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The pro bono initiative connects lawyers with an interest in providing volunteering services with well-regarded and appropriately vetted women's and children's NGOs and civil society organisations. In the process, this initiative intends to create a culture of volunteering among Indian law firms. In addition to fulfilling a crying need for professional services within the civil society sector in India, providing pro bono legal services or other volunteering-based services gives the lawyer providing the services a sense of well-being and fulfillment. An example could be lawyers volunteering to perform administrative or other tasks at say, shelters for victims of domestic violence or at counseling centres run by an existing NGO for women in an underprivileged area in Delhi/Mumbai/other cities near the main business centre/High Court or even spending a few hours teaching English to underprivileged children near their home/workplace.

In addition, by recognizing volunteering hours spent by an employee, law firms can hope to benefit from engaged and fulfilled employees and thereby reduce expensive employee turnover.

The Society of Women Lawyers- India- An introduction to our Pro Bono activities

A. Introduction

As you will be aware, the Society of Women Lawyers-India ("SOWL") was established in May, 2010 in order to provide a platform for women lawyers to interact on issues of personal and professional development, and to provide a voice for lawyers and other women on pro-women social legislation. The purpose of this note is to provide an introduction to SOWL's ultimate objective to serve as an umbrella organization and undertake an overall co-ordinator role to help further develop a "Pro Bono/Volunteering Culture" in India with a focus on initiating volunteering projects for underprivileged women and children.

B. Background

As is evident, notwithstanding the recent press on the dizzying growth rates in India, there is still a substantial amount of progress that is yet to be made in relation to the socio-economic development of several of the more underprivileged sections of society in India and in particular, that of women.

By way of some startling facts:

  • the number of girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age band, or the child sex ratio as it is called, has dipped to its lowest levels since Independence, to 914. In 27 states and Union Territories, including Delhi, the child sex ratio has declined at a rate which "ranges from normal to alarming" (Source: 2011 Census Data);
  • The female literacy rate has shown growth but, at 65.46, still stands well below the male literacy rate of 82.14%. In certain states such as Rajasthan and Bihar, the literacy rate is as low as 52.66 % and 53.3 % respectively which means that every second woman in these states is illiterate (Source: 2011 Census Data); and
  • up to 50 million girls and women are ‘missing' from India's population because of termination of the female foetus or high mortality of the girl child due to lack of proper care. Female foeticide in India has increased by 49.2% between 1999 and 2009 (Source: The United Nations Children's Fund estimate).


C. How would a pro bono/volunteering programme work?
 
Participants could potentially choose to participate in a range of volunteering programmes depending on their interest and skill set. We envisage that under the programme, participants would volunteer a pre-determined amount of time at regular intervals in accordance with an agreed "volunteer rota" at the office of an NGO or other development-oriented organization located near their office. The participant would receive the necessary training and background information from the organization in order to effectively participate in the volunteering programme.

The programme could involve activities such as:

  • volunteering to provide legal advice on areas such as family law;
  • volunteering to provide legal advice on areas such as domestic violence;
  • volunteering to help illiterate women perform small tasks such as opening a bank account or other minor administrative tasks;
  • volunteering to help illiterate women perform small tasks such as filling out government forms and applications or dealing with other government process;
  • volunteering to give underprivileged women basic lessons in financial literacy and financial management skills; and
  • volunteering to spend a few hours each month to help teach English to underprivileged children.

D. How will SOWL assist an Indian law firm or lawyer in initiating a volunteering programme?

SOWL's commitment includes:

  • Helping to identify a suitable volunteering programme for a law firm;
  • Helping to formulate a suitable internal volunteering policy for lawyers within a law firm;
  • Helping to formulate a suitable "terms of engagement" with the organization to which the volunteering services will be provided; and
  • Giving "best practices" advice on the practical challenges involved in the day-to-day running of a legal aid or other volunteering programme.


In this connection, SOWL is pleased to announce its partnership with I- Probono, a non-profit organization that operates an online network connecting organizations in need of legal assistance with lawyers and students who want to use their legal skills for the public good. Further details on I-Probono are available on http://www.i-probono.com/.

As part of its long-term objectives, SOWL also intends to help:

  • organize a Conference on Women and the Law in India Mumbai/Delhi with a view to bringing further visibility to the cause of women's empowerment, serving as a networking forum and a forum to exchange ideas on further developing SOWL's Pro Bono initiative; and
  • raise funds for the establishment of a Research Centre focused on Women and the Law at all the leading law schools in India.

For further information on SOWL's pro bono activities and how you can get involved, please email the following members of the SOWL Pro Bono Committee: Priti Suri (p.suri@psalegal.com), Richa Gautam (richa_gautam@hotmail.com) and Pooja Sinha (sinha.pooja@gmail.com).
 

 
 
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