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Ensuring gender equality and Women’s empowerment is one and most important mechanism to achieve sustainable development in Ethiopia. The research problem that this research sought to address was the absence of organized and independent study to share the works and experiences of UN Women in Ethiopia or anywhere else in the world. UN Women is an international entity established by United Nations to work for gender equality and Women’s empowerment in full measure. International Institutions like UN Women can influence positive changes on the issue of women’s empowerment and gender equality. This research was concerned with investigating the role and responsibilities of UN Women in Ethiopia with regard to gender equality and the empowerment of women. The research used qualitative methodology and employed both primary and secondary methods of data collection and narrative method of data analysis to come up with reliable and accurate information on the issue.

The key finding of the study is that as a very young entity with only three and half years of experience UN Women is playing a significant role on gender equality and women’s empowerment in Ethiopia in areas like ending violence against women, increasing women’s representation and participation in leadership positions and economic empowerment of women with the cooperation of Civil Societies, Nongovernmental organizations and the Ethiopian government. It is trying to change the situation of women in Ethiopia for a better existence by intervening at the policy level and grassroots level. On the other hand it is also being challenged by problems like; financial constraints, limited human resources and capacity and networking. UN Women needs to solve these problems and facilitate its future work in Ethiopia.




1.1. Background of the Study

It has been known from the past, women are not treated equally with men socially, economically and politically, especially in developing nations. Properties are inherited by males of families, women do not get access to education, they have no right to refuse marriage and they cannot participate in the political activities of their country. In general they are considered as secondary to everything even in their own country and society. (Ethiopian Society of Population Studies: 2008).

The problem of discriminatory treatment against women is evident in every corner of the world and it is hindering countries progress towards development as it has been mentioned in different documents. The Annual Report of UN Women mentions that “Gender inequality, despite much progress, remains among the greatest challenges of our times. Fed by deeply embedded discrimination against women and girls, it is wrong and costly, whether it interrupts economic progress, undercuts peace or restricts the quality of leadership.”(UN Women, 2013:4). Also USAID has compared the efforts made to bring gender equality and the existing situation as follows: “Great strides have been made to reduce gender gaps and improve the status of women and girls over the past three decades. Yet, significant gender gaps remain across all sectors in all countries around the world; they are often greater among the poor.” (USAID, 2012:6)

Lopez-Claros and Zahidi says that it is not an easy process to come up with gender equality and it needs a lot of work, because it has been attached to the human motives and personality:

Achieving gender equality, however, is a grindingly slow process, since it challenges one of the most deeply entrenched of all human attitudes. Despite the intense efforts of many agencies and organizations, and numerous inspiring successes, the picture is still disheartening, as it takes far more than changes in law or stated policy to change practices in the home, community and in the decision-making environment… Even in highly developed countries, violence against women of all kinds is routine, and often condoned. (Lopez-Claros and Zahidi , 2005:1-2)

Especially women in developing countries are the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in terms of rights and equality. As mentioned in the document of the Ethiopian Society of Population Studies, “women in developing countries are generally silent and their voice has been stifled by economic and cultural factors.”(Ethiopian society of population studies, 2008: 13) In developing countries “Economic and cultural factors, coupled with Institutional factors dictate the gender-based division of labour, rights, responsibilities, opportunities, and access to and control over resources.” (ibid: 13)

In other literatures also it has been clearly mentioned that the issue of gender inequality and gender based discrimination is not only an issue for developing countries. “In many developed countries, where basic gender equality appears to have been achieved, the battlefront has shifted to removing the more intangible discrimination against working women”. (Lopez-Claros and Zahidi, 2005:2).

