What can a monthly contribution of $27 do to change the life of a woman living in a war-torn country anywhere in the world? "Women for Women International" was able to use this small contribution to help women survivors of war rebuild their lives through vocational training, providing seed capital for them to start their own businesses and encouragement to become active citizens in their societies. Mohamed Elshinnawi has more.
What really happens to women who have survived the ravages of war and the hardships of its aftermath?
Women for Women International, a humanitarian American organization, has documented that women are routinely murdered, raped, and left destitute in war zones around the world, from Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan to Congo, Rwanda and Sudan.
"There are no words really which can explain that level of torture, that level of hardship for these women," says Seida Saric, Bosnia Director of Women for Women International.
Iraqi Zeinab Salby, who grew up during the conflict between Iraq and Iran, knows what it is like for women to live in war zones. In 1993, she realized there was an urgent need to help women in Bosnia. With generous American private contributions, she started" Women for Women Bosnia". "We create a safe place for women," she said, "This is the place where they can come and share their stories and feel safe. What we do have in Bosnia is micro credit, so far we had more than 10,000 women who took at least one loan and started their businesses."
With other wars around the world, especially in Africa, Women for Women became International, as Program Director Pat Morris explained. "We work in the Balkans, where we started in Bosnia, Kosovo. In addition we are in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in Africa," she added. "We are in Nigeria, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo. We started up over a year ago in Sudan; we are just moving forward with the program in Sudan."
Whether in Africa or Asia or Europe, the women's organization has a standard approach to helping women in war-torn areas, relying on local leaders like Christine Karumba, Women for Women Director in Congo. "Women for Women International provides support to these women and tools to help them rebuild their lives. We give them access to capital then they invest in small businesses" she said.
A few women from Africa shared how they have benefited from such help. One woman said, "Women for Women has helped us in many aspects, but the most important thing was that it brought us together." Another woman added, "Nobody cares about you during bad times, so when we heard that there are some other women around the world who send us messages of hope, they encourage us. We feel that we are still also human beings."
Empowering women with independent economic capabilities has an added value in a society like Afghanistan, as Sweeta Noori, Women for Women Director in that country explains. "In our society, since women do not have any income or cash to give to their men, men never count them as human beings," she said. "We take women from victim to survivor to active citizen."
The organization connects women from all over the world with women who have survived a conflict. Each woman sponsors a "sister" in a war zone and sends her $27 a month, along with a letter to start communication between them.
Pat Morris says her organization has been able to raise more than $25 million and help more than 93,000 women. "What we have been able to show with the work that we have done based on Zeinab's incredible vision is that one woman can make a difference, and that a small amount of resources can lead to big significant change in the world."
In recognition of its impact, Women for Women International has received the Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Award. It is the first time the award has been given to a women's organization, and it comes as tens of thousands of women around the world are using the group's funds to rebuild their lives.