Ethiopian Women Rising
Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has been making inspiring reforms since he took office in early April. Most recently, Abiy’s reforms have included appointing women to senior positions of government leadership. These appointments have made history in Ethiopia and news around the world.
On October 16, Abiy appointed ten men and ten women to his 20-member cabinet with women now heading important federal ministries like defense, peace, trade, transport and labor, revenue, science, and culture. Abiy said in parliament, “Our women ministers will disprove the adage that women can’t lead.”
On October 24, Abiy appointed Sahle-Work Zewde, an experienced diplomat, to serve as Ethiopia’s first female president. Abiy’s spokesperson Fitsum Arega tweeted, “In a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalizes women as decision-makers in public life.” That night my friend Eden told me, “The glass ceiling has been broken.”
Then on November 1, the Prime Minister appointed Meaza Ashenafi, a respected lawyer and champion of women’s rights, to serve as the President of Ethiopia’s Supreme Court.
Today I want to reflect on why Christians should support and celebrate these unprecedented appointments of women to senior positions of leadership in Ethiopia and also advocate for them around the world. The reason is rooted in the very first chapter of the Bible and God’s original plan for humanity.
God’s Original Intent
Genesis 1 gives us the blueprint of God’s original intent for the world and humanity. Here we find an unqualified affirmation of gender equality and women’s God-given vocation to co-rule the world with men for creation’s flourishing. Genesis 1:26-28 declares,
“God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule…’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'”
Now, in the ancient Near East, the “image of God” often meant a king’s appointment to rule as a god’s personal representative and deputy. This is why Genesis 1 describes the “image of God” as God’s commission for humans to “rule” creation on God’s behalf.
So Genesis 1 is taking a familiar idea in culture and turning it on its head: humans are not just special animals or slaves under a god-appointed king. All people are created “in God’s image” to serve as God’s representatives with the sacred task of serving the world and bringing it to flourishing.
But what is even more staggering and beautiful is that Genesis 1 explicitly declares that men and women are given this divine vocation to rule and steward the world. Genesis 1 was not only a breakthrough for ordinary men but for all women too. Notice this in the text:
- Women are created at the same time with men. Men have no priority in origin.
- Women are created with an equal share in God’s image. Men have no superiority in status.
- Women are created and blessed with the same vocation to rule over creation. Men have no supremacy in leadership.
When the world looks like God intended – when the world is “very good” (1:31) – men and women are not only equal in status. They are also equal in their exercise of leadership to rule the world for its wellbeing in God’s image. The plurals in Genesis 1 were revolutionary then and remain time-bombs in culture today: “God created them… God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful… fill… subdue… rule.'”
In fact, Genesis 1 may help us critically analyze the poverty of leadership in our organizations and societies today. When only men are ruling, contributing their gifts, and deciding the shape of things, we are out of joint with what God originally intended and established for our flourishing.
Genesis 1 gives Christians strong reason to support and celebrate Prime Minister Abiy’s appointment of tested and talented women to unprecedented positions of leadership. From a biblical point of view, Abiy is helping his society come a little closer to God’s original purpose for the world and how it was created to flourish.
From this perspective, Abiy’s appointments are not simply a victory for Ethiopia. They’re also an example for the world. Christians today should celebrate and advocate for more women in Ethiopia and elsewhere to be given their God-given place of image-bearing leadership. When we follow God’s design, human life flourishes and God is glorified.
Congratulations to Ethiopia and to each of these inspiring women. May you and the people you lead flourish!