When people ask us, “Where is World Relief’s women’s empowerment programming?” Our answer is: It’s everywhere.
Transforming how men and women live, relate and honor God in their relationships is at the very heart of what we do. We recognize that women and girls don’t exist in isolation. They live, they work and they go to school in community. And only with community transformation will gender reconciliation, empowerment and transformation truly occur.
While we have several programs that center around women — trauma-care groups for sexual and gender-based violence victims in DR Congo, maternal health programs for mothers and teen clubs for pre-adolescent girls — we incorporate the idea of gender equality into nearly all of our international development programming, starting at the belief level.
Today, I want to share two stories with you about a woman named Salina — one fictionalized, and one the truth. Salina’s story illustrates the power of World Relief’s gender-integrated approach and is proof that together, we can #breakthebias and create communities where women and girls can thrive.
Salina’s Story: What Often Happens
Salina is a young wife and mother living in Malawi. She decides to join a savings group and has great hope that this program will change her life. At first, she is encouraged by the community of women and the potential opportunity. But it’s not long before her husband, Chilaw, becomes resentful of the profitable women’s program.
When Salina takes home her savings, Chilaw takes her hard-earned money for himself and spends it frivolously. As a result, Salina is unable to invest in what she’d hoped — nutritious food for her children, health insurance and school fees. Her girl child, Charity, in particular, remains malnourished and uneducated.
Though Chilaw brings home produce from a local agricultural group, both parents prioritize food for their son over Charity. They sell the remaining produce at the market and send their son to school with their earnings, but Charity remains at home doing household chores. She has little awareness of her worth as a young woman and awaited the day when she’ll be married for a bride price and step into the same life her mother has had. Salina’s home is trapped in a vicious cycle of economic, social and relational poverty.
Now, let’s rewrite this story, and see what happens when World Relief’s gender-integrated approach is applied.
Salina’s True Story
In Salina’s real story, she hears about a savings group. She wants to join, but she’s afraid of what her husband might think. After all, he is the decision maker of the family. Nevertheless, World Relief hears of Salina’s interest and encourages her to join.
Simultaneously, a local church volunteer meets with Salina and her husband, Chilaw. They explore a transformative curriculum that teaches Chilaw about his wife’s inherent value and worth. He learns that she is also created in the image of God, deserving of love and respect and possessing a God-given potential that must be nurtured, honored and developed.
He encourages her to go to the local savings groups and when she saves money, they sit and talk together about how to use it along with the money Chilaw earns from selling his agricultural produce.
Salina and Chilaw also learn about the value of their daughter, Charity, and decide it’s time to send her to school with the money they’ve saved. Now that Charity is in school, World Relief encourages her to attend the local adolescent girls club. Chilaw thinks it’s important for his daughter’s wellbeing and development, so he also encourages her to go. Charity learns about the power of her education and the perils of early marriage and sets goals to go to university.
Can you spot the difference?
In both stories, savings, agriculture, nutrition and adolescent clubs are in place, yet only in the second of these stories do these programs have a restorative, transformational and generational impact on the lives of Salina and her family.
The real transformation comes mostly prior to the programmatic benefits — within the home, at the belief and value level. This is the power of our restorative gender work.
We know savings, agricultural and countless other technical programs work most effectively when they build upon the foundational work that has been done within the home, between husband and wife, parents and children.
That’s why, at World Relief we approach female empowerment at the belief level, starting with the family structure. We see the empowerment of women and girls happen not because our programming is exclusively focused on women and girls, but because we work to ensure the whole community recognizes and respects the voices, roles and unique gifts of these women and girls.
Our transformative curriculums — focused on God’s truth that each man, woman and child are made in the image of God — drive this innovative approach to relief and development. We believe that unless relationships have been transformed so that both man and woman, boy and girl, are equally valued, given equal opportunity and are equally empowered, the impact of our programming is compromised.
Without this core transformation, Salina, her daughter and the generations of women who will come after them stay trapped in a cycle of marginalization and poverty. With it, however, change is truly possible. A better future exists for Charity, her daughters and her granddaughters. Their story has been rewritten.
Women’s agency, dignity, opportunity and empowerment come not just from technical programs, but from a deep, internal community understanding and drive for each and every one of their community members—men and women, boys and girls—to reach their full, God-given potential.
So, where is our women’s empowerment programming?
Francesca Albano currently serves as Director of Branded Content at World Relief. With a background in Cultural Anthropology and a graduate degree in Strategic Marketing Communications, she connects her interests in societal studies and global cultures with her training in brand strategy and storytelling. Francesca is especially passionate about grassroots community development and the treatment and advancement of women and girls around the world.