When Patzun was first locked down in March, Yesi struggled to find ways to contact her clients with open legal cases. Eventually, WJI decided to create and publicize a free hotline. Yesi and Rosa Xocoxic, another WJI paralegal, took the lead. It quickly became clear that the need for legal services was huge. Says Yesi, “Women started to call 24/7.”
As WJI’s partner communities remain hard-hit by COVID-19 and the economic downturn, this hotline has been a tremendous help for hundreds of women. Nevertheless, providing legal intake over the phone is only the first step in ensuring access to justice. In normal times, WJI attends court with clients, helping women navigate the legal system, as many women fear going to court alone. Now, with new social distancing rules in place, women are required to enter the courts by themselves. To calm their worries, Yesi assures them that she will be with them every step of the way, providing “accompaniment from a distance.”
“If you have any concerns or questions, call me. I’m here for you, whether over the phone or by text,” Yesi tells her clients. If she doesn’t hear from them once they go inside, she sends WhatsApp messages to check in.
WJI’s services are needed now more than ever. Yesi notes that the number of cases of violence against women has increased greatly since the start of the pandemic. Many women, especially domestic workers, have lost all income. Some have been forced to return to abusive situations due to economic necessity. Others are filing for child support for the first time in their lives. Yesi has received calls from clients pleading, “What do I do? I don’t have anything to eat or to give to my children.” (For more on the food assistance and other emergency responses that WJI has provided during the pandemic, see here.)
In some cases, WJI has helped women contact their partners who are living abroad, often in the United States, and have stopped sending remittances during the pandemic. Overall, WJI has served more than 15,600 individuals and worked on almost 500 legal cases since the start of the pandemic.
Yesi acknowledges that many challenges lie ahead, but she is “very happy” with the work that WJI’s legal team has done so far to support women in Patzun. Her team is ready to continue innovating and helping the women they serve.