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.
Sep 28, 2009

Stories from Afghan Women

Anisa Anisa is 28 years old and lives in Parwan Province, Afghanistan. She lives with her husband of 11 years and her three children. Their home has running water, but no electricity and the nearest market is 20 minutes away on foot.

More than anything, Anisa stresses the importance of education for herself and her children. She has two daughters and one son, and she and her husband hope to have at least two more children. Anisa is pleased with the improvement in the availability of education for Afghans but there is more to be done, especially for women like herself who have never been to school before. “If I could tell President Obama about women, I would tell him to help Afghan women to be educated,” she said.

All of Anisa’s kids are in school, it’s very important to her that she see her children receive the education she never had. “Girls should go to school in order to be educated,” she said. “We need [education] for female doctors in the future.” Educating women to become doctors is particularly important in Afghanistan. After decades of preventing women from being educated, all Afghan doctors are male. Yet in Afghanistan, men and women are not allowed to be alone in a room together, even as doctor and patient. This means that when a woman goes to the doctor, she must be accompanied by her husband, impinging on her privacy or, worse still, she must sit behind a curtain and explain her ailments to the doctor without him examining her physically. This of course leads to inaccurate diagnoses and generally poor healthcare for women.

She began Women for Women International’s program in January and has been a participant for nearly six months now. “I have learned many useful lessons about women’s rights,” she said, “and I really like tailoring class!” Like the majority of Afghan women who enter the WfWI-Afghanistan program, Anisa faces discrimination and reduced freedoms because she is a woman. Although voting is legally open to all Afghans above the age of 18, including women, Anisa says that she does not vote because she “is not allowed.” When leaving the house, she must first consult her husband and can only go out accompanied by her son. But the education she is receiving from Women for Women is already helping to empower her to understand her rights as an Afghan woman. “Both men and women are equal, and women can also work and study,” she says. “Everyone can live free, get education, and work.”

Marzari Marzari is 32-years-old andhas been with Women for Women International-Afghanistan for nearly six months. She lives in Kapisa with her husband of 20 years and seven children. Although she was married at age 12 to a man she had never met before, she describes their marriage as a happy partnership. “He is a very kind man…we do not do anything until we discuss with each other.”

Things have improved for Marzari and her family in the past five years. She has running water and electricity in her home, and all of her children are in school, including her three daughters. “Before, my husband was jobless and my children were not in school. Now they are, and my husband is working as well.”

Marzari says that the situation for Afghan women has improved as well. Now she is able to leave her house by herself as she pleases. She is learning her rights through WfWI-Afghanistan’s rights awareness training, and knows that women and men are equals. “Everyone can live free, can work and study,” she says.

An educated woman herself, Marzari stresses the importance of sending her seven children to school. Marzari went to school until the 11th grade, but at that time she was still barred from furthering her education and finding employment. Now, as Afghanistan undergoes reconstruction, Marzari is aware of the opportunities that may be open to her daughters as they grow up in the new Afghanistan. “Both my sons and my daughters are in school. Girls should be educated as well because the government will need them.”

Marzari is proof that the opinions of Afghan women should be taken into consideration as Afghanistan continues the process of reconstruction. She demonstrates her understanding of the current security situation in Afghanistan and prioritizes national police- and national army-training as a means of increased security. Women like Marzari are hopeful that they and their daughters will have increased opportunity to voice their opinions and take an active role in securing the future of Afghanistan.

Safiya, 17 – Safiya is a 17 year old girl living in Nijro province. She is in school and has been with Women for Women International – Afghanistan (WfWI-Afghanistan) for almost one year. Safiya represents a new generation of Afghan women, allowed to pursue an education and who at nearly 18 remains unmarried with no children. Safiya is aware of this new role, she says, “[Afghanistan] has changed a lot, especially in education.”

But she and her family continue to live in debilitating poverty. While she has access to healthcare, education and other services and commodities, Safiya must walk at least 40 minutes to her school and to the nearest health clinic. Forced to live on rental property, Safiya says of her situation, “We have economical problems. [My family needs] a house, it is very urgent.”

