Haregewein Cherinet – The Woman Who Defied Religious Misinterpretation of Women’s Equality

Haregwoin Cherinet was born in 1946 in Addis Ababa and attended church school before she started her primary schooling. Born of parents who were committed to her educational excellence, her mother moved them to the more rural community of Fiche as she had heard that there was a good primary school in the town.

Haregewoin was the only girl from her neighborhood who attended school. The community of her time could not see the merits of girl education and disbelieved her ability to go far as an educated woman. Haregwoin’s mother, a determined woman with no formal education, supported her daughter’s education by limiting her household chores if she had homework to finish.  At the end of the 10th grade, inspired by nurses who came to the school to promote nursing education and also responding to peer pressure from her friends, she decided to attend nursing school at the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital School where she received a Diploma in Nursing and then went on to complete high school studies by attending evening classes. Soon after, Haregewoin moved to England to further her studies and earned a Diploma in Food Technology and a Bachelor’s degree in Food and Management Science.  Meanwhile, she worked as a nurse and was evaluated and approved to register as State Registered Nurse (SRN), earning another Diploma.

Upon her return to Ethiopia, Haregewoin joined Hawassa College of Agriculture (at that time the Faculty of Agriculture, Addis Ababa University, now the Faculty of Agriculture, Hawassa University) and served as a Lecturer and Department Head.  She completed a Master’s degree in Public Health at Addis Ababa University after teaching for another year at the Faculty of Agriculture.

Thereafter, Haregewoin’s journey led her to join the Center for Research and Training for Women in Development (CERTWID), now the Institute for Gender Studies at Addis Ababa University, as a researcher and trainer, and eventually become the Director. She provided trainings in research and taught at the Addis Ababa University Faculty of Medicine, Department of Community Health; conducted research projects on gender issues and supervised and trained students who were preparing to do their senior essays. Under the auspices of CERTWID, she was able to take several short-term training courses both in Ethiopia and abroad in gender development, gaining the expertise that allowed her to specialize as a gender consultant.One of her publications during this period was a manual on assertiveness for shy teachers, which was translated into several languages and distributed regionally. Taking an early retirement after five years of working at CERTWID, Haregwoin moved to the Ethiopian office of the international non-profit organization CARE, where she served as a project coordinator working on family planning and HIV prevention.

AWiB asked Haregewoin about her purpose in life and in her own words, she says: “my purpose in life is to gain knowledge and to be kind to others. My career reflects a dual purpose, as I had returned to school to study many times in my life and my work as a nurse, a lecturer and researcher, a gender consultant and most recently a student of theology has been in the service of improving people’s lives, especially women’s lives.’’

Including her long service in different fields, Haregewoin is also renowned for her work to build a bridge between Christianity and concepts of gender equality. She shares, “I had managed to go into an area hitherto not attempted in Ethiopia; that of seeing gender equality from Christianity perspective. – I researched to show that it is wrong to view Christianity as the cause of women’s oppression.  Rather, the wrong interpretation or misrepresentation of Biblical messages lead to misapplications. I was persistent to influence the church leaders to use the Bible to teach gender equality.’’

A documentary in which Christian and Muslim religious leaders asserted that their holy books said nothing about female genital mutilation incited her curiosity about whether all harmful practices against women were wrongly justified by religion. As she began to read and ask questions, she was repeatedly told that culture and religion required these practices and began to wonder what religion really taught. To learn the answers, she enrolled in the Holy Trinity Theological College in Addis Ababa in 2007, at the age of 61, earned her diploma in 2008 and a Bachelor’s degree in 2012, each time graduating with honors. Through this experience she learned that in fact, religious leaders see women as equal to men; those she spoke with promised that they would be willing to tell the public what the Bible really says and that harmful traditional practices have no basis in religion.

Haregwoin’s advice to girls and young women in Ethiopia today is:

  • Be your own special self instead of trying to be like someone else;
  • Don’t aim to be like men or to let men’s achievement be the measure of your success, because that will end up limiting you;
  • Develop your own capacities as a unique person and aim to improve all the time;
  • Every night, you should be able to reflect on what you have done that day, how much you have improved, and how you can be more successful the next day;
  • It is never too late to improve and to change and become a better person as long as you are persistent and have faith in yourself. You should not let anyone get in the way of what you want to do. Don’t measure yourself by what others say.

Describing her dream to her country, Haregewoin shares,  “I dream to see my country become a place where women’s worth is acknowledged and a gender-based violence free society is created”.

Haregewoin is also the author of “SET ENA AHIYA”, meaning women and donkey.

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