International Women's Day: Spotlight on Pro Bono & Gender Equality
February 28, 2018
International Women’s Day — March 8th — is both a global celebration of women’s achievements and a call to action for gender equality and justice. At PBSC, IWD has special meaning because many of our longtime supporters and motivators are women and so many of our projects across the country are designed to address gender inequality and benefit self-identified women and girls.
PBSC projects take many forms — from public legal education workshops and legal research for not-for-profit organizations, to internships and client support and advocacy initiatives. In terms of gender inequality, gender-based violence and meeting the specific needs of women, girls and trans people, PBSC collaborates with a wide range of community partners to help prevent gender-based violence and end sex and gender-based discrimination, and increase access to justice for survivors.
In honour of International Women’s Day, we wanted to share just a few examples of our gender equality projects:
1) Law student volunteers from PBSC UBC are working with Justice for Girls (JFG), a Vancouver-based organization that promotes social justice, equality and freedom from violence for teenage girls who live in poverty. Research conducted by JFG in 2016 highlighted that teenage girls need a better understanding of their rights. PBSC students are researching laws and policies, particularly in relation to sexual assault and consent, and developing rights education workshops for local schools and organizations. Our students are also researching case law relating to sexualized violence against girls, to support JFG’s efforts to strengthen institutional responses to this serious problem.
2) The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic offers legal representation, professional counselling and multilingual interpretation for women who have experienced abuse. The Toronto-based clinic administers the English-language portion of the Family Court Support Program, which provides legal information, referrals, and support to survivors of domestic violence at the three Toronto family courts. A group of PBSC volunteers from the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall work alongside clinic court support workers during intake, assessment and safety planning. Under the supervision of the clinic court support workers, the students also help document histories of abuse; debrief with clients after court proceedings; arrange access to language interpreters; and provide referrals to specialized services and community supports.
3) In Montreal, student volunteers from the PBSC chapters at McGill and UQAM are contributing to the legal information clinic of PINAY, a not-for-profit grassroots organization working to empower Filipino women, especially domestic workers, to fight for their rights and welfare. Under the supervision of PINAY’s legal advisor, the PBSC students do client intake, legal research, and run legal education seminars. The students also do client accompaniment, providing support by taking notes, providing legal and procedural information, and offering moral support. PINAY’s clients benefit from the patience and energy of the PBSC volunteers as they seek not just legal information, but also face racial, cultural, linguistic, economic and other obstacles.
4) At least one student from every Ontario PBSC chapter (Queen’s, Western, Windsor, Lakehead, Ottawa, Toronto and Osgoode) contributes to the work of METRAC Action on Violence. METRAC works with individuals, communities and institutions to end violence against women and youth. Some volunteers prepare and present public legal education presentations for community groups and shelters, explaining various aspects of law and legal process that women are likely to encounter. Other students develop written information materials on legal topics that would be of assistance to survivors of gender-based violence. These plain language materials are made broadly accessible through METRAC’s websites — the Ontario Women’s Justice Network and Family Law Education for Women.
These are just a few of the projects PBSC runs to help increase access to justice for self-identified women and girls. Until we achieve full equality and justice, there will be no shortage of pro bono work for law students and lawyers. On this International Women’s Day, we celebrate our valued partners in this work: the law students, lawyers, judges, and community organizations working to serve women and girls, and bring about a more equal and just future for all.