Kate Flatley first became passionate about community service while attending Greenwich Academy.
Volunteering at an impressionable age, Flatley became passionate about issues of social justice, particularly those pertaining to women.
After graduating from Yale University and University of Virginia School of Law, Flatley would go on to found the Women’s Justice Initiative, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for women’s rights in Guatemala.
The organization’s mission is to improve the lives of indigenous women through education, access to legal services, and gender-based violence prevention.
Last year, the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women awarded Flatley’s organization a three-year grant, a testament to its necessity and success.
With a humble, yet passionate and caring air, Ms. Flatley spoke with Greenwich Free Press about her path to creating her organization, her work, and its impact.
After college, Flatley worked on public health issues. She went on to pursue a law degree, which she credits for broadening her knowledge about social justice and human rights.
Explaining her choice to focus on Guatemala, Flatley said, “When I moved abroad to Guatemala, I fell in love with the country and found its challenges especially compelling.”
The country has one of the highest rates of femicide, which refers to sex-based hate crimes, and is broadly defined as violence against and intentional killing of women or girls.
Flatley said indigenous women in small rural Guatemalan communities are vulnerable to domestic abuse due to linguistic and economic barriers. Many women in these areas speak indigenous languages and do not speak Spanish fluently.
Flatley was personally drawn to work directly with communities rather than through governmental or larger organizations. In that vein, the Women’s Justice Initiative has seen great success through its community-based work.
The foundation doesn’t raise money or give grants. Rather, it directly provides programs and services geared toward improving opportunities for Guatemalan girls and women.
The four main programs are the Community Advocates Program, the Adolescent Girls Program, the Women’s Rights Education Program, and the Legal Services Program. Each of the programs holds equal importance and is interconnected with the goal of creating a safer, more equitable society for Guatemala’s most vulnerable women and girls.
According to Flatley, the Women’s Justice Initiative is “innovative in the sense that it is one of few organizations to provide legal services for indigenous women in rural Guatemala.”
Services are provided either free or at a reduced cost, giving women access to legal services previously unavailable to rural women because of geographical and economic barriers.
“Education programs are so important because many women in the rural communities where we work are unaware of legal protections and their rights before completing WJI’s programs,” she said, adding, “Education is such a key piece of our work.”
The Women’s Justice Initiative provides services following the “mobile outreach model” which involves WJI’s local staff traveling to rural communities to implement their programs and providing services to individuals and families in their local language, Kaqchikel. In fact, their entire field staff is comprised of local women. As Flatley describes they “Understand the cultural issues. They are the real experts and are trusted and respected in the communities where we work.”
The thread that ties the programs together is that “each program focuses on transforming attitudes and address underlying norms that view inequality and violence against women as acceptable,” said Flatley. By getting support from both Women’s Justice Initiative staff and their friends and family, women are able to speak out and change their situations for the better.
In order to avoid alienating the men in the community, they make sure to respect the local culture. She explained, “We haven’t seen a lot of pushback [from men in the communities] because of the methodology we use. We work with local leaders and gain their approval before working in the communities. With the support of local community leaders we are able to mitigate any risks or negative responses to our work.” In that way, they address problems, while respecting cultural differences.
She noted that one of the draws to the program for men is the organization’s efforts to help families gain legal title to their property, a service the program provides free of charge.
Flatley is clearly optimistic about the impact of the program both today and on future generations. As she described, “We are excited for WJI to continue growing, supporting women to live free from gender-based violence, and building brighter futures for girls.”
Flatley plans to expand these programs into more communities throughout Guatemala, and maybe replicate the model in other countries where women are at risk.
For more information or to make a donation visit: http://womens-justice.org/