Meaza Ashenafi – A visionary Women’s Rights Activist

A household name in most homes

A household name in most homes that are intimately familiar with Ethiopia’s fight for women’s rights, Meaza Ashenafi was born and raised in Asosa, Benshangul Gumuz Region. Since the age of 17, Meaza’s residence has been in Addis Ababa. A lawyer by profession specializing in gender issues, women’s rights and governance, Meaza’s career profile includes working as a High Court Judge, as Founding Director of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) and as a freelance consultant with various UN organizations including UNDP, UNICEF, UNECA as well as the AU. Meaza has also worked with the Ethiopian Constitutional Commission that was in charge of drafting the 1995 FDRE Constitution. In her work with the commission, Meaza’s focus was research on the rights of women and children and supporting the Human rights panel of the Commission.

Meaza was the founding Director of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) which is renowned for its provision of legal aid to marginalized Ethiopian women and the prominent advocacy work it has been engaged in bringing to the fore the rights of women and girls. She shares,

“Human rights have been my passion all along. As I was growing up I have observed a lot of violation of women rights in my community. During my final years of legal studies I decided to focus on rights issues and wrote my graduation thesis on the African Charter on Human and People’s rights.  Working as a judge also gave me some more exposure to the real world. The turning point for me was my engagement with the Ethiopian Constitution Commission where I was part of the making of a constitution which guarantees the economic social and political rights of women. As soon as the constitution was adopted me and me colleagues saw an opportunity to use our legal skills to demand and ensure the promotion and protection for the right of women in Ethiopia.”

She has also served as the Founding President of the Network of Ethiopian Women Association (NEWA) and most recently her passion and work for gender equity finds her as the Founding Chair Person of Enat Bank promoters. She currently serves as the Chair of the Enat Bank S.C Board of Directors.

Meaza is engaged professionally as the Gender Focal Person for the Capacity Development division at the UNECA, the objective of which is to promote economic and social development in Africa through research and high-level policy dialogue. In her role, Meaza is responsible for conceptualizing, developing and managing research programs as provision of technical advice as well as in identification of partners.

Meaza cites that her most important accomplishments are: establishing EWLA; spearheading research and public mobilization; and initiating the amendment of some major discriminatory laws including the family, criminal, pension and citizenship laws. Additionally, pioneering the concept of probono legal representation as well as identifying and ensuring the representation of high profile precedent setting court cases, such as the case of Aberash Bekele who killed her abductor in self-defense, are some of her key accomplishments. This story is currently being developed into a feature film by an international company based in the US.

All of Meaza’s accomplishments and the work she is involved is testament to the depth and breadth with which she gives back to the community: leading a movement for social change through legal reform and advocacy; establishing a Bank, the focus of which is supporting women entrepreneurs; and serving as a role model to young aspiring women whom she coaches and supports on various occasions.

Engaged in sports and reading in her leisure time, Meaza shares that she is most grateful in life for her health, educational opportunity, her family and the opportunity to serve people.

The inspiration that she is to many, Meaza shares that she likes to take risks and enjoys new ideas or new dimensions to existing ideas that will result in innovative outputs. She highly appreciates team work and believes that an enabling and key tool for that is patience and respect.

Lastly, Meaza shares with us:

“I believe young women in Ethiopia and in Africa generally “hold –half the sky”. They should use their energy and creativity- I am always ready to share my life experience and my understanding of how the world works – to the extent I understand it!”

We look forward to more opportunities where Meaza will share her life experience with us and encourage others to seek out the wisdom of this visionary leader.

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