Womantra launches legal-aid clinic for GBV survivors

Stephanie Leitch -
Stephanie Leitch -

Modern feminists honoured one from an earlier generation when the NGO Womantra launched the Elma Francois Legal Clinic on March 1.

Womantra, which has been at the forefront of conversations relating to gender-based violence and inequality in TT for the past decade, has been involved in public education efforts, advocacy, policy development and popular engagement through mainstream media and virtual platforms.

Founding director Stephanie Leitch said, "The aim of the clinic is to provide free and low-cost legal services to survivors of gender-based violence. Womantra has been involved in gender-based violence advocacy for at least eight years, and we have come a long way since then."

During that time, the team at Womantra realised they needed to offer more for those in need of assistance and protection.

"Outside of advocacy, we wanted to be able to help survivors in a tangible way. Because Womantra has become such a prominent organisation, many women were reaching out to us anyway – asking for help. We realised we had to organise ourselves to properly respond.

"We then became an informal referral network, and that's how we established relationships with other organisations."

Elma Francois was a political activist born in St Vincent and the Grenadines. She was a member of the Trinidad Workingman's Association, co-founder of the Negro Welfare Cultural and Social Association, an organisation created to empower people of African descent, though membership included people of other racial backgrounds.

She was also involved in the British Empire Citizens' and Workers' Home Rule Party also known as the Butler Party, organised by labour leader Tubal Uriah Butler.

Leitch said the organisation was named in honour of Francois because she is important to Caribbean feminists.

The Elma Francois Legal Clinic -

"She was a bold, outspoken leader in a time when it was difficult for women to do that, in a time when TT was still a British colony. That was compounded by the fact that she was a migrant who later became associated with and led trade unions and went on to form others.

"She is the kind of woman we look up to and seek to emulate."

The Elma Francois Legal Clinic is now among several community-based clinics throughout TT, but has unique features that reflect what the organisation considers inclusive and intersectional principles.

It arose from a need for legal advice and services that specifically target survivors of gender-based violence regardless of ability, sexuality, gender identity and expression, nationality, or employment background.

The clinic has an intention of catering especially to vulnerable groups such as the LGBTQ+ community, migrants, people living with disabilities, and women and girls who face particular challenges.

Attorneys and staff attached to the clinic have received trauma and LGBTQ+ sensitivity training and the team of specialists includes Spanish and Arabic interpreters and attorneys. Childcare services during appointments are available, and clients living with disabilities can request physically accessible meeting locations.

As the legal clinic grows in its first year, the team, according to a release, said it looks forward to growing partnerships and relationships with other organisations and individuals committed to ending gender-based violence.

They hope to create a partnership with the Law Association in the near future and thus expand the team of attorneys available to their clients.

Asked how the clinic is being funded, Leitch said, "Womantra is the recipient of a small grant from the Spotlight initiative, which is a UN and European Union initiative with a mission of ending gender-based violence."

She said the grant was awarded to the NGO to run the one-year pilot which was already in motion.

"We have been preparing for this clinic for the past three years."

Attorneys on the team work on a voluntary basis, as the grant is only sufficient to run the project and provide a stipend for the project co-ordinator.

The team is made up of Leitch, who is the project lead, Hannah Grosberg, the project co-ordinator and Élysse Marcellin, who is a director at Womantra and systems operator at the clinic.

Asked about feedback since the launch, Grosberg said, "We have had a lot of positive feedback from other organisations across the region via social media. It was great seeing the various leaders sharing their thoughts."

She said over the past few days there has been a steady increase in lawyers interested in volunteering and people reaching out for legal assistance.

Grosberg said she is also excited to be working with the team of eight attorneys who have volunteered.

"They are some of the best attorneys I have worked with. They are all passionate about the cause and worked with survivors before. They go above and beyond, and have been very open to continuing training."

Grosberg said all the work she has done and will continue to do is important to her because of its positive impact and the ripple effect of the work done by the organisation.

"It's great to see people and my family see the value of a legal clinic providing assistance for people affected by gender-based violence."

Those interested in joining the team at the clinic can e-mail legalclinic@womantra.org

People seeking legal services may contact and book an appointment through a phone call or WhatsApp 718-6626 or e-mail legalclinic@womantra.org – subject: “Appointment Request.”


"Womantra launches legal-aid clinic for GBV survivors"

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