The Judge: Meet Meaza Ashenafi, Ethiopia's First Female Chief Justice


Meaza Ashenafi, Ethiopia's first female president of the Federal Supreme Court, is determined to restore public trust in her country's justice system.

Appointed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in November 2018, the chief justice is tasked to reform her country's entire judicial system.

"I always believed that promoting justice is my duty ... I decided to take up this position to restore public trust in the judiciary," Meaza says. "I knew it's going to be a difficult assignment. There is a lot of expectation from the judiciary. The history of the judiciary [in Ethiopia] ... has not been beautiful and people expect this to be corrected and they want that change not tomorrow, they want it today."

Meaza grew up south of Addis Ababa in Asosa at a time and place when girls were not encouraged to go to school. But Meaza insisted that she would get an education, and as her 84-year-old mother recalls, she was always different.

She refused to do housework and go to the market with the other girls and when her older brother was being picked on at school, her mother says Meaza went to sort it out.

"I have always been a fighter. I was never stopped by challenge," says the renowned lawyer and women's rights advocate.

In 1997, Meaza and the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association came to prominence defending a 14-year-old village girl who was abducted in a bid to force her into marriage - a deeply rooted custom in Ethiopia known as 'telefa'.

"It was a case that challenged the culture," Meaza recalls. "The girl was abducted and she killed her abductor ... It was the first time that an abducted woman resisted the violation of her rights. And it was the first time that ... someone took such a case to the court and defended it."

The case changed the country's marriage abduction laws.

Today, Meaza feels Ethiopia is poised to develop rapidly on a wave of new progressive policies and emerge from decades of dictatorship and conflict.

We follow Meaza as she meets judges and government officials to discuss current cases and reform efforts, visits some of Ethiopia's infamous prisons, and shares her dreams and aspirations for the future of her homeland.

"My Ethiopia is diverse. My Ethiopia is a symbol of independence for Africa. My Ethiopia is a place of challenges but also aspiration. My Ethiopia is a place of hope. My Ethiopia is a place of hard-working and beautiful women. My Ethiopia is the future."

ethiopia, female, chief justice, meaza shenafi
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