For more than 25 years, Women for Women International has used a bundled, gendered graduation approach to equip women survivors of war with the tools, skills, knowledge and support to rebuild to their lives.
Women for Women International’s signature program emphasizes the combination of social and economic empowerment. Social empowerment helps women breach the barriers that block them from society while economic pathways increase food security, income, savings and resilience to shocks.
The program bundles different forms of investment to address the whole woman:
Informational training – critical modules that include the value of women’s work, benefits of saving, basic health education, rights and decision making, and group formation
Skill-building – numeracy, business skills, and a chosen vocational skill
Resource provision – includes monthly cash stipends, resources to pursue chosen vocations, referrals to health and legal services, and access to savings groups
Connections to networks – shared support through local women’s networks, global supporters, and fostering connections with other women
Throughout their time in the signature program, women receive support through a monthly stipend, letters from sponsors who help women go through the program financially and emotionally, and referrals that connect women to organizations that provide more services they may need – such as psychosocial support, literacy programs, legal aid services and more.
Local leaders from each community lead these trainings. As members of the same community as the women they serve, they understand the challenges, culture, and needs of women, allowing them to adapt the curriculum to support women as they rebuild their lives and their community.
To ensure we reach the most marginalized women, we engage with local communities and tailor selection criteria to local contexts to intentionally invite poor and vulnerable women to enroll in the program.
The program gathers women into groups of 25 to cultivate a safe, women-only space to learn and grow. Together, women form tight social circles of support – breaking the isolation created by fragility, conflict, and discrimination. Besides emotional support, these women form strong networks that evolve into financial savings groups, professional associations, and groups with political power.
In a rural village in Parwan, Afghanistan, Sweta is getting ready to enroll in our training program. Follow her journey over the next year as she begins to create a new future for herself.
Sweta walks into the sunny classroom for the first time. There she meets her social empowerment trainer, Fadoua, who will be with her for the next year. As she takes a seat, Sweta joins a circle of 24 other women from her community – her classmates and soon-to-be friends.
Fadoua engages Sweta and her classmates as they begin the first social empowerment module – Women’s Solidarity. Sweta learns about social networks, and the value of working together in groups.
Sweta also begins her classes with numeracy training, a first step to learning business skills. Around the room, posters show numerals in Dari and English. By learning both sets of numbers, Sweta and her classmates can use calculators and cellphones and read the price of goods in the market. Her teacher helps Sweta as she practices writing 1, 2, 3, 4…
Sweta receives her first $10 monthly training stipend.
It is more money than she has ever received at once. She plans to buy pens and notebooks for her children. Looking at the bill in her hand, she smiles as she realizes she can read the number “10.”
As they progress through Women’s Solidary, Fadoua engages the classmates in sensitive conversations about conflict and violence and how women are uniquely affected by wars. They also learn about overcoming conflict and through role plays, practice how they can resolve conflicts among themselves.
At home, Sweta begins to share things she is learning in class, like adding and subtracting single digit numbers, with her husband and children.
Sweta finishes her numeracy classes. She can now add and subtract larger numbers using both a pencil and paper and a calculator.
Fadoua introduces new concepts in the next module around the Value of Women’s Work. Sweta learns how her unpaid work at home has value, and how women and men could accomplish more if they shared household responsibilities.
This month, Sweta and her family celebrate Nowruz, the Afghan New Year. Looking ahead, she and her classmates each create an individual participant plan. In it, Sweta decides she wants to learn tailoring vocational skills training from Women for Women International to help her earn an income. She also sets income and savings goals.
With her new confidence, Sweta begins to learn about household finances, opportunities to earn income, and how to set and reach her financial goals through saving, both individually and in groups.
Sweta is introduced to the concept of a savings group where women save their money together and can borrow from that bigger pool of money. Sweta has never been to a bank – her husband controls all of the household money – so this concept is quite intriguing.
With her $10 stipend every month, Sweta has been buying extra food for her children, but she starts to imagine putting some money aside, maybe even in a savings group.
The leader of a local women’s association visits her class to talk about how women are combining their talent and resources to earn money.
Sweta is inspired, and thinks she may want to join an association, too.
“What are common health challenges in our community?”
Sweta’s class begins the third social empowerment module – Health and Wellness. Her friends share stories of sick children, problems with pregnancy, and the lack of a hospital nearby.
Sweta learns about basic hygiene and sanitation.
She learns that flies carry diseases and convinces her husband to use some of the savings from her training stipend for nets for their windows.
For the next eight months, she will learn tailoring as a vocational skill, starting with: an overview of the sewing machine, drawing patterns, using scissors, stitching, and evaluating cloth quality.
