Meaza Ashenafi

2003 Africa Prize Laureate

Meaza Ashenafi established Ethiopia's leading women's legal aid, education and policy-reform organization in 1995 - the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA).

Ms. Ashenafi's organization has led the charge for women's rights across the political spectrum and across the nation. She has championed women's rights in the areas of domestic violence, sexual abuse, the family, economic and land rights.

EWLA engages in public education, research and law-reform advocacy, and provides free legal aid to women who are victims of injustice. It has twice-weekly radio broadcasts on women's issues; two publications; a resource center for information on legal and women's issues; a legal aid program that handled 3,917 cases in 2000; a task force on violence against women; and programs related to civil service reform, political participation of women, and networking.

Born of an illiterate mother and a civil servant father in a small town near the Sudan border, she received her LLB degree from Addis Ababa University and was qualified as a lawyer in 1986. Her teachers used to say, "Oh, you're so smart and have so much potential; it's too bad you're not a boy."

Prior to founding EWLA, Meaza Ashenafi was a legal advisor to the Constitution Commission of Ethiopia's transition government. Ms. Ashenafi was responsible for advising the commission, preparing position papers for the commission's human rights panel, and producing the first drafts of the constitution's articles on the rights of women and children.

Meaza Ashenafi is Chairperson of Enat Bank, a woman-initiated bank that opened its doors in March 2013.