This monograph was originally produced as a Masters Thesis. It is based on the premise that women's independent organized activities, whether carried out at policy or community level, as well as women's formal political participation are both important and complementary. The question addressed in this research is what contributions have been made by women’s independent organized activities and formal political participation, towards enhancing the empowerment of women and ensuring their participation in governance. The study examines the roles played by women in public decision making arenas.
The firstchapter addresses important theoretical aspects of women's participation in decision-making. It will define formal and informal politics and assess the impact of women's participation in formal politics by highlighting experiences of Uganda, South Africa, U.S.A and U.K. This chapter also provides the theoretical basis of women's arguably unique leadership potential advanced by women politicians and feminist scholars. Furthermore, it reviews the relatively new definition given to women's organized independent activism as political work. The focus of the study is the status of women in Ethiopia, although, the chapter is based on broader global theoretical debates on the subject of women and leadership, on women's community activism as political work, as well as on women's experience in formal politics. This provides the context for understanding and analyzing the situation in Ethiopia.
Chapter Two will focus on the case of Ethiopia. It will provide a historical overview of the roles played by women in both formal and informal politics. This chapter is a prelude to the following two chapters that discuss the contemporary role of Ethiopian women.
Chapter Fourprovides a general overview of independent organizations in Ethiopia and the roles played by women’s organizations particularly since the coming to power of Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party (EPRDF). The chapter mainly provides a case study of Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), a prominent women's organization which has played a key role in the promotion and protection of women's rights in Ethiopia. Established in 1995 by a group of women lawyers, the organization has played a catalytic role in advocating for legislative reform, better enforcement of laws and participation of women in politics and other spheres of decision making. This chapter documents achievements and challenges of the Association to illustrate the political and change-oriented activism of women's organizations.
Available literature shows that although participation of women has, in several cases, resulted in policy and legal reform, it has not succeeded in transforming the entrenched system of governance to make a meaningful difference in the day-to-day lives of women. Based on this general observation, two broad questions to be addressed by this research include: what is the level of women's participation in decision making in Ethiopia; and to what extent have women been successful in pushing for gender friendly agendas that could have a substantive outcome at the level of both formal politics and in the arena of independent organized activism?
These questions will lead to further specific queries such as:
a) Is it difficult for women to make major advances in advocating for gender friendly agendas because they exercise leadership in the same way as men?
b) Is the expectation too high of women, notwithstanding several other factors required to make a difference in this context, including the significance of the institutions in which women mostly participate?
c) Are women influential as political actors, given the various limitations under which they operate?
d) Do women who have obtained political office through their political party’s affirmative action policy find it difficult to advocate for gender friendly agendas?
e) What is the contribution of independent women’s organizations to the development and implementation of gender friendly agendas in Ethiopia? What is their vision?
The research method utilized in this paper combines archival research, participatory observation and interviews with 14 men and women politicians and civil society activists. The study uses an interdisciplinary approach and applies a gender analysis to de-masculinize the issue of power, politics and decision making. This research will use feminist theory to analyze the central role of women's political agency to achieve the objective of gender equality as a goal and as an instrument for the larger societal good.