Isolation is deadly – research shows that not only does it increase the risk of depression and mental health problems, but it is as damaging to our physical health as smoking.
You might think that for a woman who has experienced the horrors and brutality of war, who has lost her home and worries where her family’s next meal will come from, loneliness and social isolation might be relatively minor concerns.
In fact, the women we serve say that feeling isolated and alone is one of the most devastating challenges they face.
"(After my husband was killed) I had been feeling very depressed. The doctor advised me to connect with other women, so that I could share my challenges and hear about the similar obstacles they were dealing with."
—Zarghuna, Women for Women International Program Participant - Afghanistan
Women in conflict-affected countries are at high risk of becoming socially isolated
Insecurity, poverty, violence, and restrictive gender norms all limit women's opportunities to form support networks.
Girls are frequently kept out of school, restricting their ability to socialize and make friends.
After marriage, women often become further isolated – they are much less likely than men to work outside the home or participate in community activities.
Women who have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict are torn away from their support networks. Language and cultural barriers may leave them struggling to integrate into their host communities.
Women who have suffered rape of sexual violence during conflict may find themselves stigmatized and ostracized by their families and communities, compounding their isolation.
"The women in my group are like my sisters—we share so much. I am no longer the single mother from rape, isolated and rejected."
—Jeanne, Women for Women International Program Participant - Democratic Republic of the Congo
Breaking down isolation
When they join our year-long program, women are welcomed into a class of 25 peers where they can share experiences and build friendships. As well as providing practical and technical skills, training focuses on fostering trust, solidarity and teamwork.
After graduation, these women’s groups continue to be a catalyst for change. Women work together to run businesses, save money, and stand up for their rights.
But most of all, they are a place for women to feel seen, heard, and accepted.
"Being in the program has helped me to build friendships with women of other religions and tribes. We support each other emotionally and financially when we need it."
—Zainab, Women for Women International Program Participant - Nigeria
The secret ingredient for women's empowerment
When we ask women what they value most about our training program, friendship, camaraderie, and mutual support are very common answers.
It's clear that at times of extreme crisis, human connections are vital to survival.
Friendship is an emotional lifeline, a practical support network, and a powerful force for positive change in some of the world’s toughest places.
"Now, I have money and I have friends. All those women are my friends. Recently one of them lost their child and we all went to her farm to help her. It’s not only the money but the way we gather together that has changed my life."
—Caritas, Women for Women International Program Participant - Rwanda