Gennet Zewedie is an academician, politician, a former Member of Parliament and the first female to hold a minister position at the Ministry of Education in Ethiopia. She served as Minister of Education from 1991-2006. She was also assigned as an ambassador for Ethiopia in India from 2006-2016. She is currently retired from public office and launched a non governmental organization called ‘Women Strategic Development Center’. The organization is mandated to economically, socially and politically empower women.
Gennet Zewedie was born in 1948 In, Dessie Town, Amhara region near to a place known as Zewa Gedel Arera Kebele. She spent the first few years of her childhood in Dessie with her maternal grandmother. Later on she moved to the capital Addis Ababa to join her mother. She spent most of her childhood in Addis Ababa, in a neighborhood known as Ferencay Legseoan area.
Genet first joined Memher Akleweld Elementary School in Dessie. After she came to Addis Ababa to live with her mother, she joined Etege Minmen Girls School. She later joined Teferi Mekonen High School. She credits Teferi Mekonen High School and the student movement at the time for her evolution as a strong independent woman.
In 1971 Genet Zewedie joined Addis Ababa University (Back then called Haile Sellassie University), to study business education. After two years of attending the university, she received a scholarship to finish her remaining years in the United States of America. She traveled to the USA in a USAID scholarship and received a Bachelor of Science in Business Education from Plymouth State Collage in 1973. She returned to USA for her Masters of Science in Business Education, at Suffolk University in Boston in 1984.
Gennet Zewedie received a PhD from School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (India) in 2015.
Genet Zewedie started her career as Assistant Lecturer at Addis Ababa University (1973-1983). She was then promoted to the head of Department of Business Education (1986-1991). The EPRDF government has assigned her as deputy minister for higher education in Ethiopia (1991-1992). Genet then became the first women minister, by taking the role of Minister at the Ministry of Education (1992-2006).
As Minister at the Ministry of Education, Genet introduced a new education policy in the country. Among many changes, mother tongue was introduced as the medium of instruction in elementary and high schools. 50 different languages were introduced as a medium of instruction in the country.
The education structure was also changed from 1-to-10, from the previous 1-to-12. These changes invited controversy around her leadership at the Ministry of Education. While some appraise the policy as practical and scientific, others continue to criticize the overall approach as divisive, and compromised the quality of education in the country.
Genet was assigned as Ambassador for Ethiopia in India in 2006 and served until 2015. She is currently retired from public office and run a non governmental organization titled ‘Women Strategic Development Center’. The organization is mandated to economically, socially and politically empower women.
Genet was active in the student’s struggle in 1960s and 70s. As a high school student, she made a name for herself by challenging the school administration to let girls take the national exam that allows students join a university. At the time, Teferi Mekonen High School discouraged girls from taking the exam. Instead, they were advised to take secretarial jobs after finishing high school. Genet and her classmates resisted this and fought the school administration to let them take the exam. Their fight was resolved by Ministry of Education at the time. The ministry ordered the school to let girls make their own decision. As a result, she took the exam and joined Haile Selassie University.
At the University, Genet was recruited as a member of the infamous political party/movement the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP). The party was established in 1972, after a year of her joining the university. The Party was forced in to clandestinely because the monarchy did not allow political parties to exist. The removal of the feudal system and the creation of democratic republic was the first political program for the party.
However, after the fall of the imperial system and rise of Mingestu Hailemriam and his military junta DERG, the ideological conflicts arise between the two groups. EPRP openly declared war on the military leadership by killing its top officials, and the regime responded to smash the party members. The era is famously known as the White and Red Terror in Ethiopian history. Genet was imprisoned and heavily tortured by the DERG Regime, for her involvement in the party.
Genet Zewedie is a member of the ruling party EPRDF and served in its executive committee. She was elected as a member of parliament twice, for two terms. Genet Zewedie used her political platform to promote gender equality and the right to access to education for all.
Publications and award
Gennet Zewedie wrote her reflection on the Ethiopian women struggle for freedom and human rights on her book titled ‘Resistance, Freedom and Empowerment, the Ethiopian Women’s Struggle’. The book focuses on the role of Ethiopian women in the political and social development of their country, with special account from women who were active in the student revolution in the 1960s and 70s who joined EPHP and then TPLF/EPRDF.
The Book is developed from a chapter to her PhD dissertation.
Gennet Zewedie was married to Ato Tadesse – who was also a member of EPHP. The two met in Addis Ababa while she was a high school student and he was attending Addis Ababa University. They have two daughters. They are currently separated. Gennet lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.