Women for Women International

Women for Women International helps women who are overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges every day of their lives. It supports women who live in war zones - in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Rwanda and many others. Many are widows who have experienced untold brutality and now have nothing.

In war, armies often torture and rape women, leaving them feeling violated and powerless. Not only this, many are forced to witness the death of their loved ones or become separated from them.

To start with, Women for Women International provides the women with direct aid for their immediate needs, such as food, clothing and medication. But the charity does not just help in the short term - it provides a year-long training programme to give the women the confidence and skills to be able to get a job or set up their own business. In this way it helps them move from victim to survivor to active citizen.

'Join me on the Bridge' campaign
On March 8th 2011 - the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day - WFWI celebrated the strengths and achievements of women by inviting everyone to join together on bridges across the world.  The Join me on the Bridge campaign aimed to unite women all over the world to show that women can build bridges of peace and development for the future. 

It was a great success. There were 464 Bridge events in 70 countries. 55 events took place in the UK alone and an unbelievable 2,000 women, men and children marched together on Millennium Bridge in London. They held up banners stating that 'Stronger Women Build Bridges of Peace' and called for women to have a greater say at the peace negotiating tables, for countries to honour the UN goals they have signed up to, and for an end to violence against women in areas of conflict.

Among the supporters of this campaign were singer/songwriter and women's rights campaigner, Annie Lennox, and actor and women's rights campaigner Cherie Lunghi.

Violette's Story
How do you survive a genocide that took the lives of a quarter million of your neighbours and friends? How do you piece a life back together and then thrive? Violette Mutegwamaso knows how because she did just that with the support of WFWI.

In 1994, armed militias stirred up a civil war in Rwanda. The country disintegrated into chaos as Hutu and Tutsi clashed on the streets and in homes across the country. 

Violette fled to a nearby church where she thought she and her children would be safe. But the church was under attack by a machete-wielding militia. To survive, she lay down in the aisle and smeared blood on herself and her children. Pretending to be dead, they hid among the corpses. Afraid to move or make a sound, they lay there for an entire week until the Rwandan army came to liberate the area. Violette estimated that there were 700 people in that church - only 20 survived.

For 10 years Violette struggled to survive, earning barely enough to feed herself and her children. Then in 2004 she enrolled in one of Women for Women International's programs. She was matched with a sponsor in the United States who donated $27 month for one year to support Violette’s training and help her pay for food, school fees and clothing.

As the year progressed, Violette flourished. She learned marketable job skills and honed her innate leadership abilities. Despite having only a high school education, Violette has become a local businesswoman and a leader in her community. She has been able to hire local labourers, often women, to work in her fields and manage her business. She is keen to ensure her wealth benefits her community too.

Violette has also become the president of a local women’s crafts cooperative. Together these women make and sell traditional Rwandan peace baskets, pottery, crochet and other artisan crafts that they sell to local store owners. The peace baskets have become symbols of peace, especially as Hutu, Tutsi and Twa women sit side by side to weave “peace baskets” from sisal fibres using traditional techniques and designs.
Violette says she is moved that the cooperative brings together all members of the village, including those victimised by the genocide and others who have confessed to genocide crimes or have family members in prison. The peace basket cooperative has fostered reconciliation—something unheard of a dozen years ago.
Why do I feel so motivated to support this charity and its work?
When thinking about whether or not I should do this Everest challenge I realised that I’m drawn to supporting charities like Women for Women International for a reason. My sisters and I are the children of Jewish refugees from Germany. My Mum came to England with her parents in 1936 when she was 6 years old after my grandfather read Hitler’s book ’Mein Kampf’ and realised he had to get his family out of Germany. My Dad came to England at the age of 13 in 1939 as one of 10,000 ‘train children’ who were given refuge with families in the UK. Many never saw their parents again, but my Dad was lucky as Granny and Grandpa Schuhmann managed to escape right at the end of August 1939, just days before war was declared.

Most of my close family did actually escape Hitler before the war started but there are stories of more distant relatives having been in hiding, or having survived the concentration camps and there are some who did not survive. Anyway,  this is my family history - I’m naturally interested in it and have always felt awestruck by what my relatives had to go through.

Although the view after World War II and the Holocaust was that this must never happen again genocide has happened again and still happens today. And because of my family history this is personal for me. In doing this challenge I can show my concern and support for the people who have suffered these horrific inhuman crimes.

For more information about Women for Women International see www.womenforwomen.org.uk