Different literatures and scholar‟s works emphasize that countries can‟t grow or achieve development without the participation and active involvement of women. “Evidence demonstrates that, in economies where gender equality is greater in terms of both opportunities and benefits, there is not only higher economic growth but also a better quality of life.”(IFAD, 2012:8).On the other hand, the consequences of gender based discrimination are reflected through generations and causes lots of undesired consequences. “A large body of evidence has established that gender inequality has costs for individuals and societies and these costs can multiply across generations.” (USAID, 2012:6)

Taking into account the above mentioned realities in recent decades, many governmental and nongovernmental organizations are beginning to take the issue of gender equality and women‟s empowerment as a serious issue of concern. Among these organizations, the first and most important Inter Governmental Organization is the United Nations. As it has been mentioned in the Sixth African Development Forum: „United Nations has outlined different instruments, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which are international instruments that uphold the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of Sex‟ (The African Development Forum Six, 2008:3).

In fact, „The United Nations has encouraged states to recognize women‟s rights, most importantly through the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and subsequently signed by 165 nation-states‟ (Inglehart and Norris, 2003:7).

Additionally „the Beijing Platform for Action and UN Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889 together with the commitments in the Millennium Declaration and the 2005 World Summit, the 2008 Accra Agenda for Action and Doha Declaration, and the ILO Conventions on working women‟s rights…‟ (United Nations Development Group, 2010:6) has contributed a lot for the development of women‟s rights, avoidance of discrimination against women and women‟s empowerment.

In 2000, 189 member states of the UN have adopted the Millennium development Project. This Project has eight general goals which will be used to measure development and reduction of poverty in every country. The third of the Millennium Development Goal is achieving gender equality and empowerment of women. (UN Millennium Project, 2005).

For the implementation of the above mentioned instruments, UN has established specialized agencies, which are: (i) Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW); (ii) Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI); (iii) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW); (iv) United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM); and (v) International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW). In addition there are also other organizations which work for gender equality and empowerment of women by integrating the issue in their programs and policies like: United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) etc.

UN Women is an entity established by the General Assembly Resolution 64289 in 2010 to work for the equality and empowerment of women. It is also an organization which tries to play a role for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals even though it is not its primary objective. Ethiopia as a member of the United Nations has established UN Women and its office in Addis Ababa and it works for a better achievement of its goals and priority areas. (UN Millennium Project: 2005 and UN Women: 2013).

UN Women is a very recent organization which has an international office in New York and has regional and country offices in different parts of the world. This organization put its own goals or priority areas to focus on: „improving women‟s leadership and participation, enhancing women‟s economic empowerment, ending violence against women, engaging women in all aspects of peace and security and gender equality‟ (UN Women: 2013)

To come up with a good implementation of the above mentioned goals UN Women identified the following roles:

(i)Support inter-governmental bodies, such as the Commission on the Status of Women;(ii) formulation of policies, global standards and norm;.(iii) Help UN Member States to implement these standards; (iv)standing ready to provide suitable technical and financial support to those countries that request it;(v) to forge effective partnerships with civil society; and (vi) Hold the UN system accountable for its own commitments on gender equality, including regular monitoring of system-wide progress (Ibid: 2).

1.2. Statement of the Problem

As in every developing nation, Ethiopia also has problems of unequal treatment of men and women. But this problem does not seem to get the attention of many researchers in the past because it is accepted that women are inferior to men. (Ethiopian Society of Population Studies, 2008) The UN Millennium Development Goals has insured equal treatment and empowerment of women and Ethiopia has accepted the MDG. UN Women in Ethiopia helps for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal number three, which is related to gender equality and women‟s empowerment.

As it has been mentioned above, UN Women is an organization which has been formed by the United Nations for the first time in a comprehensive way to work for the equality and empowerment of women. However there is no any comprehensive and well organized study on this new UN organization, its roles and performance on any country or on what it wants to achieve in Ethiopia.

So this study will try to find out how much has been done by this organization for the equality and empowerment of Ethiopian women, what were the problems faced by UN Women so far during its work for the empowerment of women in Ethiopia, what new experiences has been introduced by this entity if there are any, if there are any different priority areas in Ethiopia which are different from the global ones and what are the ways in which the organization tries to achieve its objectives.

1.3. Objectives of the study

1.3.1.    General objective

The main objective of this study is to investigate the roles and responsibilities of UN Women on ensuring the equality of women and empowering women in Ethiopia.

