Women for Women International celebrates the steps that bring us closer to a world where every woman can determine the course of her life and reach her full potential.
In early 2019, we announced that Women for Women International had reached over half a million women survivors of war to help them rebuild their lives. Energized by this milestone, we enrolled nearly 14,000 women in our programs this year to help them realize their own power.
We’re also pleased that this year, we’ve reached 5,000 men through our Men’s Engagement program to help them become advocates and allies for women’s rights.
The ripple effect and the peace women in our program create is more important than ever during these times of increasing conflict.
So here’s a look back on how we’ve supported them this year.
Defending Against Ebola
The World Health Organization declared another Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The villages where women in our programs live are isolated with little infrastructure and health information to support them if Ebola reached their homes. With help from generous supporters, our team equipped women with information about the disease and sanitation kits to become trusted leaders and sources of health information in their communities.
The knowledge and leadership skills women learned through the program helped them protect their families and communities instead of shutting down classes. And in a few months, their villages were declared free of the epidemic.
Resilience in Afghanistan
In Afghanistan, despite escalating violence born from abandoned peace talks, our country teams kept the lights on so women could continue to learn and even opened programs in a new province. In classrooms darkened by sandbags against windows in case of explosions, our local trainers continue to guide women on their journey to power.
Return to South Sudan
In 2016, a surge in violence in South Sudan led to many women fleeing to Uganda and an attack on one of our teams, forcing us to suspend our programs. We continued to support women through local partner RECONCILE, so women could still learn social empowerment and leadership skills.
South Sudan still faces violence and challenges but we were committed to returning. This year, we finally reopened our office in South Sudan and tailored our work to suit the needs of the women who live there and those returning. Instead of a year-long program, women go through an intensive six-month program that provides them the same resources, knowledge, and skills to rebuild their lives and begin sowing peace in South Sudan.
Responding to Syrian Refugees
The conflict in Syria drove more women refugees into Iraq while closing the way for those who had hoped to return home. In the wake of this violence, ISIS is rearing its head again, bringing even more devastation to women in the region.
With the help of partners and supporters around the world, we have continued to serve women forced from their homes and affected by conflict to help them heal. In the new year, we are moving even closer to the Syrian border to meet women where they are and will expand our program in Iraq.
Expanding in Nigeria
Our Nigeria teams expanded in 2018 to Bauchi State, a place that shares the same issues of poverty, conflict, and gender discrimination while dealing with the threat of Boko Haram, the extremist group famous for kidnapping 276 school girls. We celebrated our first graduation in Bauchi State, and certainly not the last.
Community Advocacy and Change
Northern Nigeria also wrestles with other kinds of conflict between ethnoreligious groups. Herding and farming communities often violently clash, leaving both sides with ill will and sometimes, the death of loved ones. Through classes that bring women from both communities together, women in our program are learning about their shared humanity and are literally working to bring peace.
Change Agents – graduates of our program nominated by their classmates to become leaders and community advocates – set up and led negotiations between members of the herding and farming communities to establish peace. Women leaders stood face-to-face with people who had killed their loved ones to find a shared path forward.
In the DRC, Change Agents are hosting community conversations about the harm unregistered marriages do to women by creating barriers to rights and economic security. Through these discussions, the district administration in Kamanyola lowered marriage registration fees to make it more accessible for all unions.
Long-Awaited Research Results
We were excited to finally receive the first results of three randomized control trials (RCTs) we began three years ago. Our first results came from Afghanistan, where data showed that women who graduate from our program double their daily earnings, have higher savings, more food security, and more decision-making power in their households.
Results also revealed opportunities for improvement. The RCT focused on measuring our program’s effectiveness in reducing intimate partner violence (IPV). We learned that our program does not increase IPV but that more intentional programming and work must be done to make a measurable difference in this aspect. Our team has taken this these results to heart and developed strategies to implement in the new year.
New Year, New Decade
Although 2019 is ending, complex problems such as rising conflict, the concentration of poverty, and the violence women endure will continue into the next year and decade. Experts predict that by 2030, Nigeria and the DRC will house the majority of the world’s people living in poverty – unless we do something now.
In these two countries and our programs around the world, we see the difference women make when they are given the tools, knowledge, resources, and support. Women for Women International has grown so much as an organization the past year: Imagine how much bigger the transformation is for women in our year-long program.
We’re always excited to see the amazing things women do when they realize they have power. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating and supporting women all over the world as they make a ripple effect to change their communities and the world.