Recovering from the destruction and horror of war remains an inconceivably difficult task for survivors worldwide. For women especially, getting back on their feet in an already disadvantaged world can seem impossible. Women for Women International is a nonprofit supporting women survivors of war by providing them access to connections, resources and educational programs. Its Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program specifically works to not only aid recovery but also advance women’s place in society in developing countries where many conflicts occur.
Women for Women International
Since its founding in 1993, Women for Women International has helped more than 500,000 women recover from war and reach self-sufficiency. Zainab Salbi was only 23 years old when she founded the organization, eventually distributing more than $100 million in aid during her time as the CEO. Foreign Policy Magazine has since named her one of the 100 Leading Global Thinkers.
However, she is not doing her work alone. Women for Women International has representatives working in affected countries across the globe, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, Germany, Iraq, the United Kingdom, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Sudan, Rwanda and Nigeria. Each country director distributes funds and facilitates necessary workshops to help survivors support themselves. Much of this work occurs through the nonprofit’s educational program, Stronger Women, Stronger Nations.
Stronger Women, Stronger Nations
Women for Women International is a self-described “learning organization” that goes “beyond charity to innovation.” As such, representatives for Stronger Women, Stronger Nations facilitate courses customized to every country’s specific social and economic profile. Throughout the year-long program, survivors are provided with a monthly stipend of $10, relevant vocational training, financial education and lifelong connections that leave them feeling stronger than ever.
The program begins with placement into a class of 24 fellow female survivors. Each class includes five social empowerment modules (Women’s Solidarity, Value of Women’s Work, Health and Wellness, Gender Equality, Rights and Decision Making and Women Influencing Decisions in their Community). A social empowerment trainer from Women for Women International leads it. The first month focuses on social networking and numeracy training, both in the local language and English. The next two months give the women time to reflect on their war-inflicted trauma as they begin to consider the value of women’s work. By the fourth month of the program, the women are learning to set and pursue financial goals. The fifth month begins a module on health and wellness, educating the women on hygiene, sanitation and local concerns like malaria. After that, they learn vocational skills of their choosing like tailoring and poultry-keeping.
The rest of the program continues this vocational education while additionally sparking discussion on gender equality, domestic abuse, motherhood and societal change. Women also learn business skills like budgeting, bookkeeping and organizational leadership. By the time their Stronger Women, Stronger Nations class concludes, they are fully equipped to start a business, impart change in their community and create more opportunities for their families.
This innovative program continues to catch the attention of international corporate partners including Bloomberg Philanthropies, Slip®, Hyatt Hotels, Charlotte Tilbury and Jimmy Choo. Aside from donating to the Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program, several companies have expanded their reach even further. In 2012, Hyatt created jobs for 50 program members in Iraq by having them sew laundry bags for its boutique Andaz Hotels. Cosmetics brand Charlotte Tilbury donated $2 from every sale of its Hot Lips collection in 2016. It later pledged $1 million alongside the release of the Hot Lips 2 collection in 2019. Jimmy Choo has sponsored 50 women from programs in Iraq, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The effects of war remain long after a conflict resolves. Women for Women International believes that women survivors of war experience the most negative impacts, given the compounding societal factors that come with being a woman. Through its Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program, the nonprofit not only helps female survivors recover from the trauma of war but ensures that they become stronger mothers, entrepreneurs and community leaders.
– Rachel Rebecca Smith