"Gender equality is a central element in Norway’s development cooperation with Ethiopia" Ambassador Gaarder. Photo: RNE

Women's Rights in the Judicial System in Ethiopia

Last updated: 12.01.2016 // On 12th January, the Norwegian Ambassador to Ethiopia, H.E. Mr. Andreas Gaarder, delivered a keynote speech at the opening of a panel debate on women’s rights in Addis Ababa. The panel debate was organized by the International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI), and gathered participants from civil society, academia and the international community.


The debate addressed highly topical issues such as gender based violence and the harmful traditional practices. The Norwegian Embassy in Addis Ababa has been supporting ILPI since 2014, in conducting a baseline study on the protection of women’s rights in the Judicial System in Ethiopia. 

Below follows a recitation of Ambassador Gaarder’s keynote address:


“Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to be here today and speak to issues of women’s rights and the challenges we face when pursuing gender equality.

Gender equality – in the sense that men and women enjoy equal rights and equal opportunities – is a central element in Norway’s foreign policy. In practice, this manifests itself in a two-pronged strategy.

Firstly, gender equality is mainstreamed, meaning that all aspects of Norway’s foreign policies and development cooperation shall include gender sensitive approaches and solutions, be it as participants in schemes for climate smart agriculture or as members of peace negotiations. Secondly, we rely on targeted measures to complement the mainstreaming and enhance the overall improvement of women’s rights.  

The reason for prioritizing gender equality has roots in our own history. Norway has chosen to be a vocal actor in global discussions about women’s rights because – to put it bluntly – we know what we are talking about.

Today, Norway is considered to be the most gender equal country of the world. This does in no way mean that we have achieved full gender equality – there is still a way to go. We do not believe that our experiences can serve as a blueprint solution for other countries, cultures or societies. However, we believe that the lessons we have learned can provide guidance and inspiration that can help other countries develop their own solutions.

Today, women’s rights is no longer a forgotten agenda. Women’s rights are being promoted and fought for all over the world. And let’s be fair – these efforts have given millions of girls and women access to education, to health services, to opportunities of influencing politics, and to economic independence. However, the progress made has been too slow, too unevenly distributed and too fragile.

All over the world, we see how women’s rights are under pressure. This reminds us that what has been achieved can never be taken for granted, and that this agenda requires constant commitment and endurance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is due time. Although we find ourselves in the 21st century, women are not allowed the same rights as men; women are not allowed to fully participate; women are not allowed to fully contribute. This is an unacceptable situation for each affected woman – but it is also a defeat for development, be it social, democratic or economic.

Let me be clear: gender equality is a goal in its own right. We have a moral obligation to promote and protect women’s fundamental human rights.

In addition, and what is surprisingly often overlooked: gender equality makes economic sense. Including women in the work force is one of the most effective drivers of economic growth. For Norway, the high participation of women in the labour market is the single most important contribution to the economy. Countries cannot and will not advance and develop if we don’t apply all available resources.

This is also true for the sustainable development goals. These universal goals will not be achieved if women are not allowed to participate. I therefore believe that the empowerment of women will be an important contribution to reaching Ethiopia’s goal of becoming a middle-income country by 2025.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Norway’s overall political vision is simple: to contribute to empowerment so that women and girls can make their own choices. This is an ambitious goal, but we do know quite a bit about what measures can help us achieve it.

First and foremost: education is key. Research shows that education provides women with greater choices and opportunities for themselves and their families. Education also has significant health gains, and it plays a fundamental role for poverty reduction, as well as individual and societal development. It is based on these insights that Norway has decided to become a global advocate for education, with a particular emphasis on education for young women and girls. Ethiopia is one of four focus countries for this engagement. On Thursday, I will sign an MoU with the Ethiopian Ministry of Education, which will commit Norway to supporting Ethiopia’s efforts in education, particularly education for girls as well as the quality of education.

Secondly, the participation of women in the labour force is fundamental. In a country such as Ethiopia, where the large majority of the labour force is engaged in the agricultural sector, this boils down to women’s access to land. In Norway, women have been entitled to inherit agricultural land on an equal footing with men since 1974. This right came about after lengthy struggle, not without resistance from multiple groups in society. In the twenty years from the introduction of the new law, female farm ownership nearly doubled. Today, every fourth Norwegian farm is owned by a woman. 

Thirdly, Norway is committed to combat all forms of violence against women, including sexual violence, domestic violence, female genital mutilation and child and forced marriage. Today, violence against women continues to take place all over the world – in Norway just as in Ethiopia. The scale of the problem has even led some to refer to it as a pandemic, affecting as many as one of three women at some point during their lifetime.

The elimination of violence against women requires the active participation of men and boys as agents of change. Gender equality is not just about women – it is about changing relations between women and men. As such, the active participation of men is vital.

Ladies in Gentlemen,

Gender equality is a central element in Norway’s development cooperation with Ethiopia. The key pillars of our support in this field are combatting female genital mutilation, providing young women – and men – with education related to sexual and reproductive health, and support to women’s economic empowerment and inclusion. We have also been supporting a research project conducted by the International Law and Policy Institute, that seeks to map out the degree to which women’s rights are protected within the Ethiopian justice sector – be it in the formal legal system, customary courts or sharia courts.

This aspect – access to justice – is particularly important, because it tells us something about whether women are actually able to enjoy the rights they are formally entitled to. Rights and entitlements are of little value if they cannot be claimed.

The Government of Ethiopia’s commitment to securing and enhancing women’s rights is encouraging. The Government has put this issue high on their agenda, and women’s rights are firmly embedded in the Ethiopian Constitution. The ambitious aims of eliminating female genital mutilation and child marriage before 2025 are testament to their level of commitment. This should be acknowledged and supported.

Despite these encouraging policies, a lot remains to be done. Ethiopia is often referred to as one of few developing countries who have achieved the majority of the Millennium Development Goals – several of them long before the deadline of 2015. This deserves recognition. However, the two Millennium Development Goals that have not yet been reached – gender equality and maternal health – have one apparent common denominator. They concern women.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This brings me back to where I started. Securing women’s rights and achieving gender equality is not an easy task. There is no quick fix solution – and there is really no “finishing line”. This requires more from us as gender equality advocates – to push the agenda forward and keep the debate alive.

Thank you for your commitment and involvement – I wish you an interesting and fruitful day!”

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