BWJP Welcomes Maria Jose Fletcher,JD, Director of Our Newest Center, the National Center on Systems Change and Advocacy.

María José Fletcher, JD, is the Director of BWJP’s newest center, the National Center on Systems Change and Advocacy.

María José, a migrant from Uruguay and then Peru, understands the struggles associated with leaving one’s home in search of safety. Witnessing firsthand the violence perpetrated against women and girls compelled her to dedicate her life to advance the rights of immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. As a nonprofit attorney for over 25 years and as a committed community member, María José is actively involved in local, state, national, and international victim’s rights organizations. 

“María José has been using her voice and legal knowledge to amplify the stories of immigrant women for the past 25 years” said BWJP CEO Amy J. Sánchez. “Her community experience brings passionate expertise to BWJP’s mission of supporting marginalized survivors, and we are lucky to have her come on board.” 

Meet María José 

Q: What brought you into the field of gender-based violence?  

Maria Jose: Growing up in Uruguay, I had the privilege of being part of a family where traditional gender roles were not the norm.  My parents married in their 30s, which was not a common practice in the 1950s.  They were both working and continued to do so while raising my two sisters and me. They shared all the household chores and found the time to remain active in politics and in parish related work. I always imagined a future where I would be exactly like my mother and father, studying what I liked, working in that field, and having a partner who respected my choices and treated me as an equal. But in the early 70s Uruguay’s democracy ended, and my parents’ activities in the community – fighting for social justice - became subversive.  My parents had to choose between staying and risking their lives or leaving to seek safety in another country.  We left Montevideo with one suitcase each and moved to Peru.  What I experienced in the next seven years living in Lima marked my life.  In a place where girls and boys were treated differently; where most middle-class women stayed home and men worked, but indigenous women bore the weight of supporting their children by mainly cleaning, cooking or taking care of someone else’s children; where differences in class, race and ethnicity decided who would have access to a financially secured future and where physical and emotional violence against women and girls was rampant, I became an adult. Violence entered my home when my younger sister at the age of 16 was abused by her boyfriend, who later became her husband for 20 years and was father of her four children.  Her story became our family’s story, everything changed.  Since the first day I accompanied my 18-year-old sister to the police station to report the abuse, being only 19 myself, I began my journey seeking safety and justice for so many like her.  Ultimately, if I was unable to protect her, I was going to try to do it for others.  

Q: What drew you to want to work at BWJP?  

Maria Jose: One day, I received a call from a dear colleague and mentor who thought it was time to expand the impact of my efforts representing immigrant survivors of gender-based violence.  Although in the past 25 years I also spent significant time providing training and technical assistance, and a bit of time contributing to policy work, I agreed with her that perhaps it was time for me to bring the experiences of so many survivors who struggle navigating the legal and social services systems to the forefront. In the past I partnered with BWJP in its efforts to shape responses from the field that were consistent with the needs of survivors. Logically, there was no way I would reject the opportunity to be part of BWJP’s team. 

Q: What are you most looking forward to working at BWJP?  

Maria Jose: I believe we have a responsibility to be on the right side of history when it comes to social injustice by utilizing our tools consistently.  I am also convinced that the path already marked by so many women and men that worked tirelessly to achieve protections for those who were invisible and powerless needs upkeep.  The protections provided by the legal framework mean nothing if they are not implemented in a way that not only reach the disadvantaged and marginalized but does it in a manner that is responsive to their realities. Through the work of the National Center on Systems Change and Advocacy, we hope to renew old partnerships, build new ones, identify promising practices, and create a tangible bridge between the nuances of the legal framework and the needs of survivors. 

Q: How do you like to spend your time outside of work?  

Maria Jose: During my free time I love spending time with my family – my husband of 42 years, our three children and their partners, our granddaughter Maya, my sister, our five dogs, three cats and 21 fish.  We enjoy traveling together, cooking, eating together, playing cards and mostly during all that talking about art, medicine, the law, recipes and more recipes, and now about raising the next generation… 

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