June 19, 2011
The conditions under which young girls all around the world are forced into marriage bear a striking resemblance ”“ namely violence. DIFRET is a feature film based on the true story of a legal precedent setting court case that outlawed abduction for marriage in Ethiopia also referred to as “telefa”.
In the beautiful green plains of southern Ethiopia, girls are customarily forced into marriage by abduction. More specifically, the cultural practice of “telefa” involves abducting a girl, hiding her and then raping her until she becomes pregnant. Then, as the father of the child, the man lays claim to his future bride. The young girl’s fate is sealed when her abductor approaches the village elders to negotiate the bride’s price and act as middlemen between his family and the abducted girl’s family.
This has been a way of life for centuries in Ethiopia, until one girl changed it all. In 1996, Hirut Assefa shot and killed her abductor with his own rifle. Three hours away, in the capital city of Addis Ababa, Meaza Ashenafi, a renowned young female lawyer hears about Hirut’s story. Knowing that Hirut is facing the death penalty or life imprisonment, the lawyer embarks in a long battle to save this young girl’s life.
Together Hirut and Meza fight the charge of murder in a dual battle that takes place in the courtrooms against the constitutional law and in the remote village against customary law. After two long years of fighting, Hirut, with the help of Meaza and her organization, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), is set free on the basis of self-defense. Telefa finally becomes illegal. Her case turns a new chapter in Ethiopia’s legal history and she becomes the first woman to challenge and resist this type of violence. Aberash’s act of resistance becomes an important symbol in the history of women’s rights in Ethiopia.
In 2003, Meaza won the Africa Prize Laureate for her outstanding achievements. Among other winners in the past are H. E. Nelson Mandela in 1994, and in 1996, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the current President of Liberia. But for Aberash, the victory has other consequences.