Forced into marriage at 15, Zarquona was widowed one year later and unable to care for her newborn daughter. But when she joined Women for Women International, her faith in the future was restored. Thanks to the business skills she learned, Zarquona is now an entrepreneur making a tremendous difference in the lives of the women around her. She employs 120 local women, helping her neighbors become financially independent. By helping a woman like Zarquona, you can improve the lives of many others, creating a ripple affect of hope and prosperity that reaches hundreds more women in the nations we serve.
In every country where Women for Women International works, the food crisis is a life or death reality for the women we serve. For instance, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has said that at least 18 million of Afghanistan's estimated 26.6 million people, mostly women and children, cannot meet their daily food and nutritional requirements.
At the Clinton Global Initiative meeting, which brought together world leaders and NGOs to discuss practical solutions to development problems, Secretary of State Clinton addressed the dire circumstances of food security worldwide. She said she plans to focus agriculture development efforts increasingly on investing in women farmers and women-run agribusinesses.
Women work to produce 60-80% of the world's crops, but they only own 1% of all the land (UN). This inequity means that women do the vast majority of the work, but get the least amount of credit. The issue of food insecurity has become even more urgent as a result of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, which, according to FAO, forced another 100 million people into extreme poverty. As a result, there are now over 1 billion people suffering from hunger around the world, or nearly a sixth of the human population.
Through our experience and research, it has become clear that agribusiness holds great potential for many of our women; it provides a model to simultaneously address income generation and food security, two critical issues for socially excluded women and their families. To help us develop and implement agribusiness opportunities, Agribusiness Specialist Dr. Grace F. Fisiy brings 20 years of agricultural and rural development experience to Women for Women International.
During her first few months with us, Grace traveled to Rwanda to launch our first ever Commercial Integrated Farming Initiative (CIFI), a program designed to provide specialized, sustainable agribusiness opportunities to program participants.
CIFI will provide 3,000 women over the course of three years with training in how to use sustainable farming practices to grow crops that can both be sold for profit in the local market and feed their families. So far we have been able to secure funding to pilot CIFI in both Rwanda and Sudan. Based on the success of those pilots, we have launched a third program in Afghanistan.
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 ProgramWomen 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:
MethodologyMen’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
Women for Women International provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other
conflicts with the resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability, self-sufficiency
and active citizenship, thereby promoting viable civil societies. Since 1993, the
organization has provided more than 153,000 women survivors of war with its tiered
programme of direct financial and emotional support, rights awareness, vocational and
technical skills training, and access to income-generation tools.
In an effort to further improve women’s lives, WfWI has identified three progressive
stages in the journey to active citizenship: 1) creating awareness, 2) promoting
behaviour-change and 3) enabling action. After equipping women with increased
confidence, knowledge and skills, WfWI’s programme promotes behaviour change—
impelling women to pursue economic opportunities, participate in family and community
decision-making, maintain their physical and psychological wellness and form and/or
join women’s (and/or community) groups. This individual behaviour change can then be
harnessed to enable broader women-led community change.
Women for Women International launched its activities in Afghanistan
in 2002 and has since served more than 37,388 women, benefiting an additional
201,895 family and community members. Past and present locations served include
Afshar, Balkh, Dashti Barchi, Herat, Kabul, Kamari, Kapisa, Khairkhana, Mazar-e-Sharif,
Parwan, Shari-naw, Shina, and Wardak. The main office is located in Kabul. Specific
programme activities include Sponsorship, Rights Awareness and Life Skills Training,
Health and Traditional Birth Attendant Training, Literacy Training, Vocational and
Technical Skills Development, Income-Generation Assistance, and Microfinance.
Women for Women International’s ongoing work in Afghanistan stems from the
unflagging belief that stronger women build stronger nations.
Investing in Women is the Key to Solving Development Challenges in Afghanistan
Women for Women International is a global, grassroots women’s organization that provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources they need to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency. Since 1993, Women for Women International has served over 250,000 women worldwide and distributed over $79 million in direct aid, program services and micro-credit loans. Women for Women International currently has field operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Rwanda, Nigeria, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Women for Women International Afghanistan (WfWI – Afghanistan) launched program operations in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2002, with a vision to economically empower Afghan women and help open opportunities for them to actively participate in the reconstruction of their communities, country and economy. “Once women are economically empowered, they can use their voice to speak for themselves,” says WfWI – Afghanistan Country Director Sweeta Noori. Historically, Afghan women have experienced enormous obstacles, such as poverty, lack of education or healthcare and violence both in and outside their homes. Women for Women International believes that a nation cannot prosper, nor can peace be sustained, without the full participation of women. Thus, our year-long core program offers health and literacy training, vocational and technical skills development, rights awareness and life skills as well as income generation assistance. Participants to our programs include widows, victims of human trafficking, single heads of household, returnees and internally displaced persons. Over 27,000 women have accessed program services in our Afghanistan country office.
