For the first time in modern history, the East African Nation of Ethiopia has appointed a woman head of state. Former UN ambassador and long-time diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde was sworn in on Thursday as part of sweeping reforms from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

During her swearing-in ceremony in on Thursday, 68-year-old Sahle-Work promised the people of Ethiopia that she would work to make true gender equality in the country a reality, saying she aimed for a “society that rejects the oppression of women.”

Before her appointment to the head of state position, she was an ambassador in Djibouti and Senegal starting in 1989, and went on to serve as a UN ambassador as well as being the head of peace-building in the Central African Republic (CAR) at the UN.

The prime minister’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega tweeted about the nation’s parliamentary election of Sahle-Work, tweeting his hope that her appointment is a positive change in the traditionally patriarchal nation. “In a patriarchal society such as ours,” he wrote, “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.”

Ethiopia’s constitution states that the role of President is mainly ceremonial, with duties that include appointing ambassadors, opening parliament, and receiving foreign dignitaries on behalf of the country. But insiders believe the experience Sale-Work brings will help elevate the position.

Since his election in April, Abiy has made sweeping and progressive changes in the nation’s political set up including creating a gender neutral and more efficient cabinet, brokering peace with longtime rivals in Eritrea, releasing political prisoners and dissidents from jail and appointing Zewde to the ceremonial role of President.

“When there is no peace in country, mothers will be frustrated,” Sale-Work said at her swearing in. “Therefore, we need to work on peace for the sake of our mothers.”

(Photo by Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty)