By Meghan Ott
Civil war, genocide, and extremist groups leave women’s lives, health and security at risk, but this series from Women for Women International introduces us to eight women who have taken their destiny into their own hands and are empowering other women to do the same.
1. The Woman Who Overcame Emotional Trauma and Found a Community
Zarghuna suffered from depression after being severely abused by her husband’s family. When she visited a doctor, he suggested that she find a community that could help her heal. This is when she decided to take her future into her own hands. She joined a program offered by Women for Women International where she learned embroidery and business skills and met women with shared her life experiences. At the program, she also learned about her rights and health and gained the confidence to start a business. Today, Zarghuna employs more than a dozen people and she is much happier knowing that she has other women who support her.
2. The Woman Who Has Dedicated her Life to Help Others
Roxanne is the president of her local association of women called "Probudi se," which means wake up in Bosnian. Her association produces handicrafts and teaches local women business skills. After the war in Bosnia ended, many women were left with scars of war and lack of employment opportunities. Through her association, Roxanne gave them the tools they need to become economically empowered. She believes that this is a worthy cause because it can help women escape intimate-partner abuse by making sure they have financial resources and community support.
3. The Woman Who Gives Hope to Survivors of Rape
Honorata is one of the many courageous women served by Women for Women International in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was kidnapped by armed rebels and forced into a year of sexual slavery. She escaped, but rebels raped her again. This time, in her own home and in front of her children. But Honorata never gave up. Today, she is a trainer in our program and uses her story of recovery to inspire and give hope to other women in her community.
4. The Woman Who Will Never Give Up on Her Daughters
Among those who managed to escape the chaos of the August 3, 2014 ISIS attack on the Sinjar region in Northern Iraq were Seve, her husband, and her six children. After a grueling and sleepless journey from Sinjar, they finally reached Khanke, a small town in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).
Now out of immediate danger, Seve remains traumatized by the sexual violence she witnessed, and her children face a new battle: poverty and hunger. They were middle class in their home village and have never experienced such deprivation before. Despite the violence of her past, Seve has not given up. She has now made it her goal to make sure her daughters go to college and build successful careers. With help from a local partner of Women for Women International, Seve is learning new skills so she can start a small business and support her family.
5. The Woman Who Provides Jobs for Other Women in Need
Remzije was widowed very young and left to take care of five children on her own through the Kosovo War in the late 90s. She never had the opportunity to go beyond elementary level in her formal schooling. But, undeterred, she took initiative to learn important skills, and now leads an agricultural cooperative of 78 women. She says, “I feel empowered. I am aware of my value and that I can contribute, for myself and others.”
6. The Woman who is Advocating for Her Rights and The Rights of Other Women
Faith is a widow with three daughters and lives in Nigeria. Because she has only daughters, her husband’s family would not allow her to inherit his possessions. They took her home and anything else of value. Because her husband hadn’t left her any land, Faith struggled in poverty as she raised three children, however after going through Women for Women International’s program she not only learned a skill to earn an income but also learned about women’s inheritance rights. She now educates her family and community about the importance of leaving inheritance for women and has convinced her father to leave his inheritance to her and her sisters as well as brothers. Faith uses the profits from her knitting business to pay school fees for her daughters, and to buy food for her family. She says, “My hope for the future is to provide a good education for my daughters. I will also teach them how to knit, so they have a skill.”
7. The Woman Who Doesn’t Let Gender Norms Define Her
Caritas lost half her family, including her husband and child, in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which 500,000 women were raped and 800,000 people were massacred. She was forced to flee to Uganda to survive. When she returned to Rwanda two years later, Caritas joined the Women for Women International year-long program, along with 24 other women. Twenty years later, they continue to support each other. Caritas now leads a cooperative of 125 women in the male-dominated business of beekeeping. She says, “It’s not only the money, but the way we gather together that has changed my life.”
8. The Woman Whose Future is Bright
Konga is 49 years old and she has five children. She was in the bakery training program in partnership with Women for Women International in South Sudan, a country that has been plagued with conflict and civil war since 2013. Konga says that this training is changing her life because she has not only gained a new skill but has also gained respect form her husband for taking initiative and contributing funds to the family. Her courage has served her well and she is now able to send her children to school.
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Zarghuna by Women for Women International
Roxanne by Nikola Blagojevic for Women for Women International
Honorata by Ryan Carter for Women for Women International
Seve and Remjize and Cartitas by Alison Baskerville for Women for Women International
Faith by Monilekan for Women for Women International
Konga by Charles Atiki Lomodong for Women for Women International