Birtukan Mideksa is the latest significant appointment of a woman to a key public office.

Ms Birtukan returned to Ethiopia earlier this month after seven years in exile in the US.

She was among dozens of opposition leaders jailed after the disputed elections of 2005 that led to the deaths of hundreds of people.

The BBC’s Emmanuel Igunza in the capital Addis Ababa says she faces a key challenge in restoring faith in an electoral board that has constantly faced accusations of being manipulated by the state – and will oversee elections in May 2020.

The women smashing Ethiopia’s glass ceiling
Abiy Ahmed: The man changing Ethiopia
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has carried out wide-ranging reforms since coming to office in April.

These include making peace with neighbouring Eritrea after two decades of conflict, freeing political prisoners and welcoming back armed opposition groups from exile.

The 42-year-old leader has also given half of the government’s 20 ministerial posts to women and last month the parliament chose Sahle-Work Zewde as the country’s first female president, a ceremonial role.

Recently he was commended for appointing renowned human rights lawyer Meaza Ashenafi – whose efforts to tackle the underage marriage of girls formed the basis of an Angelina Jolie-produced Hollywood film in 2014 – as the country’s most senior judge.

‘We are ready for change’
After her appointment, Ms Birtukan said she felt her career as a judge would help resolve the conflicts and differences that were likely to arise in her new role.

But she said that Ethiopians across the board had shown they were ready for change.

“The Ethiopian people are ready to build the democratic system they want and to hold the government accountable – and they have showed us that by paying the sacrifice needed,” Ms Birtukan told journalists.

“So, I believe that that public readiness is one good opportunity.

“Even though there’s still a lot to be done, we are seeing many institutional reforms in many directions. These are good opportunities.

“And I believe that fact that this government has proved its commitment for a genuine and true democracy is another good opportunity.”

Can Birtukan Mideksa restore faith Ethiopia’s electoral system? The answer from many Ethiopians so far seems to be, “Yes.”

She has earned a reputation both locally and internationally as a hardworking, honest, sharp and passionate lawyer and it’s no wonder that the country’s new prime minister has turned to her to head the electoral body whose reputation is in tatters.

It oversaw the bitterly disputed polls in 2005, which led to the killings of more than 200 people, and the elections 10 years later that saw the ruling coalition sweep all seats in parliament.

Since then the opposition have been demanding that the country’s electoral laws be amended, the board disbanded and talks started on how to reconstitute it into a credible and independent body.