Safiya is becoming educated about women’s rights and voting from Women for Women. Not yet 18, she is not legally allowed to acquire a voting card yet but plans to when she is old enough. But Safiya is wise despite her youth. “Even though I am not completely 18, [my] view point is a good leader is a person who serves his homeland.” Her greatest wish for the next ten years in her homeland is for the restoration of peace and security. “We have 50 percent security in Afghanistan, not 100 percent. When our national police and national army really serve our homeland then security will improve; if they continue to take bribes, it is not possible.”

Safiya’s education has increased her awareness of the gender disparities Afghan women face. “Both men and women have equal rights, but usually men do not accept this matter.” This is the reality for most Afghan women. Despite strides made in women’s access to education and being given the legal right to vote, Afghan society often dictates otherwise. “Sometime it is very difficult for women, like when men force them to do something and they don’t want to…and even they are not allowed getting out of the house.” Knowledgeable young women like Safiya inspire hope in the eyes of many Afghan women. She is well educated and confident in her vision for the future of Afghanistan. Continuing to invest in the futures of women like Safiya help to ensure a stronger future for Afghanistan and for Afghan women.

Sep 28, 2009

Women's Stories: Francine & Leonie

Francine Francine Mawazo M'Cibwanda is a20-year-old married woman. She has so far received 9 letters from her sponsor and has sent 4 letters. The letters from my sponsor are the most precious object I keep, Francine said. They give me comfort, insight, and hope for life. I have discovered that my sister and I are sharing the same challenges, actually in the emotional life.

My sponsor wrote to me that she is married for about 4 years, but she has never had any child either. My contribution as she wrote to me about that, I feel that I should pray for her as she also needs prayers for a child. Note that Francine had delivered 3 times under cesarean, but all her children die before she leaves the maternity. Prior joining the program she could felt miserable, without any hope and joy. The fact that my sister support me while going to a similar situation is a breath of life. On top of that the training in the topic “stress management” which align with the advice from my sister have been a lot of support for me to regain hope of life and see life positively as my sister does. As I have been the most privileged in my group to receive many letters from my sister, my group mates envy her, they wished to have such a deep connection with their sisters too. I wrote 4 letters only because we must write every quarter and because I put all my thought summarized in one letter so that it remains interesting to my sister.

Following the fact that I recover joy, and contribute to the income of my family, my husband has become supportive and does not see the loss we had by not having children. Actually, I work on a renting farm with her husband, in which they grow cassava, potatoes and amaranths. She uses her sponsorship funds to buy fertilizer for her farm and satisfy some other primary needs. My dream is soon to buy that land for further use.

I was trainer in soap making which will be the second source of income for me on top of the agriculture activities which are permanent needs in my community.

Leonie Leonie Biralo M’Mpango is a 42-year old rape survivor. She has received 3 letters from her sister and sponsors Amy and had sent 3 also. The letters have been for a great emotional support. Letters tell more because one could seat, take time, think about words to comfort and please one and for me this is what had been so emotional, to see that someone who does not know me can take time to write to me or my husband does not have even time to listen to my pain, worries, despair”, she said.

She gave birth to 11 children, but 5 died because of hard life conditions and ignorance. She has 3 boys and 3 girls. 2 boys and a girl are in school. She was raped twice in her house. The first time by 2 men, the second time 5 did. She got pregnant from the latter and gave birth to a baby boy Elie whom she is still feeding on breasts. Elie is 2 years old. She said she was in terrible grief and had permanent worries when she was pregnant because she only thought of death at delivery. But she delivered safely and felt a great relief. When she was raped the second time, her husband said she would no longer remain with a wife of the Hutu Interahamwe and that he would remain with his other 2 wives. Leonie was left in his misery starving with his other 5 children.

When a Women for Women team went for enrollment in Kalulu village, Leonie got enrolled in Orhaciyumya group. Since she got the training on women’s rights and that of Stress management, they washed her worries out, and she left her isolation to start sensitizing other women in her environment about women’s rights, and women building solidarity network for unity and development. She therefore became president of the solidarity group which they named “Abagwasinye” which means, people who are in mutual comfort. She said they did this to avoid women’s rights violation in their community, Kahave, but also to believe that women can be a comfort to others in such an safe environment.

She holds meetings and sometimes invites the Head of their county to attend the meetings so that he can know the kind of development they are doing. She said a woman who misses the meeting without sending an excuse, she is sent to work in a farm of a vulnerable other woman a day. They farm for other people and generate income for the group. They buy cloths which they share or food. She did animal husbandry for vocational skills training and she sells very small dried fish which other women come to buy at her place.

