“I don’t want to waste the lived experience and skills I have”: Romina Reyftmann on giving back

Last Updated on 14/09/2021 by National Justice Project

For Romina Reyftmann, her upbringing, skillset and education compel her to champion human rights and advocate as strongly as she can for National Justice Project clients: “I started off from a poor family and I have worked my way up from the ground up. Once you get to that level of privilege it becomes a responsibility to give back.”

“I do not want to waste the lived experience I have and the skills I have and want to use them to try to contribute and help people. I think I understand a lot of the issues which we deal with at the National Justice Project.”

Romina has always been passionate about social justice issues, having been influenced by two strong feminist role models in her childhood; her mother and her year 12 English teacher. For her, “​​having those two big feminist influences really helped” to move from Darwin where she grew up to eventually study at Sydney University.”

“I had a stable upbringing from a very strong mother who gave me these feminist values despite the cultural expectations which were put on me. I had a really amazing English teacher named Jennifer White. I left home for three months to study my Year 12 HSC because it was just too violent at home and she knew. She just saw the potential in me.”

At Sydney University, Romina carried out a Bachelor of Medical Science and research PhD in medicine. Thanks to her medical knowledge she acquired prior to beginning her career in law through the University of Wollongong School of Law, Romina finds that she can see connections between the medical sciences and the cases she works on as a volunteer at the National Justice Project.

“When I look at what drugs some of our clients in the offshore detention centres are given, I can make the connections. There is a clear lack of health care that our clients are getting in offshore detention. They obviously need more care, and from my training I can understand exactly what they need from a medical perspective. Yet they can’t access that.”

After having worked in medical research, Romina says that experience helps her find what is important in a legal case, which is strengthened by her experience working under a former Deputy Coroner and with two magistrates.

“They really helped me because I drafted some coronial work for what was then the Glebe Coronial Court, so I know what magistrates are looking for from an evidentiary point of view.”

Her interdisciplinary skills make Romina a valuable asset to the National Justice Project legal team, and her work ethic shone when she participated in a coronial inquest during March this year in Perth:

Counsel told me that I had created one of the best briefs he had seen and that I really honed in on the issues. That’s such a huge vote of confidence for someone who is starting out, and especially as a mum, as you lose a lot of confidence as a mum.”

“During my PhD, I was part of the clinical trial that had an Oxford University publication where the first baby in the world was born using a particular technique called electrophoresis. I find that I am very used to being in innovative teams.”

Romina remains a strong activist for feminist issues, especially regarding improving women’s ability to progress in the workforce. She is also passionate about giving students the ability to progress in their careers during the pandemic.

“I understand poverty and I understand just wanting to do things but you can’t as you don’t have the money. I think society, and particularly women, put a lot of limits on themselves. If you really want to do something, you will find a way. I really don’t want women to limit themselves”.

Throughout her journey into social justice law, Romina has had the support of her husband Lionel Reyftmann (“a proven feminist who shares the housework and childcare”) without whom, she says, “none of this would be possible.” She also credits the supportive approach of the University of Wollongong School of Law for allowing her the flexibility she needs to complete her legal studies while juggling family and work responsibilities.

Through her work at the National Justice Project, Romina has contributed her empathy, educational background, and personal life experiences to the fight for social justice.

“I have really enjoyed working with Emma Hearne (National Justice Project Senior Solicitor) in her legal team. She gives me a lot of autonomy and trust. I would like to stay at the National Justice Project as long as possible, and I don’t really envisage myself not being a part of NJP in some capacity.”