Women have been very influential in Ethiopia, but they are not always recognized for their contributions during their lifetime.
Ethiopia has a long way to go in achieving gender equality, but many women have made significant contributions to their fields. To celebrate all Ethiopian women, consider these nine women who have been the backbone for the social, economic and political makeup of the country.
These exemplary women from the past and present hold influential places in history and have made a difference for this generation and generations to come. Indeed, they rose to power with dedication, hard work, belief and by surpassing many failures. Women are a marginalized group in society and do not receive the same opportunities as men, but these remarkable women should serve as inspiration for us all. We have learned from history that people can reach high for greater potential in their field of interest. Finally, the most important case is all of these individuals in their own sphere of interests showed patriotism with the need for excellence and perseverance.
1. Lucy: Grandmother of Humanity
Lucy or Dinkinesh (which means “unique”) is a 3.2 million year old member of the Australopithecus afarensis, discovered in Ethiopia’s Afar region in 1974. Ethiopia is an ancient country and is considered the cradle of humankind -- Lucy was declared “the grandmother of humanity.”
Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin, an Ethiopian laureate poet, wrote, “Here is the land where the first harmony in the rainbow was born… Here is the root of the genesis of Life; the human family was first planted here. ”
2. Queen of Sheba
Throughout history the Queen of Sheba has been called a great historical myth - some believe she is Ethiopian, others say she is Yemeni. According to legend, she met King Solomon and brought him gold and slaves, and in return she took back the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is kept in the northern part of Ethiopia in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion.
3. Empress Taytu Betul
Empress Taytu Betul (1851-1918) of Ethiopia was the wife of Emperor Menilik II, who is among the bloodline of King Solomon. Taytu Betul assumed her role as head of the army while Ethiopia was at war against Italy.
Betul's presence was crucial for Ethiopia’s victory at the battle of Adwa in 1896 against the Italian invasion. She had replaced her husband’s role leading the country for many years while he was ill. Taytu Betul also named Addis Ababa (New Flower) and made it the capital city of Ethiopia.
4. Liya Kebede
Liya Kebede is an international supermodel born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She got her big break while attending a French school, Lycée Guebre-Mariam. Liya currently resides in New York City. In 2005, she became a goodwill ambassador for maternal, newborn and child health for the World Health Organization (WHO). She was listed among Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2010. Her fashion line, Lemlem, is made in Ethiopia and inspired by her Ethiopian heritage, and is sold in over 13 stores worldwide.
“Since ancient times in the land of the Queen of Sheba, the Ethiopian people have adorned themselves in beautiful handwoven and hand-embroidered clothing,” she says on the Lemlem website.
5. Eleni G/Medhin
Eleni G/Medhin, a renowned scholar of our generation, used her experience in agricultural economics to establish and run the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange. She modeled it after the New York Stock Exchange to modernize the market in agricultural products, mainly coffee. It allows farmers to avoid the middleman so they can get the price that the market offers.
She has been internationally recognized for her work, and has assisted African countries including Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda with their own economies, emulating the commodity exchange system introduced in Ethiopia.
6. Bethlehem Tilahun
Bethlehem Tilahun is the owner of one of the most successful businesses in Africa, soleRebel, recognized as the Nike of Africa. It produces recyclable tire shoes which are primarily used by the poor. Using e-commerce, it has reached over 30 countries worldwide. This exceptional young woman uses environmentally responsible products, and her brand has been recognized as one of the fastest growing in Africa. The footwear company has been recognized by the world's Fair Trade Federation. soleRebel is the first global footwear to be produced by a developing nation and represents Ethiopia’s growing economic power in the global arena.
7. Dr. Abebech Gobena
Dr. Abebech Gobena is a prominent philanthropist and founded the first orphanage in Ethiopia in 1980, almost 32 years ago. While traveling to the Northern Ethiopia, Dr. Abebech saw children affected by drought and decided to take two children home. After establishing the Abebech Gobena Yehetsanat Kebekabena Limat Mahber, an orphanage which takes care of children living with HIV/AIDS, and those who have lost their parents due to HIV/AIDS. The organization has housed close to 1.5 million children. Abebech Gobena’s life and work is celebrated in the national museum of Ethiopia, and she is widely considered an idol.
8. Birtukan Mideksa
Birtukan Mideksa, a young Ethiopian politician and former judge came into the political scene during the 2005 election. She was the vice president of the opposition party Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD). Mideksa, along other party members, was sentenced to life in prison for dissenting against the government. Upon her “pardoned” release she formed an opposition party called Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ). In 2008, Mideksa was re-arrested by the government for violating her probation. BBC reporter Elizabeth Blunt once described Mideksa as “one of the younger and more charismatic leaders of the coalition which did so astonishingly well against the ruling party in the 2005 elections,” calling her a heroine figure.
9. Ambassador Konjit SineGiorgis
Ambassador Konjit SineGiorgis was the longest serving diplomat in the history of the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She joined the Ministry in 1962 and held numerous positions both in Addis Ababa and overseas for 50 years. She had played a significant role in strengthening the African Union while holding positions in the U.N. and serving as Ambassador overseas - Canada, Mexico, Israel, Egypt and Austria.
Since 2009, she served the Ministry as Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the African Union and to the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa. She served as the Director-General of the African Union Directorate-General. “We call her our encyclopedia of African Affairs,” Tedros Adhanom, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, said.
Cover credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV