempts to enter the full-time Foreign Service ranks, it was not until 1922 that Lucile Atcherson became the first woman to be accepted. However, at that time, there was a regulation that prevented women who married from entering or remaining in the Foreign Service. It wasn’t until 1972, after many legal battles, that the U.S. State Department overturned its ban on the marriage of female diplomats.
Ethiopian women diplomats, like many around the world, have experienced similar challenges and obstacles in the past. Thankfully, there have been numerous important female role models in the field of diplomacy and foreign affairs within Ethiopian society. The first female Ethiopian Ambassador was Weyzero Yodit Emiru. Since then, there have been thirteen other women promoted to Ambassador in Ethiopia and I’d like to highlight a few key examples for you, and share some of their inspirational words.
Ambassador Tadelech Haile Mikael, Ambassador Kongit Sinegioris and Ambassador Sinknesh Ejigu, the current Ambassdor to Brazil, are showcased as part of the soon-to-be released book, compiled by the National Ethiopian Women’s Association, called Temsalet: Phenomenal Ethiopian Women. In the book, there are encouraging messages and inspiring life stories of many, many amazing women.
Ambassador Tadelech was the first Minister of Women’s Affairs; she developed the first Women’s Policy in Ethiopia and initiated the participation of women as members of the Constitution Drafting Committee. She accomplished all of that after having survived 12 years and 8 months in prison under the Derg.
Ambassador Sinknesh is the first woman to become the Minister of Mines in Ethiopia after a twenty-one year tenure first as a research chemist and then as an executive in the Ministry of Mines and Energy, later the Ministry of Mines. An advocate for women in scientific and engineering fields, Sinknesh has consistently pushed for the advancement of women within the Ministry through mentoring and motivational speaking.
Ambassdor Kongit is a distinguished career diplomat and the longest-serving member of the African diplomatic corps, with more than 50 years of service to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including more than twenty as Ambassador. When asked about her career as a diplomat in the book, Amb. Kongit said:
“As a diplomat, I have had the privilege to witness and sometimes participate in and support historic transformations of Africa and of its place on the world stage. I am grateful to God for having given me the chance to serve my country, pushing the boundaries for women in this profession through my own struggles. Today I see brilliant and dedicated young men and women in my field competing on equal terms and I am happy if my struggle has contributed to this.”
Here in Ethiopia, under the rule of law, women’s rights are guaranteed by your constitution. To quote from Article 35 on the rights of women:
Women have equal rights with men;
Women are entitled to affirmative measures;
Women have the right to acquire, administer, control, use and transfer property;
And, most importantly, in today’s context:
Women have the right to equality in employment;
It is evident that you have strong constitutional protections. Yet, we all know that it is how these protections are put into practice that is the important thing in the daily life of women throughout the world. The Government of Ethiopia has shown its commitment to promoting gender equity and has put into place measures that will improve Ethiopian women’s health, legal and socio-economic status. It is clear that women are critical to economic development, active civil society, and good governance.
In the United States, we completely agree. In a recent op-ed by the current Secretary of State John Kerry, he wrote about the importance of women in foreign policy and the importance of focusing on women’s issues overall:
“No country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind. This is why the United States believes gender equality is critical to our shared goals of prosperity, stability, and peace, and why investing in women and girls worldwide is critical to advancing U.S. foreign policy.”
I am proud to be a part of the global diplomatic family and will personally continue to work on issues related to girls’ education and women’s empowerment overall while I am in Ethiopia.
Let me close my remarks with a quote from Ambassador Sinknesh, whom I highlighted earlier in my remarks:
“Power is not something that people will give you. You have to struggle, you have to be very assertive and you have to be vocal about what you want rather than expecting it to fall in your lap, even if you are good at what you do….If everything is comfortable, you won’t create anything and you won’t grow.”
May all of you gathered here today be assertive, be vocal and continue to grow into strong women who are capable of following any career path you choose.
I wish you all an enjoyable and inspirational Career Day seminar.
Thank you! Amaseganelu!