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.
Apr 18, 2009

Update: Two Women in Afghanistan

Noor and Malai's Story

Afghan women are determined for their daughters to have more and better choices in their lives. Noor was just 12 years old when she was married to a man 28 years her senior. Today, at age 35, she has nine children. Four are daughters, and Noor is determined they will have a different kind of future. Through Women for Women International’s vocational training program Noor has learned skills that will help her earn extra income, which she plans to use to pay for her daughters’ school expenses.

In 2008, a total of 4,434 Afghan women enrolled in Women for Women International’s yearlong sponsorship program. Women receive letters and financial support from their sponsors. They meet in groups of 20 for rights awareness training facilitated by local women. They learn to read and write. Some are trained as health and traditional birth attendants. Women entrepreneurs can learn vocational and business skills and have access to small loans which they pay back as their projects grow.

Like Noor, most women begin the program illiterate and with no way to earn money. These obstacles, along with traditional views about gender roles, keep women from realizing their full potential.

In the evenings when the housework is complete, Noor shares with her daughters what she has learned through her trainings – not just work skills and literacy, but also about the rights of women as documented in their nation’s constitution.

Before her Women for Women International training Malai, age 20, didn’t know she had the right to participate in elections. Neither did her husband. To help Afghan men understand how the advancement of women has a positive effect on families and communities, Women for Women International launched the Men’s Leadership Program in 2008. So far, 20 male community leaders have been trained to instruct their peers about the negative effects of restricting women’s participation in economic and social spheres.

Though progress is slow and difficult, Noor is dreaming, “I wish for my daughter to finish school and then marry a man she loves.” Some women have already made life-changing decisions. Raissa negotiated with her daughter’s future in-laws that they will allow her to complete her education. “I think my daughter will have a happy life in the future.”

Apr 18, 2009

UPDATE: Honorata's Story

Honoring Honorata – A Journey from Rape Survivor to Advocate

Honorata Kizende’s past is marked by incredible hardship, horrific violence, social isolation, and near death destruction. And yet, it is also an account of survival, strength, and testimony to human strength.

At the 2008 Women for Women International awards gala in New York almost 800 guests celebrated Honorata, a Congolese rape survivor and graduate of the organization’s program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She received this year’s Woman of the World Award for her courage and advocacy on behalf of women survivors of war.

“All of us are humbled while we stand in front of you. You have taught us all and you have taught me about courage and resilience. And if Honorata can stand up after going through what she has gone through, who are we not to?” said Zainab Salbi, Founder and CEO of Women for Women International, after handing the award to Honorata.

Honorata had been a sex slave and kept in captivity by armed militias in eastern Congo for almost a year. She was repeatedly gang-raped in public. After she escaped, the stigma of rape made her family reject her. Alone and destitute she found refuge in a friend’s house and was raped again when armed men looted the property. This time her daughter had to watch.

Today Honorata Kizende runs a small tie-die business with a group of women who pooled their resources. And she has decided to break the silence. Honorata is advocating for an end to sexual violence and calls on members of her community to restore the rights of women who have gone through rape and stigmatization.

Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO, Lloyd C. Blankfein presented Honorata with a scholarship for a six week entrepreneurship course at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

"We know that when you invest in women, we transform not only the person, but also families, communities and, ultimately, countries. It is that multiplier effect that we believe is fundamental to long term, sustained economic growth," Blankfein told the audience before handing the scholarship to Honorata Kizende.

The gift is part of the investment bank’s 10,000 Women initiative (www.10000women.org) that was created to enhance core business knowledge and provide the women in poor and emerging markets with the tools they need to grow their businesses and positively change their local communities. Women for Women International awarded the Citizen of the World award to the investment bank for this program.

Dressed in a traditional outfit made from fabric from her own business, Honorata thanked the audience, her sponsor, and Goldman Sachs for their support.

“I am very happy that Women for Women International has connected me with Goldman Sachs’ initiative that cares so much about the improvement of the lives of women,” says Honorata. “After the training I am planning to improve my business and organize my life in a better way. Hopefully, I will be able to identify new opportunities and can use my knowledge to train other women in the Women for Women International program.”

Honorata’s personal highlight of the evening was the surprise reunion with a woman she had once looked after when she was a teacher at a girl’s school. Faida Mitifu, recalled how Honorata Kizende helped her to adjust to boarding school and became a pillar of support before their ways parted more than three decades ago.

It is a tale of two women, whose lives could not have turned out to be more different. Faida Mitifu went to the US to study and get a PHD. Today she is the Congolese ambassador to the United States. Honorata stayed in eastern Congo and became a victim of war, violence, and rape.

“Honorata has been a victim of the tragedy that has been unfolding in the DRC for more than 10 years. And yet Honorata today can see the future. It is a great pleasure to see my big sister, my mentor, whom I have not seen for more than 30 years,” Faida Mitifu said before the two women embraced each other.

