Womankind Worldwide has helped more than 18 million women and their families across the globe over the last 26 years with issues of discrimination, poverty, and violence. The organization sees the newly passed U.N. Sustainable Development Goals as a path toward the future and as a way to engage all levels of government and civil society in the safety and empowerment of women and their families.
Claire Hickson is the Head of Policy and Communications at Womankind Worldwide. She has over 15 years’ experience working in international development policy and advocacy, working for the UK Department for International Development in London and Nigeria, Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, international NGO Saferworld and as a consultant to a wide range of international organizations, including Amnesty International UK, Farm Africa, Self Help Africa and Save the Children UK.
What is the mission of your organization and how does it differ from the other women based organizations?
We are an international women’s rights organization. The partnership principle is central to what we do, and is what defines us. Rather than having our own staff in countries across the world, we work with organizations that focus on women’s rights in those countries. We believe this is the most effective way to promote women’s rights at a local and global level. We support partners with funding and by helping build their capacity. We work with them on how they advocate locally but we also work with them on international advocacy.
How were the countries Womankind supports chosen and why?
We try to select organizations that work across the countries across the three continents in which we work: Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The availability of suitable partners is important to our selection of countries. We work with organizations that are a good fit for what we are doing. We have long term relationships with our partners. It’s not about just providing funding but long-term support.
How does discrimination relate to the livelihood of women and their families? What does discrimination look like?
Discrimination takes a lot of forms. For example, if you’re a female farmer in Africa you find it far harder to access the support you need to grow enough food to feed your family but also to grow more to sell on the market and increase your income: access to land rights, access to credit, support from extension workers and representation in producer organisations.
It’s about the lack or representation of women in all governments at all levels. That is an issue in all countries - as is the level of violence towards women which is driven by gender stereotypes.
What is the connection between discrimination, gender equality, and empowerment? How can women be empowered in societies where they are treated as less than equal?
It’s a combination of factors across countries. It is not really particular to a given culture.
Our view is that the best way to create change is to work with organizations already campaigning at the local level. It’s not a case of us coming in and saying that things should be done in a certain way, it’s about women from those countries who are already pushing for change and working toward equality being given the support they need.
The value of this approach been confirmed by a study in 70 countries over that finds that over the past forty years that women’s rights organisations have been the most important driver of getting laws against violence against women.
What are some of the key projects your organization has taken on?
One of the most powerful programs we are involved with is on female genital mutilation in Ethiopia. One of our partner organizations (Siqqee) are working with the local community to empower women but also to hold conversations with the whole community about the underlying social norms which perpetuate the practice of FGM.
These conversations have led to a reduction in female genital mutilation in some districts from 97% to 4%. It’s a startling statistic and wonderful to have such reduction. I think it’s amazing to see that you can change people’s attitudes quite quickly - we tend to assume social attitudes are very difficult to shift.
Another example would be our Nepalese partners who have been working very hard to make sure that women’s rights are taken seriously in the development of a new constitution. They are very concerned that it might result in backwards steps particularly for the most marginalized women.
They have been trying to influence the process and holding demonstrations on the issues. It shows the courage these women often need to do this kind of thing as some have been beaten at these demonstrations. This shows just how hard the struggle can be.
Lastly in Afghanistan, we have an organization that is working with young girls who have been engaged for marriage at a young age. For example, one of the girls they helped was promised for marriage to a 21 year old man when she was only eight. When she was on her way to school, the future husband would threaten to kill her and cut her up. She stopped going to school.
Then, she came across an advert for one of our partners (Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan) and they let her know it’s against the law for her to be engaged at that age and put her in touch with a lawyer who helped her get the engagement overturned in court and now she is working with that organization to educate other girls in her situation. She also went back to school.
By helping one person you are now positioning them to help other people.
How have you expanded your network and who are the key partners?
We work with around 28 partners in thirteen countries around the world - from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan. They work on a range of different issues relating to women’s rights and services, campaigning for laws against domestic violence, setting up shelters, supporting the survivors of sexual violence during conflict, and working to get more women into government.
Thinking in terms of realistic and achievable goals, what does Womankind look like in the next 5-10 years?
The SDGs are far better on women’s rights than the Millennium Development Goals. Now we need to work with our partners to make sure these goals are implemented.
The only way that the SDGs will become a reality is through national plans and targets.
It’s really up to civil society to push for their governments to take the goals seriously.
We’re planning to work with our partners to make sure that they have the tools, knowledge, and resources to be able to do that.
We likely will carry on working in the same countries as we tend to work with our partners for a long time but will increasingly be looking to link our work to the SDGs
If people would like to get involved they can do so in terms of donating to our work, as the funds go directly to the women’s rights organizations. By donating or helping with fundraising activities they are helping empower women around the world. They can find more information on our website at http://www.womankind.org.uk/ .