1.3.2.   Specific objectives

The specific objectives of this study are to:

  1. Find out the goals and objectives of UN Women to insure gender equality in Ethiopia.
  2. Identify the ways used by UN Women to achieve its objectives.
  3. Find out the areas in which UN Women has attained success on ensuring the equality of women and empowering them in Ethiopia.
  4. Explain the challenges of UN Women in Ethiopia to achieve its objectives.

1.4. Research questions

The main research question of this research is what is the role and performance of UNWomen in Ethiopia with regard to insuring gender equality and the empowerment of women? Specific questions of this study are:

  1. What are the goals and objectives of UN Women in Ethiopia?
  2. What are the ways and modalities adopted by UN Women in Ethiopia to achieve its objectives?
  3. What are the areas in which UN Women in Ethiopia has performed its role successfully?
  4. What are the problems and obstacles for UN Women to achieve its goals in Ethiopia?

1.5.      Definition of Key Concepts

There are concepts which have complex meanings and need to be understood in a certain way. These concepts in the context of this study are Gender, Gender Equality, Gender Mainstreaming and Empowerment.

  • Gender

Gender has been defined and understood in different ways by many writers. For some it is a socio- culturally constructed variable for others it can be included in other variables too. As Genet and Haftu define it Gender is a “socially and culturally determined relationships between men and women.”(Genet and Haftu, 2013: 39). But as it has been mentioned under one of the documents of OSAGI even though gender is a socio- cultural variable it is also mentioned as it can be applicable in issues “such as race, class, age, ethnic group, etc.”(OSAGI, 2001a:1). In general gender has been defined as” the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and those between men.”(OSAGI, 2001b:1)

There is also a great distinction between sex and gender. Sex is a natural difference between men and women but gender is artificially constructed or learned phenomenon. According to Coplan “While sex differences (which are biological) are natural gender is a “culturally constructed” meaning attached to sexes” (Cited in Genet and Haftu, 2013: 39). When children grow up in a certain society they will grow learning to do what is right according to their gender.

  • Gender equality

Sometimes gender equality and equity have been used by some authors exchangably but as it has been mentioned clearly under OSAGI‟s document, “Gender equity denotes an element of interpretation of social justice, usually based on tradition, custom, religion or culture, which is most often to the detriment to women.” whereas “Gender Equality means that the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of individuals will not depend on whether they are born male or female.”(OSAGI, 2001b:1). It has also been mentioned in this document that the above mentioned understanding of equity is not acceptable for the context of gender under the United Nations. (ibid)

On the other hand equity has also been understood as a “fairness of treatment for women and men according to their respective needs.” by international fund for agricultural development and Gender equality has also been defined as “women and men have equal rights, freedoms, conditions and opportunities to access and control socially valued goods and resources and enjoy the same status within a society.” (IFAD, 2012:38). In this case gender equity has been presented as a means or away to achieve gender equality.

As it has been mentioned by OSAGI equality is avoiding partiality in treatment of people based on gender. “Equality involves ensuring that the perceptions, interests, needs and priorities of women and men (which can be very different because of the differing roles and responsibilities of women and men) will be given equal weight in planning and decision-making”.( OSAGI, 2001b:1) It is also mentioned that the issue of gender equality is attached with ensuring human right of individuals and it is also a prerequisite for the effective attainment of “sustainable people centered development” (ibid).

  • Gender mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming has been defined in different ways by different authors and institutions. “Gender mainstreaming refers to a strategy for promoting gender equality, involving integration of the gender perspective and the promotion of gender equality in all activities, i.e. moving them into the mainstream of activities.”(Leena Haataja Marja etal, 2011:13) On the other hand “For IFAD as an institution, gender mainstreaming is the process by which reducing the gaps in development opportunities between women and men and working towards equality between them become an integral part of the organization‟s strategy, policies and operations.” (IFAD, 2012:38). As it has been mentioned in the document of OSAGI gender mainstreaming is not an end result by itself but it is a way or a road that leads to gender equality and improved life of women which is a result to be achieved at last. (OSAGI, 2001a)

Gender mainstreaming has also been defined by the council of Europe in the following way. “Gender mainstreaming is the (re) organization, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, so that a gender equality perspective is incorporated in all policies at all levels and at all stages, by the actors normally involved in policymaking.”(Cited in European Institute for Gender Equality, 2013:10)

So gender mainstreaming is a strategy which has been outlined to include the issue of gender equality. It means that all the differences, the needs and situations of men and women will be considered in the making, enforcing and evaluating of policies in a way which will not affect both men and women.

