Wednesday, July 23, 2014

War and Women

I'm sitting in my car waiting for my new house guest over the next three days. Only this isn't a friend or family member coming to visit. It is an Afghani female entrepreneur who was selected to participate in a week long training session sponsored by the Institute of Economic Empowerment for Women.

The IEEW is run by Terry Neese and four staff members. It was started after the war in Afghanistan revealed the dire circumstances of women in the region. The goal is to help aspiring entrepreneurs learn to grow their businesses. The IEEW was to later expand to Rwanda, a region that has also been plaqued by wars.

I am working with the IEEW to help empower these brave women who left behind their homes and families to gain new skills. Last week, I had the opportunity to evaluate two of the women's business strategies. We discussed ways to strengthen and grow their companies. Yesterday, a fashion shown was held in every Women's honor to give her a chance to network and sell her business and crafts. It was a lovely event, if at the very least to give these recruits the chance to see the benefits their hard work will gain.

Living through war is not easy. It destroys cultures and consciousness. It turns neighbors into bitter and dangerous enemies. It wasn't too long ago that images of bloodshed and desperate pleas for help were flickering across our screens. Now these bold survivors have traveled to the other side of the world to try and create a better future.

And that is the mission here. As these women speak, they have sincere optimism for the future. It's important that they work toward re-building their countries, because it is women who share their hopes and experiences with their children. They make the link to a more stable future, because engaged mothers raise strong daughters and compassionate sons who value women.

As I sit with these women, my mind makes its way to the Middle East, where women in Egypt, Syria and Palestine are confronted with horrors of wars. As their sisters in Afghanistan and Rwanda can attest to, it is not an easy road especially since their terrors are caused by political strife that swallows populations into a pit of unending bloody retribution. But as I watch the gruesome coverage from the region, especially my ancestral homeland of Palestine, I know deep inside that those brave women will lead their people down a more prosperous path. We just need braver leaders willing to make a stand on their behalf and think about the consequences of war on human beings, not just on resources and strategic allies.

I believe in the ability of any woman to rise above the horrors of her circumstances, but she can't get there unless we are brave enough to speak out against occupation and repression.  Separate reports released by the UN Refugee Agency and The Washington Post have shown that it is women who suffer the most during aggressive conflict. There are now 25 percent Syrian refugee households led by women who must now raise their families alone. In Gaza, women are making up the brunt of the fatalities from Israel's missile attacks. Even during periods of calm, Gazan women who manage to survive the conflicts can't progress because they are imprisoned on all borders and unable to build businesses or better lives outside of Gaza.

Something has to change. We can't empower women when their resources are being used to avoid a fatality. Whether these women emerge from the ruins of Syria, Rwanda or Gaza, they can't build futures unless they find leaders who value life over property and power.


Families fleeing their homes in Gaza
   
The family of Palestinian Mohammed Abed Kheidr, abducted and killed in the West Bank
 

 

 
My mother and I

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