News Brief: Ethiopia appoints female president, Eleven dead in synagogue shooting

Ethiopia appoints female president

For the first time, the Ethiopian parliament has appointed a female president. Sahle-Work Zewde was selected on Wednesday, Oct. 25, following the resignation of former president Mulatu Teshome the previous day. She is the first female head of state in East Africa (CNN, “Ethiopia appoints its first female president,” 10.25.2018). While the position of president is ceremonial in Ethiopia, as the Prime Minister enacts state policies, Zewde’s appointment is a symbolic and powerful win for gender equality internationally.

An experienced diplomat, Zewde previously worked as the ambassador for Ethiopia in Senegal and Djibouti, and most recently she served as the UN representative at the African Union (BBC, “Sahle-Work Zewde becomes Ethiopia’s first female president,” 10.25.2018). Her duties as president will include appointing ambassadors, receiving foreign envoys and granting pardons (NPR, “Ethiopia Gets Its 1st Female President,” 10.25.2018).

Zewde is not the sole woman in the Ethiopian government. One week before her election, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed changed the composition of his cabinet, decreasing the number of positions from 28 to 20 members and appointing women to half of the positions (BBC, “Sahle-Work Zewde becomes Ethiopia’s first female president,” 10.25.2018). Women now hold the two most prominent positions in the cabinet: Minister of Defense and the newly created Minister of Peace role, which controls the intelligence agency and security forces (NPR, “Ethiopia Gets Its 1st Female President,” 10.25.2018).

Zewde began her presidency by making her stance on women’s rights clear, stating in Parliament, “[We need to build a] society that rejects the oppression of women.” She prioritizes peace and unity in Ethiopia, primarily in response to the ethnic unrest in the countryside and in Addis Ababa (The Washington Post, “Ethiopia appoints first female president in its modern history in latest reform,” 10.25.2018)

President of the Ethiopian women’s business group AWiB Metasebia Shewaye Yilma stated, “[Zewde’s appointment] will really change the narrative that you know women cannot hold political leadership positions or they cannot contribute much” (NPR, “Ethiopia Gets Its 1st Female President,” 10.25.2018).

However, while women make up a significant portion of the government, they are still not seen as leaders, especially in the rural parts of the country. Lawyer and women’s rights activist Blen Sahilu declared, “In order for the shift to happen at a grassroots level, the work is going to take years,” adding that teenage marriage and lack of access to secondary education contributes to persistent inequality between men and women (The Washington Post, “Ethiopia appoints first female president in its modern history in latest reform,” 10.25.2018).

Still, this appointment is sure to bring about significant change for gender equality. Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff 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 normalises women as decision-makers in public life” (BBC, “Sahle-Work Zewde becomes Ethiopia’s first female president,” 10.25.2018).

Eleven dead in synagogue shooting

[CW: This article discusses violence and anti-Semitism.]

On Saturday, Oct. 27, a shooter entered Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue and opened fire, killing 11 congregants and wounding two civilians and four officers. Accused gunman Robert Bowers had previously posted multiple anti-Semitic rants on various media outlets including Gab.com, a website frequented by white nationalists that has since gone offline (USA Today, “Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: What we know, questions that remain,” 10.29.2018).

Shortly before the shooting, Bowers threatened the Jewish community on Gab, including a list of Shabbat services held for refugees. The Anti-Defamation League stated, “[It is] unconscionable for Jews to be targeted during worship on a Sabbath morning” (ABC, “Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: What we know about alleged mass shooter Robert Bowers,” 10.29.2018).

After his capture, Bowers allegedly told a SWAT officer, “They’re committing genocide to my people. I just want to kill Jews” (CBS, “Feds seek death penalty against Pittsburgh shooting suspect,” 10.29.2018). He holds an active license to carry firearms, and he has purchased at least six since 1996. According to the FBI, a rifle and three handguns remained at the scene of the attack (CNN, “Here’s what we know so far about Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect,” 10.28.2018).

Bowers faces 29 federal charges, including 11 counts of using a firearm to murder and multiple counts of perpetrating hate crimes. According to an ABC report, “He is facing 11 counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, 11 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder, four counts of obstruction of exercise of religious belief resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer and three counts of use and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence … Bowers was also charged with 35 state offenses” (ABC, “Pittsburgh synagogue shooting” 10.29.2018).

On Monday, Oct. 29, Bowers arrived for his first court appearance in a wheelchair. He waived a reading of criminal complaints and asked to have counsel appointed for him. After giving brief answers to the judge’s questions, he left. U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said that a preliminary hearing will be held on Thursday, Nov. 1 (NBC, “Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers makes first court appearance in wheelchair,” 10.29.2018). Federal prosecutors intend to push for the death penalty, a punishment President Trump seems to support.

In the face of spreading hate, citizens across the country are rallying to support those affected. A GoFundMe page raised more than $490,000, which will go directly to the Tree of Life Congregation to mitigate the costs of the physical damage to the synagogue, to help the victims and to support their families. Nonprofits Celebrate Mercy and MPower Change raised tens of thousands of dollars on Muslim crowdsourcing site LaunchGood (CBS, “Feds seek death penalty against Pittsburgh shooting suspect,” 10.29.2018).

As Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto stated, “We will drive anti-Semitism and the hate of any people back to the basement, on their computer, and away from the open discussions and dialogues around this city, around this state and around this country” (CNN, “Pittsburgh rabbi says he won’t ‘let hate close down’ his synagogue after massacre,” 10.29.2018).

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