3.3 The context in Ethiopia

The importance of gender equality has been recognised in Ethiopia since the mid-1990s. The Ethiopian Constitution (1995) and Ethiopian’s Women’s Policy (1993) established the principles of equality of access to opportunity. The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs also dates its origin back to 1993 (MoWCA, 2018). This foundation has been followed in other government policies and strategies. These include the National Action Plan for Gender Equality (NAP-GE), which covered the period from 2006 to 2010 and has since been incorporated in the Plan for Accelerated and Sustainable Development to End Poverty. Similar principles are also part of the Growth and Transformation Plans I and II, Health Sector Transformation Plan (FMoH, 2015) and the One WASH National Programme (FDRE, 2013), among others.

The NAP-GE worked to achieve the objectives of gender equality expressed in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action (BPA). The BPA was an international programme that emerged from a United Nations’ Conference on Women held in Beijing, China in 1995. It established the concept of gender mainstreaming, which is now a key component of Ethiopian national policies.

In Study Session 1 you read that mainstreaming can be defined as ensuring that an issue or topic is at the centre of consideration for any plan or project. Gender mainstreaming, therefore, means giving equal priority to the interests of both genders at all stages of a process, including development, planning, implementation and evaluation. The National Gender Mainstreaming Guidelines describe it as:

  • . ..a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s needs, priorities, concerns and experiences an integral part of the planning, implementation and monitoring and evaluation processes. This helps to ensure that development outcomes benefit men and women equally and that gender disparities are not continued. Gender mainstreaming seeks to ensure that institutions, policies and programs involve women and men equally, and respond to the needs and interests of all members of society. (MoWA, 2010, p. 28)

What practical steps have been taken in Ethiopia to put gender mainstreaming policies into practice? Here are two examples.

In the health sector, since the mid-2000s, more than 38,000 female Health Extension Workers (HEWs) have been deployed in more than 15,000 rural kebele health posts (Haile, 2014). Part of their role is to support their communities in efforts to improve hygiene and public health by installing pit latrines and advising families on good hygiene practices. HEWs are supported by the Women’s Development Army (WDA). The WDA is made up of ‘one-to-five’ networks of women. Each trained woman trains five other women from nearby households, who encourage their neighbours to change their practice by building latrines and setting up separate cooking spaces.

In the WASH sector, there is positive discrimination in favour of women in the membership of community water, sanitation and hygiene committees (WASHCOs). The One WASH National Programme requires that women are well-represented and elected to serve as officers of WASHCOs (FDRE, 2013). Furthermore, it states that 50% of WASHCO members should be women in decision-making positions. Despite this policy, technical and senior positions are still largely held by men. In a comparative study of twenty WASHCOs, researchers found that only six were led by women and, of those six, in two cases it was the husbands of the women who actually led the committee leaving only four out of twenty with genuine female leaders (Haile et al, 2016). Women were more often elected as treasurers because they were believed to be more trustworthy with money but community perceptions were that women did not have time to take on the role of chair because of their domestic duties and because they were not considered to be strong leaders.

There is still a long way to go but gender equality in national policies throughout the world now has further support and incentive with the Sustainable Development Goals and especially Goal 5 (see Figure 1.4 in Study Session 1). The first target of Goal 5 is to ‘End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere’. The rationale for the goal is explained like this:

  • Ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls is not only a basic human right, but it is also crucial to accelerating sustainable development. It has been proven time and again that empowering women and girls has a multiplier effect, and helps drive up economic growth and development across the board. (UNDP, n.d.)

3.4 Women’s empowerment in WASH