DESPITE numbering 48.5 million, or half of the country’s population, Ethiopia’s women have traditionally struggled to be heard, enjoying little independent decision making on most individual and family issues, including even the option of when and where to have a baby.
But this is slowly changing.
This week Ethiopian Airlines will be operating a historic flight, from Addis Ababa to Bangkok, which will be fully operated and led by women. There will be an all female flight deck crew and members, and all ground flight preparations – such as cabin operations, airport operations, flight dispatcher, load controller, ramp operations, ticket offices, catering, air traffic controllers – will be taken care of by women.
Departing on November 19, it will be a first in the profit-making airline’s history and it says this is aimed at demonstrating it’s corporate conviction towards “Women Empowerment for a Sustainable Growth”.
From what we’ve seen this week, there have also been other very deliberate steps and evidence to show increasing commitment by the country and various organisations towards supporting its women.
One example is how the fruits of a special line of credit for female entrepreneurs are starting to show, following the disclosure this week that since 2013 more than 3,000 women in Ethiopia have been able to tap financing to start or expand small businesses.
This is fantastic news considering women in the country, like much of patriarchal Africa, are less likely to own assets, such as land or a house, and which can be used as collateral for a loan. They also often have less education than men, in addition to facing many discriminatory laws or customs.
Run by the Women Entrepreneurship Development Project, the programme is showing encouraging results. Even though about 76% of borrowers had never had a loan before, the repayment rate is 99.4% showing the high success rates.
The extent of their individual successes is evident. One woman describes how over the last eight years, she was able to build up her business from a one-room, one-person food vendor operation into a 10-room hotel and restaurant with a staff of 18 in the bustling Gofa neighbourhood of Addis Ababa.
Whilst access to financing is one hurdle Ethiopian women are increasing tackling, another is their health.
Ethiopia has seen a big fall in its fertility rate, from an average of seven children per woman in the 1990s to 4.6 children currently. This means women are spacing their births, thus more able to afford to feed and educate their children and to also participate more in the economy.
This announcement was made with the release of a new report by Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) this week which attributes the country’s success to a combination of factors, underlying which is government initiative. For example, more women in the country have access to contraceptives – having increased access from six per cent to 40% since 2000.
The government is overcoming issues of access to family planning through its health extension programme which invests in a network of 38,000 frontline health extension workers based at 17,000 health centres, bringing education and contraceptive products and services to rural areas that previously lacked trained personnel and facilities.
Safe Delivery App
Also tackling women’s health and pregnancy, the Danish development organisation the “Maternity Foundation” unveiled a new app this week which gives lifesaving guidelines to the millions of Ethiopian women who give birth at home.
In Ethiopia, where some 85% of babies are born at home with little or no medical support, the foundation gave some encouraging news though. A year after 78 mobile phones with the “Safe Delivery App” were given to midwives attending local women in the town of Gimbiet, the capacity of the app users to manage bleeding rose from 20 to 60%, and for new born resuscitation, from 30% to 70%.
This is an incredible improvement in the skill and knowledge level of the health workers and a beacon of hope considering approximately 22,000 women die during childbirth or as a result of complications of childbirth in the country each year.
Ethiopia’s strong women continue to march on.