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.
Feb 11, 2013

WFWI CIO Travels to DR Congo and Rwanda

Motorbikes will help WfWI staff travel to remote locations in our countries of operation. Check out this great rip report from one of our DC-based staffers about traveling in Rwanda and the DR Congo. Nicole Weaver is WfWI's Chief Information Officer.

I was nervous crossing the border from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I know many of my colleagues at Women for Women International travel there, but I’ve heard reports of sporadic and random violence in the DRC. As our 4×4 wound its way through the mountainous border region with its tea plantations and volcanoes, I felt a sense of foreboding. 

The border itself is a scruffy-looking parking lot with a few immigration buildings and a lot of people standing around waiting to be processed. There are two gates—the first lets you out of Rwanda and the second lets you into the DRC. The site is a no man’s land, and you could wait 30 seconds or 30 minutes to get through. 

I climbed down from the first car in a torrential downpour and completed departure formalities and walked to DRC immigration, where I was examined, stamped and waved through. Today was a 20-minute day. 

Our destination, Goma, is a town close to the border and one of four sites operated by Women for Women in the DRC. Within a few minutes I was in town, bouncing along a poorly paved road in a traffic pattern that seemed to have few rules except “every man for himself.” The contrast with Rwanda is marked: Where Rwanda is clean and organized, Congo is chaotic and dirty. Compared to the last few miles of sparsely populated rural countryside in Rwanda, Goma struck me as noisy, crowded and stressed. Roads in Rwanda had occasional potholes; roads in Goma are mostly potholes punctuated by a few stretches where the pavement has not yet given up. 

My hotel was on the shores of the serene Lake Kivu. Grace Fisiy, our agribusiness specialist, and I decided to take a walk—I still had my lingering concern about security, but Grace assured me it was safe (she is from Cameroon and has traveled all over Africa, so I trust her instinct). 

The dirt in this area is black. Mt. Nyiragongo erupted in 2002, destroying 15% of the buildings and leaving 120,000 people homeless. It also left behind black fertile soil and dust everywhere. The volcanic rock is so plentiful, it is a favored building material, meaning the buildings are also black. As we walked, chatting about Cameroon and family, I gradually realized I had completely relaxed. I did learn a new word on that walk—mzungu, Swahili for white man, which was muttered occasionally as we passed groups of bored security guards! 

The next day, Women for Women’s driver arrived and took us to the office. After some meetings at the office we headed to the vocational skills center, where participants learn soap-making, knitting, cookery and bread-making. There were no classes that day, but about 150 newly enrolled women listened to an orientation, learning what to expect from the program and what Women for Women expects from them. As I stood in the doorway, listening and snapping a couple of pictures, the trainer asked the women if they had any questions. One woman at the far side of the room stood and said, “We want to know who the visitor is,” looking at me. I introduced myself and explained that I was visiting from headquarters and that my job was to find them sponsors (applause) and make sure their letters get to their sponsors (cheers). They said they wished God would take care of me for many years. 

Jan 4, 2013

Stronger Women, Stronger Nations: DR Congo Report

Basically literacy training is only a small part of WfWI's year long holistic training program for participants in DR Congo. Read below for exerpts from our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations report on the successes of program participants and the challenges they continue to face.

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

The stories of WfWI - DR Congo participants 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

Since 2004, Women for Women International-DR Congo has helped more than 58,000 Congolese women survivors of war and conflict.

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 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.

Jan 4, 2013

Meet WfWI - Afghanistan Graduate Zia

Zia Gul is a 27 year old mother of four children; three sons and one daughter. Her husband works as Ragman. Zia Gul was uneducated and a housewife but through WFWI was offered the unique opportunity to learn about women rights, health, business, and the rights of children from WWI training programs. WWI introduced Zia Gul to Safi Apparel Corporation and now Zia Gul is busy as a tailor, earning 65 dollars a month. Zia Gul is happy to now economically support her family. She has faced many difficulties in her life but now feels relieved because of the sustainable income Safi Company awards her every month. She hopes that WWI will expand their activities so more women can be helped. Zia Gul thanks Women for Women International and says "Allah keeps Women for Women International successful so that more and more women of Afghanistan can be helped in the right way."