  • Women Empowerment

As it has been defined by IFAD empowerment is “the process of increasing the opportunity of people to take control of their own lives. It is about people living according to their own values and being able to express preferences, make choices and Influence – both individually and collectively – the decisions that affect their lives.” (IFAD, 2012:38) It has also been mentioned that empowerment can be facilitated or disturbed by people around persons to be empowered “While empowerment often comes from within, and individuals empower themselves, cultures, societies, and institutions create conditions that facilitate or undermine the possibilities for empowerment.” (USAID, 2012:3) Women empowerment has also been defined by Kabeer as “women‟s ability to make strategic life choices where that ability had been previously denied them” (cited in Mehra and Rao Gupta, 2009:4). As it has been explained by OSAGI women‟s empowerment can be reflected by the independence of women to make their life decisions. “The empowerment of women concerns women gaining power and control over their own lives.” (OSAGI, 2011a: 2) “It involves awareness-raising, building self-confidence, expansion of choices, increased access to and control over resources and actions to transform the structures and institutions which reinforce and perpetuate gender discrimination and inequality.” (ibid: 2)

It has been mentioned that women empowerment “Is achieved when women and girls acquire the power to act freely, exercise their rights, and fulfill their potential as full and equal members of society.” (USAID, 2012:3). It is also asserted that women empowerment cannot be achieved without the participation and involvement of men in a sense that the idea is significantly advantageous not only for women but also for men.

1.6. Methodology

To achieve the objectives of the study and as the nature of the problem at hand is mainly descriptive; the researcher used mainly qualitative approach. This methodology is appropriate to the focus area in order to acquire reliable and accurate information, to have a better understanding on the issue of investigation and gain well structured information about the organization under study. Through the use of both primary and secondary sources of data, it has addressed the objectives of the study. The qualitative research techniques used to gather primary data were in depth interviews and the researcher‟s personal observation. Secondary data was also reviewed to get better understanding and pertinent information about the organization. The collected data was then analyzed qualitatively using descriptive method of analysis.

1.6.1.      Instruments of data collection

The data needed for this research has been collected using both primary and secondary sources of data. In depth interviews with administrators of UN Women and coordinators of programs are relied upon extensively. The interview schedules contained mostly open ended questions to get elaborated information about the organizations role and the ways used to ensure gender equality. The interviews have been conducted with the head of UN Women country office in Ethiopia and with the program /project and resource mobilization team coordinator of MoWCYA. Personal observation by the researcher was another tool used as a reliable data collection method, as information was difficult to obtain by way of interview. To further ascertain data collected through primary data collection methods, Secondary sources were also gathered from published books, programme records, official publications and reports, pamphlets, newspaper articles, evaluation reports and reliable web pages etc. the researcher used all the above sources of data to get optimum quality data for the issue to be studied.

1.6.2.    Techniques of data analysis

Data has been analyzed using descriptive method of analysis. The data collected through interviews was put into different categorical variables. Major themes were identified and analyzed in line with research questions and were summarized for use in descriptive analysis. The analysis process has followed steps of data reduction which enables to sort out the necessary information, data display and conclusions.

Generally this phase of the research comprised three steps:

Data Reduction: This is selecting, focusing and simplifying of data collected. This sharpens sorts, focuses, discards and organizes the information so that the final conclusions are more effectively drawn and verified.

