It’s been quite a year for women in the U.S.
From the #MeToo movement reverberating across the country, to the record number of women running for political office, to the examples of strong feminine role models in media (hello, Wonder Woman and Black Panther!), there is no denying that women are on the rise.
But it’s not just happening in the U.S. Despite being largely excluded by the women’s movement in the States, women around the world on the rise, too—and they’re overcoming some extraordinary challenges along the way.
Millions of women in Iraq are free from ISIS control. In some places, displaced people are returning home. Women are starting businesses, getting an education, and healing from the trauma of war.
They are rebuilding, helping each other start over, and reinventing themselves in the wake of tragedy. Women are rising, and it’s beautiful to see.
Refugee women are breaking into the tech sector.
A few days ago, dozens of women graduated from WorkWell, our tech hub transforming refugees into freelancers and entrepreneurs. These women are breaking ground and laying a firm foundation for their future success in an industry typically dominated by men. One single mom brought her two small children to watch her graduate—our staff corralled the kids while their mom accepted her diploma.
Those kids don’t yet realize that their mom is a hero—but they will.
Women are rebuilding their communities after years of war.
One of our closest friends and colleagues in Iraq, Hala Al Saraf, is receiving an international leadership award from Refugees International for her “tireless efforts in addressing the needs of the internally displaced in Iraq, particularly during the urgent humanitarian crisis of the past several years.” She is building her country back with love, grace, and grit—and we are so honored to work with and learn from Hala.
Displaced women are leading their families home.
Our Yazidi friend Gozê, one of the makers of Sisterhood Soap, saved up enough to move her family into a new house. After several years of living in a makeshift home—a shipping container in a muddy field—Gozê seems like a new woman, eager to host friends and family in her new, comfortable home.
Women are refusing to let their lives be defined by violence and assault.
Women who experienced gender-based violence (GBV) or sexual assault while ISIS ruled Mosul are finding healing through therapy, community, friendship, and learning new livelihoods together. Today, several women from this program for GBV survivors will share at a national women’s convention about how they’re becoming change agents in their communities. As part of their presentation, the women made cloth flowers to hand out as a symbol of their strength and resilience.
Women are caring for each other in the middle of a war zone.
In the middle of Syria’s conflict, fifty displaced women are able to provide for their families because you’re employing them to work in our emergency kitchen, feeding 31,000 people a day. Despite widespread hunger in their community, these women know they’ll be able to feed their children, and that other families will be able to feed their children… because of you.
Women are writing a new story.
Across Iraq, hundreds of women are starting businesses, regaining confidence, rediscovering old passions, and cultivating new ones. They’re farming and designing, opening retail shops and daycares, baking and crocheting, creating soaps and candles, and so much more. Across Iraq, women are rebuilding themselves, their families, their communities, their economy, and their country.
Watching these women rise gives us hope for Iraq. Hope for Syria. Hope for our Yazidi friends and our Kurdish friends and our Arab friends.
But there is so much farther to go.
Nearly 3,000 Yazidi women and girls are still missing after being kidnapped, enslaved, or murdered by ISIS.
There are upwards of 2 million war widows in Iraq who lack the social freedoms to take care of themselves and their children. Many displaced women have been so impacted by poverty and war that simply getting through the day is a challenge… let alone trying to progress or rebuild.
And gender-based violence is still a problem everywhere, with nearly one in three women worldwide experiencing violence due to her gender at some point in her life. That global percentage just happens to be a middle ground between how many women experience gender based violence in the U.S. (20%) and how many experience it in the Middle East (40%).
So, to my sisters in the west: As we rise, let’s not forget our sisters in the Middle East. Let’s not forget to celebrate what they’ve already achieved—and stand with them as they achieve even more.
Let’s not take off without them or, God forbid, rise at their expense.
Let’s rise in ways that lift others with us. To me, that is the best of womanhood.