Women for Women International

In countries affected by conflict and war, Women for Women International supports the most marginalized women to earn and save money, improve health and well-being, influence decisions in their home and community, and connect to networks for support. By utilizing skills, knowledge, and resources, she is able to create sustainable change for herself, her family, and community.
Jul 5, 2011

Overview of Women for Women's Work in Sudan

Bakery House in Rumbek
Bakery House in Rumbek

Women for Women International launched operations in southern Sudan, an area almost entirely without basic infrastructure, such as roads, health facilities or schools. The media and international community have focused much of their attention on Darfur. However, that region is only one piece of a complex puzzle and it appears that much of the world has very little understanding of the devastating reality beyond Darfur. Women for Women International sent an assessment team to Sudan in July 2005 to evaluate the feasibility of helping the country's socially excluded women rebuild their lives, families and communities after conflict. What began as a two-week trip has turned into a long-term commitment to working in southern Sudan. We witnessed Sudan's harsh realities firsthand. We found a vast country with a tangled and complex history of conflict history that you can see on the faces of the Sudanese people.

We conducted extensive interviews with women at the grassroots level and met with representatives from the government and community based organizations (CBOs). We confirmed reports that women are bearing the brunt of the horror, suffering through unthinkable acts of gender-based violence and sexual slavery, trying to manage survival for them and their families in what were often subhuman living conditions. Amid the horror stories, we also found hope. We discovered a strong civil society and an organized women’s movement with clear optimism for the future of Sudan and keen insight into what is needed to make those hopes a reality. If the international community plans to assist with the country’s reconstruction in any meaningful way, it must seek the wisdom and counsel of Sudanese women.

History of Conflict

Sudan gained its independence from the United Kingdom and Egypt in 1956. It has spent most of the years since then embroiled in what has been called “one of Africa’s longest running civil wars.” A Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in January 2005, which achieved a fragile peace between rebel forces in southern Sudan and the government in Khartoum, but the protracted violence and insecurity have devastated Sudan’s infrastructure and the country currently ranks near the bottom of nearly all development indices. What makes the situation in Sudan so complex is that there are currently three separate, highly volatile situations in different parts of the country. While there are hopes that the CPA will help to stabilize the country as a whole, it only directly addresses the situation in the South. Sudan’s Darfur region is in the western part of the country, near the border with Chad. In 2004, the United States government issued a statement saying that violence in Darfur had risen to the level of genocide.4 The United Nations is expected to dispatch a contingent of peacekeepers to the Darfur region to supplement existing forces from the African Union. While the international community focuses on Darfur, Sudanese people in other parts of the country are trying to maintain the fragile peace as they begin rebuilding their country.

Issues and Needs Identified by Sudanese Women

The following issues are those most frequently mentioned by the women we interviewed as being critical to the country’s future: income generation and employment opportunities for women; girls’ education and illiteracy among women; access to resources, including water, electricity, housing and jobs; customary and family laws regarding early marriage, wife inheritance, ghost marriage and criminal ramifications of adultery, polygamy and divorce rights; gender-based violence; and women’s health, including HIV/AIDS, female genital cutting, reproductive health and maternal and infant mortality and morbidity.

We spoke with Sudanese women’s organizations that are deeply committed to these issues. These organizations are also in dire need of resources and support to build and sustain their organizational capacities. They identified the following primary needs: expand the reach and resources of

CBOs through international partnerships; train women leaders in advocacy, coalition-building strategies and negotiation skills; launch a national advocacy program about the importance of including women in reconstruction and transitional development agendas at the local, regional and national levels; promote organizational and staff development with tools and financial resources that improve institutional capacity.

A Window of Opportunity

A critical window of opportunity exists for women’s participation in the development and reconstruction of Sudan. During our assessment, we uncovered both a great need and a great desire for our services and resources, particularly in southern Sudan. Not only has the protracted civil war destroyed any semblance of infrastructure, but the area has some of the highest female illiteracy and malnutrition rates in the world. Over the last several months, internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees have begun to return to southern Sudan. It is expected that more than a third of Sudan’s two million IDPs will ultimately return to this region as Southern Sudan secedes from the rest of the country. Economic opportunities for women are vital in making sure that women are fully involved at all levels of society as Southern Sudan establishes itself as the world's newest nation. Despite the devastation wrought by protracted conflict, the population, especially women, is eager and hopeful for change. Women for Women International aims to use our expertise with women and post-conflict societies to help integrate socially excluded women and women’s organizations in Sudan’s reconstruction and development.

