Ethiopia's parliament unanimously voted to elect Sahle-Work Zewde president on Thursday, October 24—making her the country's first female president and its first woman leader in nearly a century, BBC reports.
President Sahle-Work was appointed to her new role following a successful career as a diplomat. She had previously been an ambassador for Ethiopia in Djibouti and Senegal and also served as the special representative of the United Nations secretary general to the African Union. On Thursday, she acknowledged the historical significance of her position and looked ahead to the future, saying, "If the current change in Ethiopia is headed equally by both men and women, it can sustain its momentum and realize a prosperous Ethiopia free of religious, ethnic, and gender discrimination."
In Ethiopia, the office of president is largely ceremonial, with the prime minister holding executive power. But Sahle-Work's appointment makes a strong statement, especially a week after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed filled half the seats in his cabinet with women.
Ethiopia has a history of women in positions of power that predates the modern era: From 1916 to 1930, Empress Zewditu ruled the country. In addition to being Ethiopia's first woman leader this century, Sahle-Work is also the only serving female head of state in the continent at this time.