When Being a Woman is More Dangerous than Being a Soldier

“Courage is what a woman has left when she’s lost everything else.”

On the occasion of Women for Women International’s 25 years of service and tenth annual luncheon, the organization celebrated the resilience and courage of women survivors of around the world at its annual luncheon on May 1st in New York City. (Rick Gilbert/Women for Women International)

On Tuesday, May 1, 2018, Women for Women International celebrated the courage of women everywhere at their 10th annual Match Her Courage Luncheon in New York City. Internationally-acclaimed author and spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson joined the event as an ambassador for Women for Women International. “If we want peace, we can have it,” she said when asked what this event means to her. “It’s not a mystery; it’s a lack of political will. There is no force more impoant than the awakening of American women to what’s happening in the world.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario served as the event’s keynote speaker. In her powerful presentation, Addario chronicled her experience as a woman at the front lines of war in some of the most dangerous cities in the world. She echoed Williamson’s sentiments about the power of awakening: “I want to take that picture that will stop you and you have to ask, ‘what’s going on here?’ I want to get your attention long enough to ask questions. It’s a lot easier to ignore [the women] than to care about them, so I want you to care.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario advocated on behalf of women and families forced out of their homes by conflict and she shared images of her recent trips to cover the Syrian refugee crisis. (Rick Gilbert/Women for Women International)

Addario’s images certainly gave reason for pause. She depicted the lives of women impacted by conflict, and in many cases, instances when it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier.

In Afghanistan, pregnant women were forced to ride donkeys to the maternity wards. Often, midwives would announce their presence in a single town or mosque, and women from surrounding villages would travel long distances to get prenatal care. The sparse prenatal care often left babies stillborn and resulted in a high incidence of maternal deaths from childbirth. In Sierra Leone, a woman was pregnant with twins, the first of whom she delivered successfully in her village. When the second baby wouldn’t come out, she was forced to travel by canoe across a river to get to an ambulance, which drove for six hours over bumpy roads to the hospital. After delivering the second baby, she died from severe blood loss. In Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, it is often more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier. Women are raped and used as weapons of war. Rape frequently leaves women HIV-positive or with unintended children. Because of the culture of impunity in these countries, these war crimes often go unpunished. Further, women are not able to speak up about the crimes for fear that their husbands will leave them.

Marianne Williamson believes that to have true awakening, “we must connect the dots.” We often think of contributing to non-governmental organizations and aid agencies to bring supplies to impoverished countries. However, many NGOs do more to hurt the economy than help it, exacerbating the cycle of poverty. “Women feel this connection,” she observed, “but don’t know what to do to help.”

Women for Women International seeks to remedy that. Rather than providing clothing, shoes or food, Women for Women International provides vocational training to teach women how to make their own clothing, raise livestock, bake and tend to gardens. These trades are also beneficial because women can sell their handiwork at markets, providing stable income for their families.

“We help women at the most fundamental level,” said Lynn Shanahan, Board Member of Women for Women International. “Women increase their earnings by 86 percent at the end of our programs. All they need is the courage to take the first step.” That first step includes participation in a year-long integrated training in classes of 25 women. These programs provide women, often for the first time in their lives, the opportunity to learn critical business skills, build support networks, access resources and improve their health and wellbeing.

“Women often bear the brunt of violent conflict, but they also have the potential to bring change and peace,” Women for Women International CEO Laurie said at the event. (Rick Gilbert/Women for Women International)

As more than 65 million people are displaced due to war and conflict and 2 billion people live in countries affected by fragility, conflict and high levels of violence, the time to act is now. If women are unsure of how they can support women’s rights in conflict-affected countries, Women for Women International’s CEO Laurie Adams has the answer: invest in women.

“Women often bear the brunt of violent conflict,” she observed, “but they also have the potential to bring change and peace. Women have the ability to stitch together what war has broken down.”

Women for Women International chooses to make lives better through education, empowerment and vocational training. This inspiring organization is committed to raising $75 million over the next three years to reach 50,000 women in their programs. “There is hope,” Williamson reminds us. “We can have a better world and make lives better if we choose to.”

To watch the Facebook live recap of this event, including Lynsey Addario’s photo presentation, click here.

Jessica Dowches-Wheeler is a healthcare executive-turned life coach, a published academic author, a regular contributor to Thrive Global, and a women’s rights activist. She believes a better world is one where every woman is empowered and able to confidently pursue her purpose. Learn more about Jessica’s one-for-one confidence training program at www.brightspacecoaching.com.

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