Bread oven in Rumbek
Bread oven in Rumbek

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Nov 23, 2010

Congolese Women Speak Out Against Violence

Congolese Women Speak Out Against Violence
The Women for Women International Stronger Women, Stronger Nations: DR Congo Report

For the women of eastern DR Congo, a conflict more deadly than any since World War II has brought years of displacement, impoverishment and a cruel campaign of sexual violence as a tool of war that continues unabated today. The conflict has:

  • Contributed to the deaths of more than 5 million people
  • Left 2 million more displaced and
  • Resulted in more than 1,000 women and girls raped each month in some areas.

In policy discussions and news headlines, we rarely hear of the stories of these women—the real heroes in the daily struggle to keep families safe and children fed. Instead, we often hear discussions about the frontlines of war, about military strategies and troop numbers, without acknowledging that real life still goes on during war.

The Stronger Women, Stronger Nations: DR Congo Report

It is the voices of these women, 2,000 socially excluded survivors of war, that we sought to discover and amplify through the Stronger Women, Stronger Nations: DR Congo report.

Their stories underline the importance of women’s full inclusion in securing peace and development. Their recommendations call on their government and the international community to take leadership in ending nearly two decades of conflict that has decimated women’s bodies and entire communities, so that the work building a more peaceful and prosperous country can begin.

Their tales of survival and perseverance are a searing case study in the importance of the three P’s, the core tenets of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace and security:

  • Prevention of conflict
  • Protection of women and girls
  • Participation by women in peace processes

View Stronger Women, Stronger Nations: DR Congo report highlights below, or read the full report to take a deeper look into Africa’s deadliest conflict through the eyes of the Congolese women.

Violence and Insecurity

The women we spoke with point to rampant violence and insecurity as major impediments to their physical and mental health, and to the survival of themselves and their families. Nearly half fear working outside their homes and believe insecurity is the worst economic problem facing their communities.

When asked what needs to be done to improve the situation, women say they need:

  • Increased security so that they can leave their homes to work and so that their children can attend school and enjoy community life.
  • Leaders to tackle the culture of impunity where perpetrators of sexual violence roam free in the country.
  • Urgent measures to protect them from the violence perpetrated by the many dangerous and shifting eastern DR Congo militarized groups.

Livelihoods and Education

Due to husbands’ deaths, displacement or rejection of victims of sexual violence, Congolese women are increasingly called upon to serve as primary breadwinners and heads of households. Yet, they are trapped in a double bind in which they cannot leave their homes to trade in markets and farm in fields for fear of attacks.

In the context of the horrific violence in eastern DR Congo, the importance of investing in women’s livelihoods programs is often overlooked. Yet, data from the survey demonstrated the importance of livelihood in improving women’s lives. Women who earn even a small income see dividends in their physical and mental health, nutrition and wellbeing of their families:

  • Of the women who earn $1 a day, less than 30% eat two meals a day. This number increases to more than 50% among those who earn more.
  • Women who earn more are also more likely to save for their future, promoting stability and improving the quality of life for women and their families.
  • Women also point to livelihoods as helpful in preventing violence: “Husbands rarely find reasons for beating their wives when they return home to some warm food and a clean house, a task that becomes easy when wives are earning,” one focus group participant shared.
  • Women emphasized the need for targeted economic development programs that help women, such as job-skills training with micro loans to support their economic, physical and mental well-being.

Health and Well-Being

Exposure to prolonged violence and poverty has resulted in one of the worst health indicators in the world. Women still die from childbirth and easily-preventable, pregnancy-related complications like obstetric fistula. The region is also home to a less-recognized yet urgent mental-health epidemic: for instance, of the more than ¾ of the women surveyed who make less than $1 per day, 70% think of hurting themselves.

Women demand concrete, practical recommendations for improving the severely inadequate health services sector. They want free, affordable and accessible healthcare. For the future, they want an increased focus on building capacity through more technical training facilities.

Participation and Decision-Making

Women in our programs report more rights awareness and higher rates of happiness, family decision-making, physical and emotional health and living conditions compared to women who have not participated in our programs. They also earn 40% more money, suggesting the power of group participation and skills-building opportunities for women.

