We are talking with Mónica Cofán, the lawyer who has led the 2nd Edition of the EXEQUO Project, titled The rights of women in risk of extreme vulnerability. Mónica is a lawyer, a social worker and an expert on gender violence.
Why did you decide to apply to the EXEQUO Project?
For a variety of reasons: First of all, the social cause that this 2nd EXEQUO Project addressed. The aim of my training and professional career of the last fourteen years has been to fight for the rights of gender violence victims and the promotion of those rights, both by direct attention and legal counseling but also by collaborating with different groups of professionals such as the Spanish State Security Forces and Corps and other lawyers. Secondly, because of the beneficiary entity, the Luz Casanova Foundation, which I already knew and, specially, because of the gender equality programs that they have been implementing for many years. In third place, I was attracted by the possibility of managing a network of legally specialized collaborators for an NGO. I have been able to know at first hand the multiplying effect that is implied on a support or mutual assistance network in which each pro bono collaborator, depending on their legal field of expertise and their availability, contribute with their knowledge so as to achieve a common goal or social cause; this is the way the network is established and it is really fascinating…
Would you recommend participating in the EXEQUO Project to a colleague?
Of course. It has been a very rewarding professional and personal experience in which I have developed varied tasks: direct counseling in the Luz Casanova Foundation, coordinating the guide for lawyers, teaching in the Legal Clinic UNIR- the Fernando Pombo Foundation, etc.
How was the work of the Luz Casanova Foundation on a day to day basis?
One of the main activities of this edition of the EXEQUO Project has been the provision of direct legal services from the Emergency Center of the Luz Casanova Foundation. In my opinion, the Fernando Pombo Foundation could not have selected a better resource or center that embodies this social cause of women victims of gender violence. It is personally gratifying seeing how these women enter in a residential center and they are empowered in such a short period of time ―we must not forget that it is an emergency resource― preparing them to end a violent relationship. It has been a very positive experience from a professional and personal point of view. In some aspects, the legal intervention has been complex, as some of these women are deeply hurt in a cognitive level, with an extreme social vulnerability and they are from different race and culture; all of this hinders the legal intervention. Difficulties, that I have been able to share and resolve thanks to the support of a professional team and, particularly, to the support of Elena Valverde ―coordinator of the equity programs of the Luz Casanova Foundation and also one of the coordinators of the guide―, that has helped me tremendously.
What legal obstacles have you identified on the cases you have assisted? What are they demanding from the lawyers?
Legal procedures generally generate a lot of stress and uncertainty to victims of gender violence. With the appropriate legal counseling, these situations will be avoided by contributing to their emotional recovery and empowerment. As lawyers we must understand these women: the traumatic process they live and which is their cognitive-emotional status at the moment when they decide to file a complaint, as well as all their doubts and fears they might have all along the legal process and that may pull them back from their decision of breaking with the past. To do so, we must develop and put into practice our skills of other social disciplines, such as social work or psychology as attention, welcome, empathy, active listening… This is precisely what these women are asking for: honesty in the relationship, that they can trust their lawyer, that lawyers put themselves in the victims place, etc.
On other hand, I think that there must be a better coordination between all professionals working with the victims, a comprehensive and interdisciplinary intervention.
You have coordinated the Guide to the most frequently asked legal issues of victims of gender violence, a manual prepared jointly between public institutions, businesses, non-profit entities, the Legal Clinic UNIR- the Fernando Pombo Foundation and more than twenty lawyers and professionals from other disciplines. Which are the main challenges you have faced and how have you confronted them at doing a job of such dimensions?
The challenges ―as you call them― have been precisely both the dimension of the content of the guide as the amount of professionals implied in it. We have faced these challenges in such way that we did not lose from sight the objective of the guide, that was to prepare a helpful and especially practical tool with the participation of very talented, very professional and caring people with a great sense of social awareness.
How does the Fernando Pombo Foundation get to imply so many professionals? What does the EXEQUO Project offer to them? How have they contributed to the project?
By being a reference in the promotion of legal projects with social impact that allows lawyers to fight for the most disadvantaged ones of society while practicing their profession in a pro bono way. The EXEQUO Project allows them to collaborate actively on a joint and participative social project in which every contribution is going to be reflected on the collaborative final work.
During the launching of the Guide, the the Delegate of the Spanish Government for Gender Violence. Blanca Hernández, highlighted that «this guide is one of the best legal works about gender violence that I have found in recent years». Which is the aim of this manual?
The aim that has guided us from the beginning is that it must be a useful tool that tackles gender based violence from a comprehensive way, from the whole process that lawyers must face in the most common situations that may have a direct or an indirect cause with partner violence (civil law, criminal law, labor law, immigration law, etc.)
What is the difference with other guides?
The coordinators of the guide have been working directly with victims for many years and we have tried to bring together all the issues that we have faced during our exercise as well as adding this psychosocial part that is so important to assist the victim and that many other ―merely legal― manuals omit.
You can download the Guide to the most frequently asked legal issues of victims of gender violence by clicking the image and also from this link: http://bit.ly/1TgLpKS