Rights Awareness Education and Vocational Skills Development
The women of Afghanistan understand the value of education and job training. When they enroll in Women for Women International’s program, they dream of using the education and the skills they learn to earn an income and improve their family situation. They also receive rights awareness training to help them understand their rights—according to both national and family law—so they may become more active participants in family and community decision-making processes. These sessions also serve to unite women and build a support system that strengthens solidarity and enables them to advocate on behalf of themselves and the group. Finally, a critical component to WfWI programming is building and strengthening women’s vocational and technical skills targeted to identified market opportunities. Local instructors provide training in areas such as jewelry making, shoe making, animal husbandry, tailoring, stone cutting and many others. At graduation, women can elect to access credit through Women for Women are key to job creation and stimulating private sector development that will engage women in the rebuilding of Afghanistan’s economy.
Currently, there are 6,600 women participating in WfWI – Afghanistan’s year-long program. After graduation, these women will have access to business start-up advisory services, as well as access to capital and input supplies. They will also be trained in the formation of cooperatives, legal registration of businesses, and they will be educated on microfinance opportunities. Microfinance has emerged in recent decades as one of the more successful methods of stimulating developing economies by providing financial services to the poor, particularly poor women who are more likely to reinvest their loans into their families or communities. In 2005, WfWI – Afghanistan established its microfinance program to provide women access to micro-credit loans and help them establish small businesses and other income generating enterprises. The program has a current loan portfolio of $2,417,512 and so far over 60,000 women have been served at a repayment rate of over 99%.
Food Security and Agriculture
Afghanistan is one of the least food-secure countries in the world. Farming is constrained by non-arable land, extreme weather, and skyrocketing food prices. To combat Afghanistan’s growing food crisis and position women at the forefront of its solution, WfWI-Afghanistan is piloting a new income generation program known as Commercial Integrated Farming initiative, where women are given the tools and resources they need to produce high-value crops for commercial markets. Our commercial farming initiative was initially launched in Rwanda and Sudan in 2008 to provide Sudanese and Rwandese women with organic agricultural and cooperative development skills to enable them to grow food and generate income for long-term economic and food security. The success of CIFI in Sudan and Rwanda was remarkable. In Sudan for example, nearly 80% of participants were on-track to earn double per-capita GDP at the end of only six months. This is a critical shift against a global context where 70% of the world’s smallholder farmers are women, who yet own less than 2% of the world’s land and customarily survive at only subsistence levels of agriculture. Given the severe levels of poverty and hunger in Afghanistan, we are now implementing this innovative program for Afghan women who are being trained in animal husbandry and crop production . As more women are trained to be skilled farmers in the rebuilding of Afghanistan’s agricultural sector, they will not only be at the center of agricultural and economic development, but they will also be the driving force in reversing the devastating poverty that is killing more Afghans than the conflict (OHCHR). Afghanistan is currently the second poorest country in the world and nearly a third of the population is unable to get enough food to live on. Afghan women are particularly vulnerable to hunger since only 38 percent of Afghan women are economically active.
Engaging Men as Advocates for Women’sRights
While Women for Women International’s primary mission is to give women the tools and resources they need to rebuild their lives, we have seen in our 17 years of experience that they are only able to do so when all members of the community—including men—are fully engaged in the dialogue about women’s rights and value to the society. Thus, Women for Women International has developed an innovative program to work with influential male community leaders to raise awareness about the importance of women’s rights and contributions to the community and economy. In Afghanistan, Women for Women International has worked with more than 400 Afghan mullahs to help them understand how valuable women’s education and economic empowerment is, and how it is encouraged—not forbidden—in Islam. They then incorporate these themes into their Friday speeches, sharing this important message of the far-reaching benefits of women’s full social and economic participation with their congregations, thereby spreading a ripple effect of awareness around women’s rights throughout the community.
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