Today it's our huge pleasure to share with you a very special interview to a woman worthy of admiration. She's Viviana Waisman, funder of Women’s Link Worldwide, a NGO that fights from the legal roof of the problem to encourage an structural change towards equality.
We encourage you to read it until the end, because every she tells is worth it.
Find it below:
LBH: First of all, why did you fund Women’s Link Worldwide?
Viviana: Since I was a child, I've been very worried about social justice. It's something related to my family's history. My grandparents were Jewish from Eastern Europe and they migrated to Argentina between wars, and, at the same time, my parents were refugees in the United States due to the dictatorship in Argentina.
I grew up in the United States with a personal story mixed up with political and social issues. I think that's the reason why these matters are so important to me since I was a child. Somehow, I feel I didn't choose to work on these issues, but these issues chose me.
Many years later, when I was already a lawyer and I was working in an organization focused on sexual and reproductive rights, I realized that there was a disconnection between the international legal picture that it's supposed to protect women rights and the real access to those rights in different countries.
That's why I decided to start a project that aims at giving access to lawyers and activists in different countries to a database with examples of cases from different parts of the world that applied the law in a way that benefited women rights. At that moment, that information wasn't available for many people. My idea was that activists could learn from legal arguments and strategies that worked (or not) in other countries and regions of the world. That was the beginning of Women's Link.
LBH: What are your pillars of action?
Viviana: At Women’s Link we defend women and girls' rights, specially of those who face multiple inequalities, those who are farther from justice. For that, we show cases of women an girls' rights violation in national and international courts and we also take communication and strategic actions to encourage a debate about how the law can and must be applied to get a social change.
Our motto is “Beyond the courts” because we look for a social change and, for that, we try to get out of courts what happens there so other organizations and people can get involved. This way, whether the cases are won or not in court, we can spread the issues and create a collective awareness that at the end will allow us to cause that change towards a fairer society.
We mostly focus on three work areas (or pillars as you say): sexual and reproductive rights, borders and human trafficking, and transitional justice. We always look for women and girls to live without violence.
LBH: Why do you think is more effective to work from the law in order to encourage a social change?
Viviana: Law has been historically used to keep the estatus quo, but we think that it also can be used as a tool to get social change. Our work is focused not only on looking for a legal picture that protects rights, but also on the creation of a justice system that can apply the law free of stereotypes, free of discrimination. This is what can make every person to have access to their rights.
For us, the “fascinating” part of working with women and girls that face serious obstacles to enjoy their rights, whether in work, in sexual and reproductive health, in justice or in any other field, is that when we achieve to make their rights recognized and guaranteed, the benefit has an effect on everyone because it makes us live in a more fair and egalitarian world. When we make people that are farther from access to justice get close to their rights, we all move towards our rights. We don't leave no one behind.
LBH: What has been or still is the biggest obstacle you have to face?
Viviana: One of the biggest obstacles we have to face is law enforcement. We often find laws that are good on paper, but they don't enforce as they should and leave many women out of access to their rights. Usually, those left behind are poor women or in vulnerable situations, and that's why this lack of access is quite invisible.
In Spain, for example, we have an abortion law that is good on paper. However, we've been condemning for a while many obstacles when accessing to information and abortion for every women, with all the guarantees and in equal conditions. There's a lot of conscientious objection in public hospitals, there's territorial inequality (there's no clinics in all the provinces, so many women have to travel), migrant women in irregular situation face a lot of red tape issues…
Another obstacle is gender stereotypes and prejudices that stay in law and that often make women not to be believed when they denounce or tell their testimony in court. The idea that women are liars and manipulative and that they denounce because of resentment or to get some benefit is very spread. It's still thought that there's a model of victim and when women get out of this stereotype, they're not believed. Luckily, this problem is more and more visible and cases such as the one of La Manada has helped to make it visible and to condemn it.
LBH: What have you achieved so far?
Viviana: Over these 20 years we've handled and won several cases in different countries and regions of the world that contribute to give women access to law.
We've also raised awareness over the impact that different situations have on women and girls' life and rights, like COVID-19 pandemic and governments' reaction in different countries of the world. For example, borders closure has caused a significant increase of violence suffered by migrant women and there's also an increase of human trafficking.
In this regards, beyond legal victories, we're also proud to do our bit to change the understanding of violence or problems suffered by women and girls all over the world. For example, the idea of how gender violence works in a couple, specially on the impact is has on the sons and daughters. That was well shown in the case of Ángela González in Spain.
LBH: Which achievement do you think has been your greatest one?
Viviana: In 2006, thanks to a claim filed by Women’s Link in the Colombian Constitutional Court, termination of pregnancy was decriminalized in three circumstances: when women health or life are at risk, when the fetus shows an incompatibility with extrauterine life or when the pregnancy is caused by a rape.
The fact to ensure that, in a country when abortion was completely forbidden, women start having access is one of the achievement I feel prouder about. But we can't relax. There are still many attacks against this right and many obstacles in the access to this health service, especially for poor women or from rural areas.
LBH: What actions do you handle in Spain?
Viviana: In Spain we take actions in all our work areas.
