We at WOMANTRA would like to thank you for your patience over the past 9 months as we worked with our internal and external stakeholders in addressing the public allegations made earlier this year. We remain accountable to you, our stakeholders, colleagues, and constituents and we are now able to share some more information with you all.
In March 2021, WOMANTRA became aware that various posts were circulating on social media referencing abusive behaviour by Founding Director Stephanie Leitch in her personal life, and that questions were raised about the handling of these allegations by the previous directorship.
In the absence of a structure for engaging in decolonial, feminist mechanisms for justice, WOMANTRA consulted with various advisors and fellow organisations to develop a strategy to respond to these claims and review any steps the organisation may have taken in the past.
As a first step, we shared our External Complaints Policy and online complaints form to facilitate submissions of grievances to the organisation, which would have enabled us to take formal action. Despite our best intentions, we received critical feedback from the public on the utility of this mechanism.
To date, WOMANTRA has not received any formal complaints from individuals who have made claims, either through the External Complaints Policy or otherwise. Despite the public nature of these claims, there remained questions around the particulars referenced by the individuals making these claims however the organization is not at liberty to share information without the verification or permission of parties involved.
A Special Committee (SC) of Officers of the organisation was constituted in order to facilitate mediation and investigation relating to the allegations. Both Directors, Stephanie Leitch and élysse marcellin recused themselves from SC oversight and decisions to remove any conflicts of interest.
During this time, the SC liaised with a professional mediator to offer mediation services to parties who identified as victims. The mediation invitations were not accepted and requests were made to not be contacted further. The SC then attempted to proceed with an independent, formal investigation and approached five (5) professionals specializing in law and social justice. Each professional advised that an investigation was not possible due to a lack of complaint(s) made either to the organisation, the courts, or the police service. The request made by those making the initial allegations to not be contacted further made an internal or external investigation into the claims difficult to pursue further. The SC then compiled an internal report documenting all actions taken historically and currently by the organization to address the allegations.
The SC has drawn on the expertise of professionals in response to this situation, including crisis management specialists, attorneys, conflict mediators, and community elders. We would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their support in navigating this difficult period.
Although mediation and investigation channels were not pursuable options, the SC has made the following recommendations which WOMANTRA has agreed to implement:
- Engage a human resource professional to identify gaps in internal processes, related to operations, staff and policy/protocol development and create a plan for the operationalization of recommendations.
- All WOMANTRA staff will receive mandatory training on interpersonal conflict management and dispute resolution.
- Update the organization’s bye-laws to include the establishment of governance policies that would provide clear guidelines to outline how Special Committees are created, implemented, and enacted in response to similar situations.
- Adopt a Model Workplace Policy on Violence, such as the “Model Workplace Policy On Gender-Based Violence, Intimate Partner Violence And Sexual Harassment” drafted by the Elma François Institute.
- Stephanie Leitch’s role and responsibilities at WOMANTRA remain reduced until her personal legal actions are concluded. At that time, her status will be revisited in accordance with Article 37 of our Code of Conduct.
With these actions, the SC has completed its mandate of coordinating mediation and investigation regarding the allegations raised towards Stephanie Leitch and WOMANTRA as much as reasonably possible.
We take from this experience many valuable lessons that we believe have strengthened the foundation of WOMANTRA and will help us to better fulfil our mandate as women’s rights defenders and gender justice advocates going forward.
If you would like to request further information, the SC is open to receiving these and will review each request on a case by case basis. We remain open to further dialogue and welcome feedback on this statement or our process, which can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.