This International Women's Day, I want to raise issues close to my heart. Spreading awareness and sharing my experiences are important parts of my responsibility – as a professional, mother, and global citizen – to empower women. I have lived and worked in over 16 countries, spanning three continents – from working first-hand with Women for Women International’s Men’s Engagement programme in Rwanda and Nigeria, to addressing political participation in Peru and domestic violence in Nicaragua and Bolivia; from raising the voices of Czech women in the aftermath of the Cold War, to addressing female genital mutilation (FGM) in Egypt.
A matter of urgency
My experiences have cultivated my passion for supporting gender equality and illustrate the urgency with which we need to address gender discrimination: an issue that continues to propagate violence and to hinder social and economic empowerment for communities the world over. Today, women are facing challenging odds. Gender-based violence affects at least 1 in 3 women globally. More than 225 million women have an unmet need for contraceptive methods. Women for Women International works to address these challenges.
Since 1993, we have supported more than 462,000 women through our one-year programme, which equips women to earn money, regain their confidence and actively participate in their communities. When a woman joins the programme, she comes together with 24 other women, forming a tight support group that helps to break the isolation caused by war and insecurity. Learning how to earn money, receiving a monthly stipend, and setting aside savings gives women the ability to provide for their family's needs and invest in a new future. Women say their earnings have grown – on average, women report daily personal earnings of $1.32 at graduation, compared to $0.42 at enrolment.
Breaking the cycle
Basic health education and connecting with local care providers enables women to best protect their and their family's well-being, 87% of our graduates report they practising family planning at graduation, compared to 30% at enrolment. Learning about the equal rights of women and men gives women greater confidence to raise their voices on the issues affecting their lives. More women say they participate in household financial decision-making – 91% report participating in these decisions at graduation, compared to 63% at enrolment.
Learn more about our impact here. By increasing knowledge, participation and encouraging economic empowerment, we are helping women break self-perpetuating cycles of poverty and discrimination. In areas affected by conflict, women are most severely affected – with more cases of violence and abuse, and even less access to health services and education.
Empowering the furthest left behind
Women for Women International is committed to working alongside the UN in addressing these critical issues concerning gender equality, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, in three main ways: Continue learning and improving the support we provide for marginalised survivors of conflict. Creating strategic partnerships to reach more women and filling the data gap. Building more direct links between the women we work with and decision makers.
Please join me in supporting women through our programmes, as we provide the skills, knowledge and resources women need to create transformative change in their lives, and in their communities. I cannot stress how important it is for us to come together with the common goal of empowering women, as we have proven time and again that stronger women build stronger nations, and powerful communities benefit everyone.
Brita Fernandez Schmidt shares her reflections on the importance of economic empowerment in Kosovo.
Improving women’s access to land in the Democratic Republic of the Congo not only enables them to increase their economic independence, but also improves the lives of whole families and communities.
Women for Women International is raising awareness of domestic violence in Nigeria, teaching women in local communities about their rights and avenues to seek redress in cases of abuses.