Event spotlights immigrant women’s struggles

Hope Austin

The UMKC School of Law hosted a roundtable discussion on immigrant women’s access to justice Thurs., Sept. 4 featuring guest speaker Yolanda Ramirez.
Ramirez, with the help of a translator, told the story about her journey to the US and her escape from abuse.
“I came [to the US] illegally,” Ramirez said. “I came looking for a better life. I wanted to take hold of the opportunity to be here.”
Upon arrival, Ramirez was abused by one member of her family, and was stalked by others.
After escaping her family, Ramirez met her ex-partner. “I thought that he would protect [me].” However, this was not the case.
“He started insulting and hitting me,” said Ramirez. “I had the hope that someday he would change, but he never did.”
Ramirez struggled to remove herself from the situation. “I wanted my kids to be with their father. I didn’t have anybody. I didn’t speak English,” she said.
Ramirez eventually contacted authorities and had her partner deported, but the violence continued.
“He came back. He came back even more violent, blaming me for deporting him… she said.I never wanted to call the police again.”
Ramirez said she found refuge in a church. “They taught me to love myself and that nobody should hurt me, she said. My situation right now is I feel free. I feel happy, because my children are happy.”
Ramirez’s story is not uncommon, which is why the roundtable focused on issues immigrant women and victims of domestic violence both face. “For the last five decades, women have represented 50 percent of migrant individuals at a world level,” said Alicia Kerber, head consul of the Consulate of Mexico in Kansas City. “Nonetheless, their specific protection needs have been ignored.”
Kerber was followed by the keynote speaker, Ambassador Carmen Moreno, who has served as the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission of Women since 2009.
Moreno presented a slideshow on the Inter-American Convention on the prevention, punishment and eradication of violence against women, or the Belém do Pará Convention. The convention places violence against women at the forefront of inter-American issues.
The convention defines violence against women as “any act or conduct, based on gender, which causes death or physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, whether in the public or the private sphere.”
Moreno then listed statistics about violence against women. According to the World Health Organization, one in three women will face domestic violence in their lifetime.
However, Moreno advised that the statistics be taken with “a grain of salt.” Due to the stigma surrounding abused women, some women will not seek help or report domestic violence. “The numbers do not represent the reality,” she said.
Rana Lehnhardt, a professor at UMKC who teaches International Law, offered some solutions to these problems. Lehnhardt compared laws in European countries to those in the Americas. Lehnhardt spoke of laws in France that offer financial reparations to women, giving victims of violence an incentive to report. Lehnardt also described laws in Germany and Holland that allow immigrants the same legal protection as citizens.
Law School Dean Ellen Suni said the program is part of the school’s “desire to work very closely with the Mexican consulate.”
A full video of the roundtable can be found on the School of Law’s website.