“I believe that preserving and protecting the right of women means protecting a whole society” argues Eritrean law expert Lewhat Arefaine.
The urge that pushed me in bringing Lewhat on our page today is her awe-inspiring passion she harbors with dedication. Women and their rights is something that Lewhat Arefaine, a young Eritrean legal professional, has been preparing for her whole life. It was also one of the core drives in her educational formation. Meet a passionate professional as she takes us through here passion.
• Thank you for your time, Miss Lewhat. Care to introduce yourself to our readers?
Well, my name has something to say about my vision and purpose in life. And my birthday will have to add to it, building up my inner self and constructing me under the guardianship and custody of my dream. It has been kept for so long and has tried to get a chance to exercise it ever since it got a gamble to flourish and let everyone know who this Lewhat is, who was born on 8 March. All I am saying is the meaning of my name, which means kindness, has answers to the passion I have today because making a difference for women is what I would call an important version of kindness. And the 8th March, which is the international women’s day and my birthday, has been an important asset for me to always prosper in connection with the vision regarding women. Hello, to you all. I am Lewhat Arefaine. I studied law and now work as a registrar of the high court in Asmara. So introducing my self is introducing my passion and vision of life, as my name could never go alone without this.
- You graduated from law school and you are now working as a public notary. How was school and your journey that prepared you for your current profession?
School was certainly not easy but that is an overused term. So better to say that I got into this stage as that is what I am expected to reach after what has been offered for me. Because when there is providing, it is certain that there is attainment. So I was offered education and I chose to win. Currently I am working as a registrar of the High Court of Asmara. And I work with the major powers and responsibilities of a public notary. So what a public notary does in many countries I do in the high court as a registrar as there is no public notary in Eritrea. To simplify my responsibilities, I approve different contracts that involve the government or private organizations and individuals under different status and levels. Authenticating documents and many others related with this is also part of my job. The beneficiaries are the whole public within the national or international sphere. The individuals who ask for my service are nationals of every country. Therefore, the sphere of my work is functional in all nations.
• Let us now talk about your passion; women’s and girls’ rights. Besides your birthday, which is an interesting coincidence, what else has made you so devoted to this subject matter?
Women’s right has been taken in a wrong way and has also been defined in a very limited term, and that has victimized the notion to have a small coverage for its protection. One reason is because the right of women is understood as if it is an individual right, that has nothing to do with the community’s interest. For that reason, I believe that only small investments have been made. So, women have to be aware and consistently fight for it. It should be a shared vision that needs deep understanding from the society and the government organs responsible for the issues.
I believe that preserving and protecting the rights of women and girls means protecting a whole society as well as building up a productive and developed country. We know that a mother is the center and the reason for the growth of a family. So if a mother has this role in the family, the child girl today is the image of that mother, who will be the engineer of her house when she starts a family. Families make up societies, a simple math; therefore, investing on the epicenter of a family means working on the society. Thus, I believe it is not only by the initiative of women that women’s right should be recognized, but by societies and governments worldwide. For the world’s present technological advancements and developments, women’s potential is a vital necessity that we still have to work on maximizing. I say that women’s right is of community interest.
• I would like to know your definition of what ‘being a girl or a woman’ means? Does the tradition and law in Eritrea provide any accounts related to it?
Here we can talk of how our culture shapes our expectations for the future and our interpretations of history. We experience the impact of our culture through our parents and through the other influences that surround us. These external influences like TV, radio, school, church and community have shaped our interpretation of reality before we have the language and thought patterns to understand and interpret. As a result of this, some of the public images of being a woman have shallow quality, as though they were no real person there, only an object like something to be used, looked at or cuddled. So, in reaction to the shallow pictures of being female and all these streams mentioned above, women stayed emotionally detached from their sexuality although they trusted their body feelings as deep source of truth.
And within our local sphere of the Eritrean society, our traditional society has in itself a role that has played for so long. To prove this as a legal professional, I referred to the customary laws and the place women have there. I found it very interesting and protective though it is of course not without its own flaws that need to be changed. But the fact that there were some traditional cultural practices that hinder the right of women usually caused us to fail to see the beauty of the traditional society and its image of women. So, since the society has this basic knowledge about the right of women, and with the high participation of women during the struggle for independence, the term ‘right of women’ is not a new term for the society. But yet, this is not enough since the right is concentrated on a small scale and level. We need to extend it beyond that. There are still many parts of our society that are lagging behind where the global context of women’s image has shaped their way of understanding.
The panorama of women’s image looks like this. Even at the extreme of the developed stage that our word has reached, the term “women’s image” has its shortcomings.
• You have made an interesting point there with the “local Eritrean sphere” you talk about. Can you please elaborate it further? It seems like this might lead to contradiction when there were, indeed, harmful norms that women in the past had to fight against.
In Eritrea, let alone the current law which vigorously protects women and girls, the traditional society of Eritrea used to protect them in their own term as per the lifestyle they had. So, taking the lifestyle and development stage at that time into consideration, women had protection as provided in the customary laws of Eritrea. Don’t get me wrong here as there were and still are, of course, harmful cultural practices which have emerged under “cultural norms”. So concentrating on the laws we use now as regards women’s right, they are well stated there. The way our transitional law was amended can serve as a chance for us to reflect the respect and value it has for the enjoyment of women’s right in our law.
- You’ve worked with the Eritrean transitional law and you’ve done your shared research. What do you think should be worked on further?
What needs to be improved has already been improved as to the law. But the fact that we as women are lagging behind, as we don’t know what is provided for us in the law, we need to know it and work together for the best. Generally speaking, the improvements needed now are not on the law but the awareness of it.
• So, in your opinion, women have limited knowledge of the law purposely amended for their protection?
As far as I am concerned, most women don’t know their right. And you can see this when they fail court cases, they start to blame the law. But there is one thing that everyone has to know. Law is an instrument of social change. You can get its benefits only when you teach yourself about it. It is like a sword for those who have no means. Knowing it helps you benefit from its blessings. At this time, with the initiative of the Ministry of Justice, legal awareness program is being conducted through local radio, TV, and newspapers. It is important for the public to be educated about the law. But then again since these awareness programs are addressed to the whole public without gender priorities, I believe that there needs to be a focus on programs addressed to women all over the country.
- Let’s clarify this; does the Eritrean law favor women more than men?
Men and women have the same protection under our law. There are, of course, preferential rights given to women. For example, maternity leave on pregnancy. The beauty of our law lays in how it recognizes women and men equally. In reality, of course, women have been ignored for the past centuries in most societies.
• In conclusion, would you share some of your dreams with us?
Through my profession and what I was taught to do I strive to be an instrument of change. Believing that women are the instruments of social change, using them as the main source and working on making a difference on their lives is building up the society and country. So, as I want to build myself around contribution to others, I want to make a difference in the lives of women and work on their beauty and justice.
• Thank you, Lewhat!