Tuesday, January 26, 2010

CEDAW, rural women, and domestic violence

The work being done by Wynona Ward (left) is just the sort of initiative that states should actively support to meet their obligations toward rural women under article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Ms Magazine's Uppity Women story about Ms Ward and her work notes some of what women in domestic violence situations face in rural areas:
For women who live on the back roads, with unreliable cars, no telephones, and no money to hire attorneys, there's often no where to turn. Wynona Ward is determined to change that.
In 1998, after graduating from Vermont Law School, Ward won a grant to start "Have Justice-Will Travel," a law office on wheels. Today, in her four-wheel-drive Dodge Ram Charger, Ward visits battered women who are too isolated to get legal help and finds assistance for their abused children. The vehicle is outfitted with a CB radio, scanner, and cellular phone, as well as a computer and printer -- all equipped with batteries, in the event a woman she is visiting has no electricity.

A short video about her personal story and remarkable advocacy, along with links to additional information, are available here.
As the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) explicitly recognizes in article 14, rural women face particular problems that States Parties should take into account in developing measures to ensure protection against discrimination. Some of these problems are discussed by IntLawGrrl guest/alumna Lisa Pruitt in her articles "Domestic Violence and Rural Difference" (available here) and "Migration, Development and the Promise of CEDAW for Rural Women" (here). CEDAW General Recommendation 19 on violence against women notes the importance of ensuring that rural women have access to needed services:

States Parties should ensure that services for victims of violence are accessible to rural women and that where necessary special services are provided to isolated communities.

Wynona Ward knows first-hand many of the services needed. A survivor of childhood domestic abuse, Wynona Ward had worked for 15 years as a long-haul truck driver when she enrolled at Vermont Law School and worked on domestic violence cases in its legal clinic. In her third year of law school, with funding from a NAPIL Fellowship (now Equal Justice Works) and a grant from the Vermont Women's Fund, she founded Have Justice Will Travel in order to provide legal and social services for victims of domestic violence in rural areas, along with transportation to court hearings and to social services appointments.
Another core component she developed is a Women in Transition program, which "provides life skills knowledge such as balancing a checkbook, preparing a resume, furthering their education, obtaining study skills, gaining further parenting skills, learning to network, finding out how to access services, and assuring that they register to vote."
Wynona Ward hopes that her organization's approach may serve as a useful model for providing domestic violence services in other rural areas. A chart showing her working model is available here.


Joan Saks Berman said...

This seems like a great program. Wondering how she finds her clients in the first place, how she gets referrals.

Naomi Norberg said...

Thanks Stephanie (and Lisa) for reminding us of the gulf that too often separates law in the abstract from practical realities. Living and working in the urban legal environment, it's hard to imagine the extent to which rural life can differ from ours. Kudos to Wynona Ward and all the women and men working to close the gap!