There are many arguments for women’s empowerment that you can easily find on the internet. Nearly every organization from USAID to the UN and every local and international NGO in between will tell you that women are the “cornerstone to development”. Women are “untapped potential”. They contribute to 80 % of the hours of work but early only 10% of income, they provide most of the food for the world but are unrecognized in the formal agricultural sector, and of course, they bear children and invest in their families. All of this and more is indeed true.
Women are marginalized. They are often left out of educational opportunities, are subject to violence and sexual abuse, and are rarely decision makers in their homes due to their lack of financial participation in their household despite their long hours of work to feed their family.
Combatting all of these issues is crucial to economic and social development. Women must be involved in society from top to bottom and must be allowed to make decisions in their home and in their own life for everyone to prosper. These websites will also tell you specific percentages of growth that can be expected when women are fully allowed to participate in the economy and they are promising numbers to be sure.
Is this why we work with women? Of course it provides the foundation for our cause, but it can not explain the depth of the importance and joy of working with women. Women are resilient. They are strong. They are funny. They have boundless energy. When filled with hope they are determined and unstoppable. They are peaceful. They are patient. They are prepared to forgive even the worst of the atrocities they may have been dealt at the hands of men to move forward with their life.
When given a second chance, women are transformed. Untapped potential? Absolutely, but let us call them more than “potential”. Women are untapped energy, that when is released radiates out and touches everyone in their path. They are natural educators, they are natural nurturers, and when they recognize that they can become leaders those qualities are found instinctively in their leadership styles and their children, their peers, and the men in their life will benefit from the way in which they learn to share their wisdom.
I have had the pleasure of meeting with many organizations that work with women and I am inspired by how many creative ways there are to lift females out of poverty and debasement to become powerful women. Some work with sex workers, some work with victims of war. Some work with orphans, some work with AIDS victims and some work with farmers and some work with artisan groups. All of these NGOs are doing spectacular work and are helping to raise the standard of living for women. Women’s empowerment must start at the community level, but it must be supported by higher institutional and government level too, so let us hope that our work together will create women leaders and those who support them who can hold roles in which they can change the institution.
Why we work with women is because they asked us to. We work with them because they organized themselves together in recognition of their hardship and their resilience to take a stand against their situation and empower their peers so that their whole community could benefit, and they wanted some assistance from the international community to do so. I often struggle with whether aid is right or wrong, whether it is enabling or empowering, if it is sustainable or not, if we really need to be here or if these women could do it all on their own.
And then I escape the vortex of theory and I look around me at the amazing women I get to work with and those theories have no place here, because we are all being enriched, and whether or not they could do it without us we also get to learn and grow and return to our communities to empower our peers. And that is also why we work with women. It is sharing, it is growth, it is learning as one, and it is going above and beyond to help when we are asked to because we are able and we have knowledge and access to resources that these women have not had the opportunity to have. Working with women is possibility, and it is endless.
Please enjoy learning what is possible by getting to know some of our members and their dreams and successes through these photos.