WASHINGTON — The founder and executive director of Tahirih Justice Center wants to reverse a heartbreaking fact.
The national non-profit is only able to assist 1 in 4 women who reach out to Tahirih for help due to high demand and a lack of capacity, she told nearly 450 guests April 9 at Tahirih’s 17th Annual Gala, “Saving Lives, Celebrating Courage.”
“That is intolerable. It’s intolerable that a person who has already gone through so much and … demanded justice in a way that would be hard for many of us to understand to then arrive at our doors and to not, sometimes, be able to receive assistance,” Layli Miller-Muro said.
An ambitious plan for growth by 2017
Tahirih will do more, Miller-Muro said.
By 2017, the nonprofit will invest in its existing infrastructure, more than double the number of women and girls it serves, open two new offices, and increase the capacity of its public policy team.
“We have a lot of work to do. But I know we can do it,” said Miller-Muro, who founded Tahirih in 1997 after winning a precedent-setting, gender-based asylum case.
The nonprofit has developed an award-winning, holistic model of service that saves and transforms the lives of immigrant women and girls through direct legal services, advocacy, and education in communities, courts, and Congress.
“The Tahirih Justice Center’s job is not to go in and convince women that they should be demanding equality. It is to act in that supportive role when they have decided for themselves. And we are honored to do that,” Miller-Muro said.
Miller-Muro outlined three characteristics that position Tahirih for success in the fight to end gender-based violence:
Tahirih has a 99 percent success rate in the cases it litigates.
“Now, that is not a goal,” Miller-Muro said. “We take the unwinnable cases. We take the cases that have already lost. We take the cases that will change law. But given the courage of our clients and the confidence of our staff and our pro bono volunteers, we have a 99 percent success rate.”
Miller-Muro said Tahirih will “turn every dollar donated into $4.50 of impact” through the good will of its robust pro bono network of more than 1,000 volunteers.
Tahirih’s vast network of pro bono attorneys, medical professionals, and other experts enables Tahirih to maximize its impact, and efficiently and directly serve hundreds of women and girls every year.
In 2013 alone, Tahirih received a record-breaking $12.5 million in donated pro bono services from professionals in a range of fields.
“We will leverage the skills and the good will of all we can find,” Miller-Muro said.
Tahirih has developed an award-winning, holistic model of service over a period of 17 years, and piloted a successful framework for growth with the opening of its Houston office in 2009.
“Houston is an incredible office. They are now entirely self-sufficient and have 10 staff,” Miller-Muro said.
In 2010, Tahirih opened a third office in Baltimore.
“They’re also doing wonderfully, and we are ready to go further,” Miller-Muro said.
Tahirih now has a tested formula for growth that it will implement in two, new cities. The location of Tahirih’s new offices has not yet been determined, but the nonprofit will look to expand in areas with a high-need for its services and strong networks of allies for women and girls.
By opening two new offices, Tahirih will be able to increase the number of immigrant women and girls it directly assists through legal representation and advice by 250 percent.
‘We can no longer tolerate the suffering of women’
Tahirih’s growth, Miller-Muro said, is imperative.
“We’ll grow because we have to. We can no longer tolerate the suffering of women in the world. We can longer tolerate pervasive inequality. We can no longer tolerate missed opportunities to transform lives and entire communities by not having the capacity to respond,” she said.
Supporters ultimately hold the key to Tahirih’s success.
“We can’t do it without your help,” she said. “We need your financial support to marshal an army of defendants for women like Mercy [a former Tahirih client], and we need your financial support so that we can change the world and live in planet where we have full equality of women and men.”
The gala is annually held to pay tribute to the incredible courage of Tahirih’s clients, and raise critical funds to support Tahirih’s mission to protect immigrant women and girls fleeing gender-based human rights abuses such as rape, female genital mutilation, domestic violence, human trafficking, honor crimes, and forced marriage.