Sweta and her classmates share more about the challenges in their lives. They talk about sources of stress: street harassment, being hurt by a family member, poverty, and the loss of loved ones.
“Before this, we were isolated from each other even though we lived in the same village. Now, we have become like a big family.”
Sweta and her classmates encourage each other and feel stronger knowing they are not alone. Their trainer Fadoua shares ways they can manage stress and resources for additional support. Six months in, Sweta trusts her classmates and feels safe sharing her life story with them.
As tailoring lessons continue, Sweta learns more about business and entrepreneurship, initiative and risk. With few job opportunities for women, Sweta knows she will rely on these skills for income.
“How many here are mothers?”
Nearly all the women raise their hands. As they discuss reproductive health, Sweta realizes that despite being a mother, there is a lot she never knew.
She had three children within four years and her last pregnancy was difficult. For her health, she talks with her husband about spacing childbirth.
Sweta practices developing a household budget in class, and then reviews it with her husband at home. He is surprised at her new skills and together they discuss how to plan for the next month.
Sweta’s tailoring skills training has continued.
She’s learned how to cut and pleat pants. It is difficult for women to sell directly in the markets, so she thinks working in a group will be the best way to connect with local sellers and earn money.
“Why do you think women are treated differently?”
Sweta’s class begins the fourth social empowerment module -- Gender Equality, Rights and Decision Making.
Sweta’s class discusses gender equality, and how women can change perceptions in their communities, starting with how they raise their children, and how boys and girls are treated differently.
Within her new savings group, Sweta starts to think about saving for her daughter’s education. In her community, only boys go to school. But she wants a better future for her little Amina.
Sweta’s class visits a women’s economic center in the community, and she and the tailor business woman discuss cost of cloth, pricing of different items and the local market.
In her tailoring class, she practices sewing sleeves and collars onto dresses and becomes confident that her tailoring skills will earn her an income.
In the safe space of their class, Sweta and her friends learn they have the same rights as men, surprising many of them.
They talk about times when their rights were denied.
Sweta has found 10 women who want to start a tailoring association with her.
In their final business skills classes, they learn about bookkeeping and business financing, a new concept for Sweta. She sees how important it will be to her association’s success.
Sweta and her classmates talk about how much they have already supported each other this year, from helping with sick children to pooling funds for a friend in need, and more.
In a particularly difficult class, Fadoua talks to the class about gender-based violence. The women discuss the causes and consequences of this violence. Several women raise their hands and share their stories of being verbally or sexually abused, even by their husbands. Fadoua talks with each one of them after class and counsels them on where to find services.
In her business skills class, Sweta learns the practical skills of organizing and running an association.
In tailoring class, she completes her first vest and practices making coats. She is looking forward to reviewing key aspects of a tailoring business, to help her association start strong.
At home, Sweta and her husband talk through difficulties they have had in their marriage and how to work on resolving them.
As Sweta begins the last social empowerment module – Women Influencing Decisions in their Community – she and her classmates discuss the importance of raising women’s voices in their communities.
“Women can do anything!”
Sweta and her class learn that a former participant and trainer is now a Provincial Council Member, inspiring Sweta to vote in the next election.
Sweta finishes her vocational training in tailoring, eager to begin work with her association. They decide on a name – The Future Makers – and elect Sweta as president.
Seeing how much Sweta has grown and how their family has become stronger over the last year, her husband encourages her to keep learning, and begins teaching her how to read in the evenings.
In their final classes, Sweta and her class learn about different pathways that women can take to make change in their community, and the basics elements of an advocacy campaign, including how to identify a problem that is facing the community.
Together with her classmates, Sweta decide that the biggest problem in their community is the need for a local women’s health clinic. They decide to plan to petition their council to support building one.
Sweta and her classmates celebrate their graduation from the yearlong program.
She feels a rush of pride as she receives the first education certificate she has ever earned. With all she has learned, she is excited to begin the next chapter, hopeful for the future.
A year after graduation, Sweta is proud of all she has accomplished and the difference that has made for her family and community. Her tailoring association has grown. They are busy filling orders from local merchants and saving to buy more sewing machines.
With the income, Sweta and her friends are investing in their families. They support each other through difficult times and encourage each other to reach for new goals.
At home, Sweta and her husband work together on ideas to expand her business.
They are saving for their children’s education, raising them to believe that girls and boys, women and men, should be treated equally. In her savings group, Sweta has put aside $75 for her daughter Amina’s school fees.
Concerned by the lack of a local clinic Sweta is working with her association to petition their provincial council for one. Looking ahead, Sweta feels confident in her ability to face whatever future obstacles come her way, and to work toward making her dreams a reality.