Governor urges Senate to evaluate women’s advocate appointment
Women’s Advocate-designate Vilmarie Rivera Sierra
By JOHN McPHAUL
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Monday asked senators to evaluate the appointment of Vilmarie Rivera Sierra as women’s advocate.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. She will have the opportunity to meet with all the senators. It has already been stated in the media,” the governor said in response to questions from the press. “I saw that she is emphasizing equity and respect among all human beings, which is what I also emphasize. … She is clearly prepared and qualified to assume that position. She is well known in the sector and she has dedicated her whole life to defending battered women and abused children, victims of domestic violence; she participated in the PARE Committee and has all the credentials and above all, she has a very open attitude, is very respectful and very conciliatory, and is very knowledgeable about the function of that office.”
“What I want is for the process to take place, for her to meet individually with the senators and for her to have a public hearing in due course,” Pierluisi added. “I feel confident that at the end of the road she should receive the support of the majority of the members of the Senate.”
Regarding the expressed intention of several senators to reject Rivera Sierra’s nomination, the governor said “I hope she receives the majority vote.”
Pierluisi’s remarks came after he participated in the annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau.
Reacting to the announcement of Rivera Sierra’s appointment on Sunday, Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago said the governor took too long to make it.
“The appointment of a person to the position of Women’s Advocate will be handled with breadth, depth and, at the same time, speed,” he said in a written statement. “Puerto Rico has been facing an emergency due to the incidence of cases of gender-based violence for several years. Puerto Rico’s Senate declared such an emergency early in 2021, and the governor has been asked, on several occasions, to appoint a person to the position since the vacancy arose last year. The time spent without a person in charge of such an important position for public policy and government action in the midst of a national emergency on gender violence has been an irresponsible attitude on the part of Gov. Pierluisi. That time wasted in inaction has cost women in our country dearly.”
“I have instructed the staff of the Senate Appointments Committee to immediately begin the request for information from the nominee and to listen to the people and entities with an interest in deposing …” Dalmau Santiago added.
Since 2004 Rivera Sierra has stood out as executive director of the Hogar Nueva Mujer Santa María de la Merced in Cayey. As part of her work, she designed, developed and implemented services for female victims of domestic and sexual violence, as well as their children. She also chairs the Domestic Violence Shelters Network, was part of the Committee for Gender Violence Prevention, Support, Rescue and Education (PARE Committee), as well as the Services subcommittee, from which she ensured that the necessary help is offered to victims, and is a member of Coordinadora Paz para la Mujer, among other organizations and committees related to the fight against gender violence.
Directors of gender-based violence shelters on Monday expressed support for Rivera Sierra’s nomination.
“Vilmarie Rivera Sierra, who founded and chairs the National Network of Gender-Based Violence Shelters, is a woman who values family and who has stood out as a leader in many feminist and domestic survivor service organizations,” said Lisdel Flores, vice president of the National Shelters Network, on behalf of all the directors of that organization. “The New Women’s Home, which she has led for 18 years, is a faith-based organization. Its formation and work experience is precisely in faith-based communities. It has also worked with diverse populations, such as older adults, children and rural communities.”
Rivera Sierra founded the National Shelters Network 12 years ago, with the purpose of joining the efforts of emergency shelters and transitional housing for women victims of gender violence and their minor children.
“Her leadership is recognized by a large number of feminist organizations and services for survivors of gender violence in Puerto Rico and Latin America,” said Flores, the executive director of Hogar Ruth. “Vilmarie has proven experience in developing interagency partnerships and is a conciliatory voice among diverse groups. We know that she will be a bulwark for the work on behalf of women from the space of the Office of the Women’s Advocate.”
Gloria Vázquez, director of Casa de la Bondad, said of Rivera Sierra that from her leadership in the Shelters Network “she supported the founding of the Inter-American Network of Shelters and Reception Centers and assumed the representation of the Caribbean.”
“On behalf of the National Shelters Network, she participated in the PARE Committee and led the work of the Services subcommittee, where she contributed to the development of the project aimed at municipalities for the care of gender violence survivors and protocols related to diversion programs,” Vázquez added.
The National Shelters Network groups the following organizations: Hogar Ruth, Casa Protegida Julia de Burgos, Casa de la Bondad, Casa de Todos, Hogar Nueva Mujer, Hogar La Piedad, and CAPROMUNI I and II.