Women who break the mold. Meaza Ashenafi, first woman to become Chief Justice of the Ethiopian Supreme Court



The 19th and 20th May, a hundred of women leaders from Africa, Latin America and Europe will hold a major meeting in Madrid. Under the name ‘Women’s Bridges. Proposals from the South for global change’, they will debate the major issues of concern to the global population. The aim is to ensure that they are heard and taken into account. To this end, they will prepare a document with proposals which will be presented to the international community.

In this section we introduce you to some of these leaders. They are all women who will impress you. We have made the choice of presenting you those who are going to be the coordinators of the different working groups, but you will find biographies of all the participants on this website.

Today we  introduce you to MEAZA ASHENAFI, who with Julia Duncan co-ordinates the working group “Legal equality, political rights and public participation”


Meaza Ashenafi is one of Ethiopia‘s most important female landmark achievers. She was the first Federal female Chief Justice of Ethiopia.

Her activism for equality has also led her to be a pioneer, along with other women lawyers, in the creation of the first Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) as well as to have led a group of businesswomen to found the first women’s bank in Ethiopia (Enat Bank) that offers financial services to women, also having more than 50% of women in staff.

We are talking about a woman who is a reference in Ethiopia and in the world. She was born in Assosa, a village far away from the capital, whose mayor was Meaza’s father. There were nine siblings and her mother, dedicated to raising the children and the household, who always encouraged her to study.

She attended primary and secondary school in Assosa. Being a very good student, she moved to Addis Ababa where she studied law at the AA University. The study of law made her aware of how unfair many laws were for women.

As a lawyer, she was the advocate in a case that was later made into a film, Difret, produced by Angelina Jolie. It tells the true story of Hirut, a 14-year-old girl who was kidnapped and raped on her way home from school and managed to kill her abductors before escaping. Despite having acted in self-defense, Hirut could have been sentenced to death.

Her professional career has always been based on her activism in defending women’s rights and changing laws. As an advisor in the drafting of the Ethiopian Constitution, she succeeded in getting strict rules for the protection of women’s and children’s rights included.

The Women Lawyers Association provides free legal assistance and advice to women.

She  is also gender Advisor to the United Nations Economic Comission for Africa.

(Translated by Alba González Pascual, Student trainee, Universidad de Alcalá de Henares)


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