Celebrating International Women’s Day

 

HRI Female Staff Members. Back Row Left to Right: Kavita Khandekar Chopra, Carolina Pina, Pilar Ferguson, Elisandra De La Cruz, Marisa Arancibia. Front Row Left to Right: Zeyla Gonzalez, Marcela Evans, Elean Martinez, Kristina Morales, Sara Wahl

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day! “International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women (source).” As Deputy Director of a 92% female staff, I cannot think of a better way to celebrate this day than with all of my amazing coworkers (pictured above).

Each and every member of our staff pours their hearts and minds into the great work we do here. As our Client Intake Manager, Elean is the first person all of our clients meet when they come to HRI for the first time. She knows how difficult it can be to ask for help, and does everything she can to make our clients feel comfortable, relaxed, and welcome in our office.

Our attorneys, Marcela, Pilar, and Sara, combine their sharp legal know-how with compassion and respect, ensuring our clients receive excellent and professional legal representation in their case for immigration relief. I am especially in awe of Carol Jablonski, our Volunteer Staff Attorney, who spends two days a week working at HRI on a pro bono basis. We could not ask for a better Legal Team.

Our legal assistants, Kristina, Zeyla and Carolina, work hard to stay ahead of work authorization deadlines to ensure our clients do not have a gap in their work pay. And when the time comes, they help clients with their application for their green card, ensuring their permanent residency in the United States. These three women keep our legal programs functioning at a high level because of their dedication to this work.

In Social Services, Zainab and Elisandra, work together to ensure HRI’s clients are able to access necessary and beneficial social services. Zainab’s and Elisandra’s tireless advocacy for our clients has resulted in a multitude of new partnerships across the North Texas area. And this Winter/Spring, the Program has hosted Madeleine, a wonderful intern from the University of Arkansas, Clinton School of Public Service.

Marisa, our Marketing & Special Events Coordinator, uses her passion for human rights and her writing skills to keep our community informed of our work. She shares our success stories and organizes our exceptional events, like our 5K coming up on April 28!! 

And I can’t forget Bill, our intrepid Executive Director. While he is not a woman, he is a man who displays nothing but respect for the females in his life, from his wife to his co-workers. I could not ask for a better boss.

International Women’s Day also makes me pause to reflect upon the incredibly women we serve at Human Rights Initiative of North Texas (HRI).

Every day at HRI I see strong, resilient, powerful immigrant women who risk everything for their safety and the safety of their children. Women like Leyla, a Sudanese immigrant who left her husband and life behind to protect her daughters from the brutality of female genital mutilation. FGM is a very real, very prevalent non-medical procedure that is forced upon more than 200 Million women today. The effects of FGM can last for a lifetime, making sex, childbirth and day-to-day life painful.  Simply by being able to keep her young daughters in the United States and away from their father, Leyla ensured their lives would not be harmed in this way and they would not have to endure this barbaric procedure. She in turn, sacrificed everything she had to make this happen.

Or I think of women like Mariah, a young undocumented Mexican immigrant who was stuck in an abusive marriage to a United States citizen. Mariah courageously made the decision to leave when she realized her young daughter would be affected by the abuse she endured. She left without knowing if her immigration status would protect her and allow her to stay with her daughter in the United States. But she knew it was the only option she had if she wanted to be in her daughter’s life for years to come. So she took the chance.

 

Leyla and Mariah not only display the incredible resilience that resides in all women, but their stories also remind us of the importance of intersectionality. In order to truly protect the rights and dignity of all women, we must also protect the rights and dignity of marginalized, disenfranchised and oppressed communities. This includes immigrant women, Black women, Latina women, incarcerated women, lgbt women, women with disabilities, women from low socio-economic status, and so many more.

Leyla and Mariah made the brave choice to leave everything they have ever known in order to protect themselves and their children. These women had the courage to make a leap of faith, not knowing what would be waiting for them on the other side, but knowing they could not remain where they were.

It is a point of pride for me to know that our HRI staff is here on the other side, waiting to help women like Leyla and Mariah. When they, and other clients like them, find our office, hear about our services, work with our incredible staff, and eventually receive legal status in the United States, they know that their leap of faith was not in vain.

When women work together, something magical happens. And this is the magic I celebrate with my co-workers today. Happy Women’s Day!