When asked about what’s important, women highlight the role of rights awareness in women’s empowerment. Without adequate knowledge and resources, women cannot demand for their rights and for greater government accountability.

Nov 18, 2010

Engaging Men to Protect Women's Rights

Engaging Men to Promote Women’s Rights

During conflict, women are significantly responsible for maintaining the family unit to survive. It is for this reason that they are also targeted for exploitation. After the conflict, women survivors of war and gender based violence must overcome adversity in order to keep the family and community together. Women for Women International believes that women, who not only disproportionately bear the brunt of war, are also society’s bellwethers. When women are empowered in education and employment, society as a whole benefits. When women are deprived of opportunities and trapped in cycles of victimization, it is only a matter of time before social stability is at risk.

However, merely facilitating women’s empowerment is not enough to bring lasting change to communities. Women are members of families and communities and cannot effect change single-handedly. To further facilitate an environment to promote women’s rights and community participation, WfWI designed the supplemental Men’s Leadership Program (MLP) to target male leaders in critical sectors of society.

WfWI understands that in order to achieve our ultimate goal—establishing viable civil societies where men and women work together as partners in peace and prosperity—we cannot afford to overlook opportunities for women and men to work together for change.

The Men’s Leadership Program
Women for Women International’s Men’s Leadership Program sensitizes male leaders to crucial women’s rights issues and prepares them to leverage their community influence on behalf of women. Covering topics on post-war community rebuilding, violence against women, reproductive and family health, and women’s community participation, MLP session topics and the following objectives are tailored to each country’s specific circumstances and gender relations:

  • Train and educate community and traditional leaders on violence against women and its impact on the community
  • Enhance the capacity of community and traditional leaders to develop strategies to address the varied impact of violence against women on the community
  • Build awareness of how leaders can be more responsive to issues of concern to different sectors of their communities/constituencies
  • Help leaders become more aware of the factors affecting the development of their communities, ranging from economic and political participation of women, to health issues such as HIV/AIDS
  • Give leaders a forum in which to discuss their ideas for a stronger community where men and women are equally respected and valued

Methodology
Men’s Leadership Program participants are culled from traditionally male dominated critical sectors of society. These sectors often include government, religious groups, police, military, traditional institutions, and civil society. The leadership roles that these men hold in their communities allow them to reach out to other men and spread awareness and mobilize men to actively advocate for greater respect of women’s rights, thereby facilitating community development by engaging both men and women as partners. 

MLP training typically begins with 50 male leaders, known as “Level One” participants, who are trained by WfWI staff or specially trained Men’s Leadership consultants. They are trained on topics including the value of women and girls, female participation in family and community decision-making, violence against women, and personal and family health.

The second stage of the MLP focuses on training participants on how to further educate men in their respective constituencies. Upon completing the MLP, each “Level One” participant commits to training at least 10 to 15 other local men, called “Level Two” participants, on MLP topics. MLP participants thus become agents of change in their communities.

Functional working groups, the third component of the MLP, allow community and traditional leaders to develop strategies to promote women’s participation in family and community life and to stem the tide of gender-based violence. These working  groups are comprised of MLP participants, as well as local men and women community members who come together to share ideas on how to promote women’s rights, prevent gender-based violence, and protect victims of rape and sexual violence from stigmatization and exclusion. Working groups provide a forum for community members at various levels of the community’s social strata to work together toward practical and viable solutions to gender inequity and violence against women in their communities.

Women for Women International believes that when women are well, sustain an income, are decision-makers, and have strong social networks and safety-nets, they are in a much stronger position to advocate for their rights. Their stronger position will not be able to sustain itself without the active engagement from male traditional, civic, and military leaders. When women and men understand and advocate for women’s rights and participation in society, dramatic change is possible.

The Women for Women International Men’s Leadership Program has trained over 2,100 male community leaders in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Nigeria

“During the conflict and war in Afghanistan, relationships between men and women became worse. Men do not respect women as human beings, and incidents of violence and abuse against women have increased. Women are used to resolve debts or conflicts between families – men who cannot pay back their loans will give their sisters or daughters to the lender instead, while the women involved have no say in the matter.” – Sweeta Noori; WfWI-Afghanistan Country Director

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