United World Project

Workshop

Ethiopia: a changing nation

by Vittoria Terenzi.

After the historic election of a woman to the presidency, this country in the Horn of Africa has chosen for the first time a woman as Chief Judge of the Supreme Court, the highest legal institution in the nation.

Meaza Ashenafi’s appointment is unprecedented. The announcement comes from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian leader who wanted more women in his government. «It is an honor and a privilege», she said in a BBC interview. «Such an opportunity does not happen every day and this is a new chapter for our country as we go through a stage of transformation». Ethiopia is changing under the impulse of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who gave a boost to the radical reform program of his country by deciding that 50% of Addis Ababa’s executive was to consist of women. An important signal for all of Africa, as in the postcolonial period a patriarchal role model prevailed in politics, with the consequent marginalization of women.

«The Ethiopian Parliament unanimously approved the candidate. The march of Ethiopia towards gender equality in key leadership positions continues unabated. Congratulations Ethiopia! – writes the chief of staff Fitsum Arega – Meaza Ashenafi is one of the most experienced lawyers and an important advocate for women’s rights. She founded the Ethiopian Women’s Association and served as a judge. She is skilled and experienced, and this is very relevant to the role she will play».

Fifth of nine children, Ashenafi grew up in a poor village seventy miles away from Addis Ababa. At 17, she moved to the capital city to complete her studies. After graduating in law with a dissertation in international relations, she has held various roles, including that of judge at the Ethiopian High Court.

In 1995, she founded the Ethiopian Women’s Lawyers Association (EWLA), which has been working for many years to implement a legal reform and spread information on the rights of women and girls.

For years, Ashenafi has been fighting for the respect of women’s rights in Ethiopia, denouncing the stereotypes that women have to face daily in society. This is how she commented on the latest appointments of the government: «I am so happy that the “glass ceiling” has been broken and that my daughters can finally dream of becoming anything they want to become in Ethiopia».

In 2003, she received the Hunger Project Award, thus winning the Grassroots Ethiopian Women of Substance Africa Prize. Two years later, she was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace. Together with eleven Ethiopian women, she created the Enat Bank, specifically designed to financially support women and, until 2016, she chaired its Board of Directors. In an interview on a local TV station, she awarded her family the merit of helping her to become what she is today: «My fight for gender equality is something I learned from my family. My parents have always supported the importance of education and culture, also for women. Thanks to my mother – a great worker -, to her support and encouragement, today I am an independent woman».

Ashenafi has received numerous awards, including the African Leadership Prize, and she is an active member of several women’s advocacy organizations. She was also an adviser on women’s rights at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, based in Addis Ababa.

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