Data Display: The display of the data permits conclusion drawing and action taking. The organization‟s narrative text is unstructured and cumbersome, and may even cause to draw unfounded conclusions. To reduce this problem, the researcher had to organize the information and draw more justified conclusions.

Conclusion Drawing / Verification: A final conclusion appears after data collection is presented and conclusions were verified to ensure plausibility.


1.7. Significance of the study

Gender equality and Woman‟s empowerment is at the sole of achieving sustainable growth. It is impossible to acquire the goals and objectives of development without insuring the full involvement and active participation of women. Even though this is a known fact and many institutions are working on the issue there is still no tangible change on this issue. So it is necessary to take a look at the methods and approaches which have been covered to ensure gender equality and bring women empowerment.

This study is aimed at contributing to the successful implementation of policies and strategies of gender equality and women‟s empowerment. The study searches important contributions made by UN Women in order to inform other actors who are working on the issue to take a lesson and for initiating further strong work by the UN Women itself. The study has also show challenges for UN Women, which will also help the organization to understand its problems and find solutions for them. On the other hand the study has also informed possible measures for the problems identified on the side of UN Women which will help the organization to work on those issues. So, the study is expected to be helpful for policy makers and concerned bodies to understand the ways of ensuring gender equality and women‟s empowerment.

Generally the significance of this study is to;

  • Show the areas in which gender gap is high and hence motivate policy makers on the issue.
  • Give feedback on the effectiveness of the performance of UN Women in Ethiopia on empowering women and ensuring their equality.
  • Suggest for the organization to realize their potential and review their problems on their performance.
  • Make recommendations which will be essential for the organization under study and other concerned bodies on the issue that can help for effective implementation of policies and strategies of gender equality and women‟s empowerment.


1.8. Scope and Limitation of the Study


1.8.1.    Scope of the Study

This study is mainly concerned with the roles that UN Women played and its performance regarding the equality and empowerment of women in Ethiopia. Even though this organization is engaged in other countries too, the study only focuses on UN Women’s contribution on empowering women and ensuring their equality in Ethiopia. The study only covers the internal factors related to UN Women only; it is not concerned with the external factors and situations.

So, the study tries to covers the following aspects.

  • The policy level and grassroots level roles that UN Women played to empower women and ensure gender equality in Ethiopia.
  • The performance of the organization with regard to achieving its priority areas.
  • The problems that are slowing down the performance of the organization with regard to its work in Ethiopia.


1.8.2.    Limitation of the Study

The major limitation that the researcher faced was related to obtaining data and documents. It was very difficult to get a data that is necessary for the study regarding the organization which was studied. The organization neither has many published materials regarding its work in Ethiopia nor is willing to give unpublished documents. The reason for the organization‟s unwillingness to give any documents was confidentiality. This has also made the researchers‟ work difficult to get elaborated and reliable information on the issue.


1.9.Organization of the study

This thesis is contained of five chapters. The first chapter is an introduction part which highlights the back ground of the study area, objectives of the study, statement of the problem, methodology and methods of data collection and analysis the importance of the study for different stake holders and scope of the study are also presented in this chapter.

The second chapter presents theoretical and historical perspectives of the study, highlights UN perspective on women development, introduce gender institutions under UN prior to UN Women and why they have been consolidated and created UN Women; this chapter gives brief overview of the historical background, objectives, goals, mandate, Strategic plan and structural organization of UN Women in the global context as well as in Ethiopia.

The third chapter focuses on actors who are working for gender equality and women empowerment in Ethiopia. It has highlighted the status of women in Ethiopia, national and international instruments for women development and the experiences of Nongovernmental Organizations and Civil Society Organizations on the issue of gender equality and women‟s empowerment in Ethiopia.

The fourth chapter discuss about the role and responsibilities of UN Women in Ethiopia. It looks at the goals of the organization in Ethiopia, the ways used by the organization to achieve its goals in Ethiopia, the areas in which the organization has achieved success in Ethiopia and problems for the organization in Ethiopia.

Finally in the last chapter conclusion based on the analysis and recommendation based on the findings of the research has been made.


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