She hopes she will work hard in animal husbandry and agriculture to grant her children good education levels. Her 2 first sons said they wish to become nurses in town.

Sep 28, 2009

Alice's Story

Once a participant in the Women for Women International program, Alice is now a literacy trainer with the DRC chapter. Born in Burundi, Alice was a long-time victim of tribal discrimination and, later, domestic violence at the hand of her husband. She was forced to flee with her sick baby boy to South Kivu in the DRC after a particularly violent beating by her husband. As refugees, Alice and her son were given no assistance and her son eventually died. She started as a participant with WfWI-DRC in March 2008 and excelled in her classes. Now, she teaches other women about domestic violence and was recently hired by WfWI-DRC as a literacy trainer. She now makes enough money to sustain herself and her daughter.

When you meet Alice Kiza Nahayo, you’ll find her full of glowing optimism. As a successful, joyful, and confident literacy trainer for Women for Women International-DRC, it’s hard to imagine the tragedies she has endured throughout her life. Yet Alice has had a long journey – she actually started out in the Women for Women International family as a participant. The depth of her personal triumph is apparent when she tells her story of survival from an orphan and victim of gender-based violence and rebirth as a loving mother and teacher.

Born in Burundi in 1968, Alice was orphaned in early childhood and raised under the harsh realities of a racist headmistress in an orphanage torn by Hutu and Tutsi tribal tensions. Brutal tribal conflicts govern the region where Alice, a Tutsi minority, grew up, and eventually lead to the horrifying Rwandan genocide of 1994. Alice experienced harsh discrimination in the orphanage that she is unable to describe to this day. She married as a young woman, eager to leave the hardships of her childhood behind, and became optimistic that she would finally feel at home in a place where she belonged. Alice was happy with her four children and felt that her life would be forever changed.

But after the birth of her fourth child, Alice’s husband began to beat and insult her daily. Her husband’s family mistreated her as well. One day, Alice’s husband beat her so badly that her right arm was broken; he set fire to her high school diploma, her prized possession and a symbol of her past achievements. With nowhere to turn, Alice escaped to Uvira, a city the province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). She fled with her youngest son, who was quite ill at the time and for whose safety she was also very concerned.

Although she was now safe from the violence and discrimination of her husband and his family, Alice had few options for survival upon arrival in Uvira. As refugees, she and her son were given no assistance. As a woman and a Tutsi, options for employment were difficult to come by for Alice. They were without food, shelter, and her son’s poor health condition was worsening by the day. Eventually he died and Alice buried him in their new home. She was devastated. She felt that there was nothing left for her. That’s when Women for Women International-DRC (WfWI-DRC) found Alice.

Alice began as a participant in the WfWI-DRC program in March 2008, receiving direct financial aid, rights awareness and vocational skills training and psychosocial support from other participants, trainers, and her sponsor. At first, Alice was shy, sickly, and incapable of sharing her experiences with the group. Over time, the warm and familial atmosphere shared by the women participants in the Women for Women program drew Alice out of her shell and allowed her to become more confident and more willing to speak about and overcome her past tragedies. Her favorite subject was that of women’s rights, which sparked her interests and allowed her to regain her self-esteem.

Alice’s new-found confidence gave her the courage to share her knowledge and empower other participants in the WfWI-DRC program. She began to teach the other women about the realities of domestic violence, herself a survivor of life-threatening beatings by her husband. She excelled in her vocational skills training in culinary arts. The program staff considered her to be one of the most dynamic members of her group, a fact confirmed when she was invited to train fellow women in the program. She is now a literacy trainer for other women in the WfWI-DRC program.

“I am very happy to have been socially integrated in the community of my refuge,” Alice said of her experience with Women for Women in Uvira. “I am able to earn an income to sustain myself and my daughter.” The women she trains with are oft heard to say that they hope to become like Alice one day. She has come such a long way from tribal discrimination in the orphanage, violence and humiliation at her husband’s hand, and extreme poverty and social exclusion as a refugee; her inner strength to overcome these many hardships is an inspiration. That she is now helping and inspiring other women to rebuild their lives is the ultimate testament to her strength and success.

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