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Mpowered. By Women for Women: Dr Lara Dimitrijevic

Mpowered. By Women for Women: Dr Lara Dimitrijevic

Meet Dr Lara Dimitrijevic– A founding partner at Sciberras Associates, specialising in family law and immigration cases and a leader in the Women’s Rights Foundation. If someone cares about women’s rights, it’s definitely Lara.  

 

 

 

Lara Dimitrijevic obtained her doctorate from the University of Malta in November 2008 and was admitted as a member of the Maltese Bar, Superior Courts of Malta in February 2009. Dr. Dimitrijevic specialises primarily in family law and has worked extensively on immigration cases. Lara is a frequent speaker on matters related to domestic violence and other family related matters. She leads the Women’s Rights Foundation, and she was also a blogger with the Times of Malta covering topics about women.  

‘I often reflect how I got here, but I honestly have no idea. From a very young child, I was very active and took interest in the things around me. I was a bit rebellious. At only sixteen years old, I spearheaded protests, so you can say that that side of me has always been there. I went to university at 22 and I had already had my second child. I wanted to go and studied speech therapy, but the story got complicated with admission. My friend had applied to study law, and I went for it.’ 

Lara always had a drive and a passion for voluntary work so during her time at university, she also spent time in detention centres with women and children.  

‘I learnt so much from these women; how to make coffee, grind it, and all about their culture. I started learning about their terrible journey, how women were raped, trafficked, abused. These women were from South Sahara Africa, mostly irregular migrants arriving by boat.’ 

Lara wanted to create something for herself to help women in need.  

‘I founded the partnership which I now share with my brothers. I was shocked that the biggest injustice being done to women was happening right before my eyes. When I started doing some work about domestic violence, I found that the women often attended court unrepresented while their abuser always had a big-shot lawyer. I wanted to create something for myself, and this is how I set up the Women’s Rights Foundation.’ 

Women and gender construction has been an issue throughout history…so, why are we still talking about it?  

‘There are many reasons why. I always turn to the politicians, first and foremost. There has to be a true show, commitment and acknowledgement that they want society to be gender equal. In Malta, we are tackling these little bits such as with the last election and women politicians. However, you still have laws that recognise the husband as the main breadwinner, for example. We are becoming more aware of these details but not enough is being done. You still have the idea, held by both men and women, that women are the best carers for the children. Not enough is being done to holy tackle this gender equal aspect.’ 

 

This is not a situation that is only happening on our tiny island.  

‘The far right is flourishing at the moment. In Turkey, feminists were being arrested. Poland has created free-gay zones. Let’s not mention America and Donald Trump and the way he has rolled backed the time. Social media is also huge in this regard especially when you look at the comments section - degrading and insulting commentary on rape cases. It’s always there so it’s normalised.’ 

Violence against women got worse during the Covid pandemic since women could not leave the house.  

‘There was an increase in marital rape and forced pregnancies. Covid brought a situation in which a person was constantly exerting power and the women could not leave. Women came and expressed that they have been living in a house of horror, like an escape room that never ends. Post-covid, women have more courage to leave so now we are experiencing a greater demand for separation and divorce. It’s also easier now to access police stations and the courts are fully functioning again.’ 

We asked Lara on advice how to recognise when someone is being bullied and/or abused if there are no marks to show.  

‘You will see it from the demeanour of a person. Some people shut down, but some people talk about it. There are various ways to identify it. My advice is to be there and be supportive. Trust women and don’t take charge of their situation. Give them the space to process and guide them towards the authorities. Remember that they have been in situations in which they could not take decisions, so do not do what the abuser does. Just listen and be there.’ 

The Women’s Rights Foundation aims to raise awareness and end violence towards women. The foundation offers legal support and there is also a helpline so that people can call the foundation for free. The helpline is also offered in different languages such as Maltese, English, Russian, French, and Arabic.  

‘We do a lot of pro-bono work. We work with women in shelters. We basically do anything dealing with violence against women, including victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking.’ 

Lara brought attention to issues that we knew existed in other countries, but we never thought they were present in Malta. So, how do we change?  

‘I will always go back to the politician. We need a zero-tolerance approach. We need to put a stop to exploitation and closing a blind eye. We need to hold them accountable. Let’s raise awareness and scream. We need to talk about it, and we need to understand how real it is and the impact that it has. I want to make women’s voices heard, that is the least I can do. They are Sheroes!’ 

Lara, you are also a Shero! Thank you for opening our eyes. We are thrilled and grateful that you shared this with all of us!

  

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