MEAZA ASHENAFI: ETHIOPIA’S REIGNING FEMALE ADVOCATE

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Involvement Newspaper will be featuring African Women Leaders, heroes and activists in a bid to remember their contributions towards a better Africa.

By Nyokabi Ng’ang’a

(Leshnyokabi@gmail.com)  

Thumbnail photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Difret, a 2014 Ethiopian film, was done in honor of this remarkable woman. Meaza Ashenafi, Ethiopia’s current Chief Justice, is a woman to be held in high esteem. Not only is she the first woman to occupy the seat of Chief Justice in her country, but also, she is the founder of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA). An association created to offer legal assistance to women; and of note, managed to incept a word in Amharic- Ethiopia’s official language- to describe sexual harassment. “Wesibawi tinkosa” is the Amharic word for sexual harassment: an expression that lacked a name in the country’s lexicon, but got one courtesy of the EWLA. 

Also, to empower women financially, Meaza cofounded Enat bank, an all first women’s bank in Ethiopia in 2011, where she once sat as the Chair of the bank’s board. 

Revered as a human rights advocate and a progressive lawyer, Meaza while serving at the EWLA, represented a 14-year-old girl, Aberash Bekele, who was accused of killing a man who had abducted and raped her, all in the name of t’elefa (a cultural practice that allows for the kidnapping of child brides). To Meaza’s credit and that of the entire EWLA team, Aberash won the case placed against her in the court of law and consequently, t’elefa was outlawed in Ethiopia. This case still ranks momentous in Meaza’s career life and also, carries a historical significance in Ethiopia.  

Photo courtesy of filmfest-frauenwelten.de

In 2018, when Abiy Ahmed became Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meaza Ashenafi was appointed head of the Federal Supreme Court- in other terms, as Chief Justice. She took up the position, though with her publicly placed words to the Prime Minister’s office that: “You might not be happy with the decisions I make in this position.”

Having served also as one of her country’s high court judge; the human rights adviser to the Ethiopian Constitution committee and adviser on gender and women’s rights in the capacity development division of UNECA among many other positions, it is of no doubt that still in the making, is Meaza’s history of changing the narrative of women in leadership. 

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