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Jurist, First Female Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Ethiopia

Faiza Jama Mohamed, Director, Africa Office, celebrates Meaza Ashenafi as part of Equality Now’s 30 for 30, featuring 30 women and changemakers who have played a key role in making equality reality as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations.

Meaza Ashenafi is a pioneer in the women’s movement in Ethiopia and the first female chief justice of the Ethiopian Supreme Court. 

Meaza came to the bench after a shortage of judges in the country spurred the creation of a program for new graduates and early career professionals to receive training to prepare them to serve on the bench. Fortunately, Meaza, who worked in the Ministry of Trade at the time, was one such professional. It was at this point that  Meaza began to see how the law, and the enforcement of the law, was discriminatory to women. This inspired her to begin her work to ensure women and girls in Ethiopia could be fully protected by the law. 

In 1993, Meaza served on the Ethiopian Constitution Drafting Commission’s Human Rights Commission, which helped draft the current constitution. Meaza’s expertise in women’s rights helped to ensure that women and girls were represented in Ethiopia’s constitution. Thereafter, she founded the Ethiopian Women’s Lawyers Association (EWLA) to address violations committed against women and girls. 

Under her leadership, EWLA introduced several amendments to the Ethiopian criminal code, including laws criminalizing domestic violence and female genital mutilation (FGM). These tremendous strides helped to secure justice for women, as well as to promote gender equality. The EWLA also opened a series of clinics that helped to provide legal services to poor women. 

Recognizing the need for women to be empowered economically and equipping them with the tools of financial literacy has also played a major role in Meaza’s work. She co-founded Enat Bank, the first bank for women in Ethiopia, to help women more easily access credit. 

Leaders like Meaza are part of what helps to fuel our work at Equality Now every day. Strong human rights advocates such as Meaza, and the many young women I know she inspires, mean that Equality Now has a robust group of partners to collaborate with throughout the region — and to work together toward our common goal. 

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