“She Touched My Heart” – A Sponsor Meets Her Sister, Honorata

“When I am walking the roads in my country and I am all by myself, I know there is a woman out there, who cares for me,” says Honorata Kizende, a Congolese survivor of horrific sexual slavery and violence. She was talking about her American sponsor, Mariama Hadiah, a women she had never met and only knew from exchanging heartening letters across continents. Congo Panel Representatives“I don’t have a lot, but I want to help,” Mariama Hadiah and her sister Honorata Kizende (left). They met at the 2008 Women for Women International gala in New York.

Mariama is Honorata’s sponsor and has paid for her Women for Women training that enabled her to become an advocate against violence and a business woman. The proceeds from Honorata’s small tie-die shop that she runs with a group of rape survivors and program graduates has put all of her children through school.

Their first meeting took place at the 2008 Women for Women International New York gala, where Honorata received the ‘Woman of the World Award’ for her courage and advocacy on behalf of women survivors of war. Their encounter was emotional for both. Honorata embraced Mariama, calling her ‘my sister’ and during her acceptance speech told almost 800 people in the audience that she owes her livelihood to her.

“It was humbling. She touched my heart. And I felt very fortunate when she gave this beautiful speech,” remembers Mariama. “Honorata gave me a lot of hope. I thought if she can go through so much, I certainly can hang in there as well.”

Mariama, a former middle school teacher from California, has health problems and currently lives of a small disability allowance. A devout Buddhist the 59year old has committed herself to working toward world peace. Sponsoring Honorata through Women for Women International is a means to this end. “If we help mothers, we help children, and, ultimately, we can rebuild whole societies,” says Mariama. “I don’t have a lot, but I want to help.”

Despite her own situation, Mariama worries about the larger impacts of the current financial crisis. “It is going to be hard for people to see the purpose of giving. But I believe that we are not going to be happy if we have millions of people in the world who continue to suffer.”

Honorata has dedicated her life to breaking the silence. She speaks on behalf of tens of thousands who have been raped in her home country and is asking everybody she encounters to use their political and financial influence to help bringing an end to the violence in her country. For Mariama Honorata’s story is uplifting and a proof of the power of human strength.

“She is a teacher. She is showing us all how strong each of us can be.”

Apr 18, 2009

"We Learned How to Dig Up Money from the Ground"

Women for Women International Holds Policy Briefing on Women in Conflict-Affected Areas image Karak Mayik, Country Director in Sudan explained how agriculture has become an income opportunity for women in South Sudan. Next to her Christine Karumba, DR Congo Country Director, and Tony Gambino, Africa scholar.

January 27, 2009 - Washington, DC – Speaking on helping women in the midst of an ongoing conflict, Christine Karumba, Women for Women International Country Director in DR Congo, says, “Rape has been used by everybody in our country and devastated the whole community. ‘Peace,’ ‘negotiations,’ and ‘reconstruction’ are words that are disappearing from our vocabulary.” Despite the ongoing violence Women for Women currently supports 7,800 women in the country through direct assistance, training, and livelihoods opportunities. During the recent violence, many women were not able to reach Women for Women facilities, and are still reported missing from the program.

Women for Women country directors from six countries shared their experiences of overcoming conflict, destruction, and poverty in some of the most challenging environments around the world.

At a policy briefing hosted by Dominick Chilcott, Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy and moderated by Tony Gambino, a prominent Africa scholar, the country directors spoke about how to put women at the center of development and encourage active participation in local and national decision-making. image "It's a fact that over half the worlds population are women and if their full potential is not realized.” Dominick Chilcott, Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy, in his opening remarks.

Dominick Chilcott said in his opening remarks, "It's a fact that over half the worlds population are women and if their full potential is not realized the Millennium Development Goals to which the British Government is very attached will not be met by 2015."

Sweeta Noori, who runs Women for Women International’s Afghanistan program, highlighted the country’s progress through implementing laws and policies that protect women’s rights. Considerable obstacles remain, including security threats and at times misguided foreign interventions. “I see an island of peace where international forces are providing some security, but in many areas women are still not well off,” Noori says. “Women are still treated as property and families marry their daughters off to pay debts with the dowry.” Despite pervasive poverty among socially-excluded women and their families, many donors and local politicians are failing to include women’s voices both at the political and grassroots level into their decision-making processes. image Women for Women International country directors spoke about overcoming conflict, destruction, and poverty in some of the most challenging environments around the world.

Entrenched patriarchal attitudes and seemingly out-of-touch politicians often inhibit women’s participation in economic opportunities traditionally reserved for men. In South Sudan, an underdeveloped area with chronic food insecurity and a fragile peace agreement, country director Karak Mayik and her team have just launched a large-scale women’s commercial farming project that will fight poverty and hunger by training 3,000 women over the next three years to grow and market commercially viable crops. “We were all used to receiving food from the World Food Program, but now I think we might be able to give some back,” she says, adding that women in her area have started to understand the long-term value of education and skills development over cash handouts.

“We have come a long way. We learned how to dig up money from the ground.”

Women for Women International provides over 50,000 women around the world with direct financial aid, emotional support, life- and vocational- skills training and employment opportunities in sustainable income generation projects. Women are educated about their rights and graduate equipped with new skills that enable them to make a living for themselves and their families. Each of these women is laying the groundwork for a stable community, and each of them has turned from a victim of war to a builder of peace.

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