Regarding sexual and reproductive rights, especially abortion, we're now representing the organization Women on Web that provides information about the access to safe abortion. In 2020, Spanish government decided to censure the website of Women on Web. We're trying to free this website and to raise awareness over obstacles that make many women ask Women on Web because they don't find information in Spanish public health.
We've been working for more than 15 years in the acknowledgment of migrant women that arrive to Europe through the Spanish South border. With our work, we've achieved the enforcement of a right about a reconsideration period for human trafficking victims so they can freely and easily choose if they want or not to denounce trafficking networks.
We've also denounced before international bodies verdicts about the protection of human trafficking victims. Nowadays, crime of trafficking is only handled from the police side leaving behind the rights of human trafficking victims. Police is the only body that can officially identify a human trafficking victim. This causes situations of abuse of power and high risk to women. Women that don't want to denounce trafficking criminals or to collaborate with the police are excluded from the protection system. It's not taken into account that women can't denounce because they're scared about reprisals over them or their families.
In the last years, we've worked with four Moroccan women that came like temporary workers to collect red berries in Huelva and they found a situation of labor exploitation and sexual abuse by one of the managers. They were fired and they've not been able to work again in the strawberry campaign because they're not been employed again, probably as a result of their complaints. We work together with other organizations, like Jornaleras en Lucha, so we can show that they're not isolated cases, but it's a structural problem of a system that looks for and take advantage of women's vulnerability, many of them are mothers with sons and daughters or dependent relatives on charge, so they can exploit them knowing that they won't denounce.
LBH: How do you think your work impacts on activism or social movements?
Viviana: As I've told before, Women’s Link goes beyond its actions in courts. In this regard, with our work on strategic litigation, we contribute to create legal precedents that cause broader changes in legislations and also help other organizations or activists to be able to file their own legal actions.
Apart from the legal field, with our strategic communications we contribute to open public debates in which discrimination and violence suffered by women and girls are understood from new perspectives so human rights are always the focus of discussions.
LBH: We've read about your intervention in the case of Ángela González, do you think it was an inflection point?
Viviana: We met Ángela at Women’s Link in 2011. At that time, she'd been fighting in Spanish courts for more than 8 years. First of all, in order to protect herself and her daughter from the violence of her ex-partner, an abuser. And secondly, when he murdered her daughter in 2003, to get justice and reparations for Spanish law verdicts, that hadn't believed her and protected her properly.
We have to take into account that Ángela had filled more than 30 claims letting know that she and her daughter were at risk when they stayed alone with her ex-partner. Still, against all logic, a magistrate decided to implement a visiting right without supervision. And he took advantage of that visits to murder her.
When we met her, Ángela had just used up legal actions in Spain without having been supported. That's why we decided to accompany her in her fight before international bodies and, in 2014, we accomplished to make Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) took her side. What we didn't expect is that the Spanish State rejected to implement the reparation measures for Ángela and the prevention actions to avoid these cases. Ángela had to start another legal action to require the Spanish State to fulfill its international obligations. Finally, in 2018, the Supreme Court supported her.
What Ángela has done is beyond her personal fight. Thanks to her, there has been an inflection point in the way of seeing gender violence. Before her case, the fact that an abuser can't be a father was not even mentioned. Now, more people understand that gender violence also impacts on children and that abusers use them to damage their partners or ex-partners. There are more and more magistrates that understand it, but there's still a long way to go.
Ángela's case lays the basis so other women can have access to the law and have a precedent to rely on, but the real change will come when these cases stop taking place because the Spanish State has really implemented effective prevention measures. This was part of what the CEDAW Committee required to Spain.
LBH: How do you see the future of feminism in Spain and in the world in general?
Viviana: I'm optimistic, specially about young people. I think a collective silence has been broken around violence suffered by women and that more and more people are committed to the fight for equality.
Last protests on Women's Day have been massive. There are more and more people that denounce sexist sentences and are aware of how's law behave on cases like that of La Manada.
The fight for equality, for a world free of gender, race, ethnic and any kind of discrimination has become stronger in the whole world. The wave is very strong and I've got the feeling that, even if we can see exceptional setbacks, new women generations won't allow a single step back about their rights.
LBH: Finally, how can we collaborate with your organization? What are funds collected through donations intended for?
Viviana: People interested in supporting our work can make a donation to fund all the projects we're working on. Women’s Link is 100% financed through private donations that come from foundations and people that support us all over the world. Our work wouldn't be possible without it, given that we don't receive governments or public sectors' grants so we could be completely independent and go against states that break women rights.
I personally think that it's very important that everyone get involved, support and donate to social organizations work and NGO, because this fact strengthens democracy.
They can also support us by following our work and sharing our projects with other people that may be interested. I encourage you to follow us in our social media and subscribe to receive emails with information about our cases. You can find further information about how to support our work about women rights in this link: https://www.womenslinkworldwide.org/participa
LBH: To conclude, we want to thank you for giving us your time to answer this interview and, above all, because of the great work you do from Women's Link Worldwide. Our fight is the fight of every woman, and so are your achievements. Congratulations and all our strength to keep moving forward.
A big hug from all the team of Labienhecha.
Viviana: Thanks to you because of your work. It's very important that there are projects led by women in every life field, including entrepreneurship. And thank you so much for your support and for the chance to give voice to our work.