Selamawit Girmay: The Trailblazing Advocate

Selamawit Girmay was born and raised in Addis Ababa. As the youngest in a family of four, raised by a single but strong and resilient mother, she often felt silenced in her household.  This self-imposed silence emanated from the feeling that last born are not heard, has served as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Selamawit’s formative years at Nazareth School were a vibrant counterpoint to the stifling silence she often felt at home. This vibrant all-girls institution fueled with passion, provided her a space for unabated exploration. Sports became her playground, volleyball her signature spike. Here, amidst the freedom and encouragement, Selamawit’s personality blossomed. The once-silenced youngest child bloomed into the confident and playful woman we know today.

Embracing a newfound sense of academic confidence, Selamawit embarked on her journey to Addis Ababa University School of Law. However, growing up in a female dominated household and educated in an all-girls institution, her myopic understanding of societal norms and the gendered landscape did not prepare her for what was to come. Her transition to the university environment exposed her to stark realities of inequality, particularly gender disparities, which came sharply into focus. Instead of yielding to discouragement, a resolute spirit ignited within her, propelling her to confront these challenges head-on.

Having observed her mother’s perseverance, Selamawit had developed a strong sense of purpose. This, coupled with the spirit of rebellion nurtured at Nazareth School fueled her desire for a platform to advocate for fairness and justice–once a nascent murmur–now resonated with a powerful conviction. Law school became Selamawit’s springboard transforming her into a fervent advocate for justice and equality, particularly for marginalized groups facing discrimination.

After graduating from Addis Ababa University School of Law, her impressive journey began in the judiciary where she served as a legal researcher, assistant judge, and eventually, an appellate judge. However, her passion for children’s well-being truly shone during her tenure leading the Child Justice Project Office. Under her guidance, 79 child-friendly courts were established, social work units were implemented, and a referral system brought together 34 organizations to support children in the justice system. She then tackled the National Court Reform Program further optimizing the court system. Her dedication to children’s rights prompted her to serve as the vice-chair of the Technical Committee for Violence against Women and Children. She also served on “The Ethiopian Committee on the Rights of the Child”.

Selamawit accomplished a significant milestone by becoming the first Ethiopian to successfully complete the McCain Global Leaders Program at the esteemed McCain Institute at the Arizona State University, USA. This structured 12-month fellowship provides an immersive learning experience for leaders who are actively working to advance democracy, human rights, and freedom worldwide. Upon her return, she spearheaded the National Court Reform Program, revolutionizing the justice system by enhancing efficiency and fairness in trials. Her unwavering commitment to creating a just system for all, particularly marginalized voices, was evident as she played a pivotal role in the Federal Supreme Court’s Case Flow Management Reform.

In 2021, Selamawit joined the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission as a Senior Advisor for Child Rights. Using her cumulative experiences and unparalleled legal acumen, driven by unwavering commitment to justice, she passionately advocated for children’s rights ensuring that every child’s voice is heard and their rights protected.

 Currently as Regional Director for “Human Rights Monitoring and Investigation in North and Central Ethiopia”, Selamawit is again at the forefront of championing fairness and equality for all. With over two decades of diverse legal experience under her belt, she stands as a beacon of hope and progress in the Ethiopian legal landscape.

Reflecting on her journey, Selamawit acknowledges that in spite of the discouraging environment for a woman in the legal system, she superseded all expectations; she never allowed negativity to weigh her down. Being placed in an authoritative position early on in her career, she faced the male domineering world with an unwavering determination if she was to accomplish her dream. Selamawit adopted a progressive approach to her work focusing on making a difference rather than seeking position-based validation. Selamawit’s journey is defined by resilience, determination, and dedication to promoting justice. She thrives on creating tangible impact, turning setbacks into stepping stones for growth. Despite challenges, particularly in handling sensitive children’s cases, she remains steadfast in her commitment to her community. She participates in nonprofit organizations especially those working on child advocacy. Selamawit finds purpose and fulfillment in the knowing that guiding society to meaningful and impactful path is what she does.

Selamawit openly shares her early career struggles including burnout from juggling work, parenting, and marriage. With a supportive community, she overcame burnout and built resilience. She stresses the importance of accepting realities and acknowledging limitations, advising young women in human rights advocacy to focus on “doing what you can do with what you have.” Understanding diverse perspectives and practicing empathy is key as societal norms deeply affect individuals. Selamawit’s insights highlight the significance of open-mindedness and non-judgmental attitudes in navigating challenges.

Selamawit views leadership as a commitment to serve a great cause! Effective leadership, she asserts is about building trust and driving positive change through influence, and internal reflection. Inspired by figures like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Selamawit emphasizes the importance of multifaceted transformative leadership.

In navigating through unexpected shifts and challenges, Selamawit finds success through balance and structure. Focusing on self-care, she finds solace in activities such as music, yoga, and salsa. For the youth, she advocates prioritizing self-growth before delving into careers, emphasizing that no one should be defined by one’s career, but rather by one’s own self-image as it bears a direct impact on their professional journey.

Selamawit appreciates AWiB for fostering a space where women are genuinely valued for their authentic selves and contributing to a unique movement-building. Her hope for active male engagement in this movement underscores the importance of gender inclusivity and collective support in advancing toward a more equitable society.

AWiB extends heartfelt gratitude to Selamawit for sharing her exemplary journey!

The AWiB Team

2 thoughts on “Selamawit Girmay: The Trailblazing Advocate”

  1. It is greatly merited acknowledgment!!
    Surely, she will shine out more and more as she is helmeted with great professional and leadership quality. Beyond all, she is born human right advocates.

  2. A young committed and courageous advocate who is known for her consistent professionalism in her life long struggle for the righteous purpose of the under-privileged children and women.
    Selam, You are a beacon in your own way.
    We need to come forward and uplift her genuine and unwavering commitment and devotion, so that many more young leaders will be inspired by her good deeds.

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