Saba Gebremedhin – A committed rights advocate

AWiB is proud to spotlight in the month of April, Saba Gebremedhin, who has committed her life and work to the pursuit of justice and advocacy on behalf of Ethiopian Women

Saba Gebremedhin, born and raised in Addis Ababa, is a lawyer by training and profession. She previously served as an assistant judge as well as special prosecutor and assistant chief prosecutor in the Special Prosecutors Office. This previous role entailed working on grave crimes committed in the previous regime in Ethiopia. As part of her engagement in charitable endeavors, Saba is active in the capacity of board member of different organizations working on women’s rights, poverty and other social issues.

She is now the Director of the Network of Ethiopian Women’s Association (NEWA), serving this umbrella organization for the past eight years which is engaged in the development and rights for women, bringing stakeholders together, securing funds for member organizations and leading public efforts and campaigns for women’s rights. Saba shares that after she joined NEWA she also became very active in the civil society sector. In this respect she founded with other colleagues the Poverty Action Network which is a network of different civil society organizations working on poverty and development. She also established the civil society task force which is a platform of dialogue established to create enabling environment for civil society in Ethiopia.

As the Director of a network organization working on gender equality, Saba is responsible for directing the work of NEWA, managing projects and administering the staff and its internal and external relations. She is adept at creating networks and liaisoning with different stakeholders on the issue of women’s rights, leading and mobilizing campaigns with the public. In her leading capacity of NEWA, she is also the focal point for participating in different national, regional and international forums representing women’s issues and Ethiopian women organizations.

After the coming into force of the new charities and societies law, Saba took the decision of reregistering NEWA as an Ethiopian organization which resulted in splitting the membership and the network in to two. The new one being the Union of Ethiopian Women Charitable Associations (UEWCA) which Saba is responsible for founding, establishing it as a strong network to sustain the mission and mandate it set out to accomplish.

AWiB asked Saba to share a bit about how she gives back to the community:

“I give back through providing support to individuals in the community in engaging in social service organizations and groups. I believe in giving material support as well as my voice to the disadvantaged and for the prevalence of justice and equality. I believe being a lawyer doesn’t only require my defense in a court room but my advocacy for the rights of those whose rights are violated in the public as well as decision makers.

Saba identifies that taking over the leadership of NEWA and structuring into a fully fledged advocacy network is her most important accomplishment. Under her management the organization has increased its membership base, its staff and financial capacity and also excelled in its regional representation having member organization in all parts of the country, undertaking advocacy, women economic empowerment, alternative education health service projects and capacity building programs. NEWA has become to be known for its sound actions on areas of women’s human rights and persistence in advocacy as a civil society.

When faced with the challenge of deciding on the registration of NEWA, Saba decided to go the route of registering it as an Ethiopian organization, which meant that funds from foreign sources could no more be accepted, yet this important choice was made in light of NEWA’s commitment to continue being the voice for women’s rights.  As a result NEWA had to close most of its programs as they were funding by foreign sources and look into other ways of mobilizing local resources. To meet this challenge, Saba came up with idea of splitting the two organizations in to two in order for resident organizations and the Ethiopian organization to continue their network and complement each other by one working on the ‘rights’ and the other to work on economic empowerment and social services.

Saba shares, “I believe I was able to help the organization go through its establishment phase as well as its crisis period and help it to stick with its vision of ensuring gender equality in Ethiopia.”

We asked Saba to share what she has learned over her lifetime that she would like to share with the younger generation:

“What I have learned is that life is a choice even in circumstances that seem not to provide opportunities life still provides us with a choice to make something with ourselves and our surroundings. And that each one of us is endowed with the capacity to change and impact the world we live in. But we need to care enough to act on whatever we have. Care for others, for the poor, the development of our country, for those whose rights are violated or those who are poor, or for the children or for the disabled, the environment or any other cause we need to care enough to make a difference.”

She is grateful for having the opportunity to make a difference in her community. A married mother of three boys, Saba works hard to raise her boys in a gender sensitive way. She enjoys reading, playing football, going to Church, watching movies and sharing ideas and fun with others.

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