Women for Women International

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Women for Women International (WfWI) is a nonprofit humanitarian organization that provides practical and moral support to women survivors of war. WfWI helps such women rebuild their lives after war’s devastation through a year-long tiered program that begins with direct financial aid and emotional counseling and includes life skills (e.g., literacy, numeracy) training if necessary, rights awareness education, health education, job skills training and small business development. The organization was co-founded in 1993 by Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi American who is herself a survivor of the Iran–Iraq War and Salbi’s then-husband Amjad Atallah. Since June 2012, WfWI has been led by Afshan Khan, a long-time former executive with UNICEF who became WfWI’s first new CEO since founder Zainab Salbi stepped down to devote more time to her writing and lecturing.[1]

Headquartered in Washington, DC, WfWI has executive/fundraising offices in London and New York and programmatic offices in eight post-conflict countries: Afghanistan (program inception 2002); Bosnia and Herzegovina (1994); Democratic Republic of Congo (2002); Iraq (2003); Kosovo (1999); Nigeria (2000); Rwanda (1997); and South Sudan (2006).

History[edit]

Women for Women International was founded by a wife and husband, Zainab Salbi and Amjad Atallah, who were motivated to act after learning of the plight of women in rape camps during the Yugoslav Wars and the slow response of the international community. WfWI launched its activities by creating "sister-to-sister" connections between sponsors in the United States and women survivors of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In its first year, Women for Women International worked with eight women, distributing about $9,000 in direct aid. As the organization gained experience, its staff came to understand that financial assistance alone was not a sufficient response for women who had lost everything. Women survivors of war, especially those left widowed, also needed to cultivate an understanding of their rights and potential as women, develop marketable skills, and find a way to generate stable income.[2]

As WfWI has expanded its global footprint to other war and conflict-affected countries, the organization has also expanded and refined its program offerings for its women participants.

How It Works[edit]

Women for Women International participants enroll in a one-year program designed to help them gain the skills, confidence, psychological healing, and mutual support needed to rebuild their lives after war. Participant women are placed in groups (usually around 25) which become their permanent support network. Each group goes through an educational program to learn about their rights and role in the economic, social, and civic life of their communities. They learn about health and wellness practices. Those who need it receive basic literacy or numeracy training to help them prepare for the second tier of the program.

Next, each woman receives vocational and business training consistent with clear goals she herself has laid out in her Individual Participant Plan. This phase of training is designed to strengthen existing skills and introduce new ones in both traditional and nontraditional fields. Vocational skills engage women in agriculture, livestock, food processing, various jobs in the service industry, textile and handcrafts, and other livelihoods.

As of June 30, 2011, WfWI had disbursed $103 million to some 317,000 women participants. The program is paid for through a mix of individual “sister to sister” direct sponsorships and grants from governmental, multilateral, foundation, corporate, and individual donors.[3]

Key Outcomes[edit]

Women for Women International’s in-house Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) department measures WfWI performance against four key outcomes: Women Earn an Income; Women are Well, Women are Decision-Makers; and Women Have Safety Nets. M&E findings as of September 2011:

1. Women Earn an Income

GOAL: Through WfWI’s vocational skills programs, women have access to market-based skills training, job placement services and business startup resources.

ACTUAL:

Average Daily Income
- On average, graduates report an average daily income of $1.44, compared to $0.37 at enrollment.
Savings
- On average, 88% of graduates report having some of savings, compared to 26% at enrollment.

2. Women are Well

GOAL: Graduates report increases in their knowledge and practice of behaviors that promote health, including reproductive health, nutrition, and stress management.

ACTUAL:

Knowledge of nutrition
- On average, 91% of graduates report having knowledge of good nutrition, compared to 31% at enrollment.

3. Women are Decision-makers

GOAL: WfWI’s rights education program equips women with the knowledge and skills required to access the opportunities available to them, such as acquiring control over land, or participating in community and national decision-making.

ACTUAL:

Knowledge of rights
- At graduate, 95% of women report knowing and understanding their rights, compared to just 28% at enrollment.

4. Women Have Social Networks and Safety Nets

GOAL: At graduation, women both by themselves and in solidarity with others, aid the cause of women by promoting and advocating shared needs and desires.'

ACTUAL:

Participation in social networks or safety groups
-At graduation, 59% of women report participation in social networks or groups, compared to only 28% at enrollment.

Other Activities[edit]

Along with its direct service to women program participants, Women for Women International uses its voice to educate the public about war’s effects on women, particularly around the use of mass rape as a weapon of war. WfWI also seeks to raise awareness about the unique role that women play in advancing peace throughout society. WfWI leadership have testified before the US Congress and executive branch about women’s issues and their intersection with foreign policy. WfWI executives also regularly speak at international conferences, panels and in the media. High-profile special events (e.g., the “Join Me on the Bridge” rallies held each year on International Women’s Day), print and broadcast coverage, and books (Zainab Salbi’s The Other Side of War) are all tactics in WfWI’s strategy of building global understanding about women’s indispensable role in civil society.

Awards[edit]

In September 2006, Women for Women International was the first women's organization to receive the Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Award, the world’s largest humanitarian prize of $1.5 million. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation presents the annual award to an organization that "significantly alleviates human suffering."[4]

"Women and children bear the major burdens of the unprecedented number of wars and civil conflicts raging worldwide and are often left to rebuild their lives without the basic necessities for survival or a viable means to earn a living and take care of their families," said Steven M. Hilton, chairman and CEO of the Hilton Foundation. "Women for Women International has demonstrated that it can create change and stability within a society by providing women survivors with the tools and resources to rebuild their lives. The organization also gives women the training and confidence to engage in their communities', and ultimately their nation's economic, political and social structures," he added.[5]

Commenting on the Hilton Prize Jury's selection of Women for Women International, Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate in Economics, Harvard professor and Hilton Prize juror, said, "Women for Women International has sharply identified the nature and complexities of a much neglected need associated with wars—the urgency of providing rehabilitation to people, particularly women, left destitute, impoverished or displaced by the hostilities." He added, "The organization is already protecting millions of lives from short-term agony and long-term ruination."[6]

When she accepted the prize, Zainab Salbi, Women for Women International's Iraqi-born founder said: "It reinforces our vision that stronger women build stronger nations, and encourages us to work harder to bring the voices and concerns of the women we serve to the forefront.[7]

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