(New York City, USA) by IANGEL Board Member, Mary Wolverton
The power of pro bono legal services to achieve gender equality was the subject of IANGEL’s program at the UN Commission on the Status of Women NGO Conference in New York on March 22, 2017. IANGEL was thrilled to present this topic to activists from NGOs around the world, as a UNCSW parallel event.
Nancy Newman, IANGEL founder and president, emphasized the wealth of legal resources available to support and assist those working to advance gender equity. Newman was joined by Stella Odife, a Nigerian attorney who serves on IANGEL’s advisory board, and Cecilia Lipp, IANGEL executive director.
Newman explained the history of pro bono legal work, a history which has focused on a single attorney providing services to an individual client. IANGEL has worked to broaden the definition of pro bono work to include attorneys working on human rights issues. This work can take the form of representation of a client but also includes advocacy in multiple venues as well as disseminating information on issues to allow others to act.
Odife said that she has drawn on both IANGEL and others in the US to support specific cases in Nigerian courts. She has learned that Nigerian judges take US interest in their cases seriously. She knows that a single judgment for a specific client can have wide reaching consequences for others. Once a significant decision is made either legislatively or judicially attorneys need to continue to assert those rights for others to ensure that the rights have broad application.
Lipp shared her experience in coordinating pro bono legal services. She explained that pro bono attorneys can be helpful in clarifying and defining the legal issues. Once the project starts it is important to keep the lines of communication open. Projects can take time and frustrations can arise. Everyone needs to be aware of cultural misconceptions and be sensitive to what will and what won’t work for the population being served.
The Q&A demonstrated that the needs are great and that more can be done to make legal resources available for this work. IANGEL remains committed to harnessing the power of volunteer attorneys and connecting it to activists and NGOs fighting for equal rights for women and girls. We are grateful to our sisters in the struggle who joined the UNCSW61 meeting from near and far to share information, inspiration, and the power of connection to promote gender equality all around the world.