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9 Key Takeaways from our Annual WomenStrong International Retreat

9 Key Takeaways from our Annual WomenStrong International Retreat

Each year, WomenStrong International brings together the experienced, dedicated leaders of our Consortium member organizations in Ghana, Haiti, India, Kenya and Washington, D.C., to share their innovative initiatives helping women and girls overcome extreme urban poverty.

Held in New York City this year, the Annual Retreat enables the cross-pollination of the best ideas across vastly different cultural and geopolitical contexts. For example, our India Consortium member’s successful work in economic empowerment might be adopted in Haiti, adapted to the local context and closely monitored to determine whether results will be similarly positive.

This year’s Retreat focused on the health, safety and economic empowerment of women and girls, as well as on efforts undertaken across the Consortium to keep girls in school and help them realize their full potential as powerful, productive women. Consortium members shared models, best practices, and participated in professional development sessions, including in a human rights educators’ workshop led by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. Several Consortium and Board members also participated in a Columbia University forum for graduate students, entitled, “Urbanization and Community Mobilization.” On a daily basis, WomenStrong Project Directors confront the rampant challenges facing women and girls in some of the world’s most impoverished urban settings. This means that in addition to the substantive learning and professional bonding that takes place at our Retreats, the sharing of ideas also gives our leaders “courage and hope,” as one of our members put it.

Across the Consortium, remarkable progress is happening at our WomenStrong sites, some of which is detailed below.

1. Midwife Training

Women’s Health to Wealth continues to save the lives of thousands of infants across Ghana’s Ashanti region by training local midwives in modern practices such as identifying neonatal asphyxia, conducting neonatal resuscitation, preventing and treating newborn infections, and successful breastfeeding. So far, more than 80,000 mothers and newborns have been touched by this life-saving training.

2. Micro Justice

DHAN Foundation continues to provide micro justice through legal clinics that have already helped thousands of Madurai women and their families know their rights and begin to exercise them.

3. Empowering Girls in Kenya

Alice Visionary Foundation Project (AVFP) continues to educate and mentor Kenyan girls so that they might realize their full potential. In an environment where girls face myriad dangers every day, AVFP creates safe meeting spaces for girls, offers menstruation and reproductive health education and cultivates leadership skills, through Girls’ Clubs that have proven essential to creating a better future for local girls.

4. Helping Women Organize in their Communities

H.O.P.E. trains standout Mothers’ Club graduates as female community organizers or animatrices, to serve as leaders and role models for women and girls in their communities. Animatrices are the first point of contact for local women and girls and serve as the link between the community and H.O.P.E.’s healthcare network. These experienced women are a valuable source of public health information.

For example, they know who in the community is pregnant, the location of clean water sources, how many animals a family owns (an indicator of wealth), and where an individual case of cholera has just popped up and might quickly spread. Empowering such strong women leaders in their capacity as cornerstones of the community is an important focus of WomenStrong’s and H.O.P.E.’s partnership.

5. A Safe Space for Women to Gather

Bread for the City continues to give women in Southeast Washington, D.C. a safe place to gather, share their stories and rebuild their trust and sense of community. Women’s groups offer a holistic approach to community mental health, implemented through group work and individual counseling.

6. Addressing Gender-Based Violence

After discovering that in recent years reports of gender-based violence were on the rise, Alice Visionary Foundation Project formed a Gender-Based Violence Community Action Group. Made up of 89 women and 11 men, the GBV community group is trained to understand the different forms violence might take, the needs of survivors, and the community’s role in preventing the kinds of violence that can stop girls and women from achieving their goals, realizing their dreams, or simply leading lives of dignity and peace.

7. Using Art as Therapy

Bread for the City now offers 35+ workshops ranging from art therapy to drum meditation for participating women. “In my neighborhood, there is a lot of violence, so I used the camouflage with the fatigues to symbolize that I have to be a soldier or warrior every day, to survive in my neighborhood,” one participant said.

8. Keeping Pregnant Teens in School

Women’s Health to Wealth realizes the importance of keeping girls in school, which is why they started a teens’ prenatal clinic and support group for young expectant mothers. The group encourages girls to stay in school and provides strategies and support for doing so, including from mothers in the community. But, if a girl does need to drop out of school, they can join another group run by Women’s Health to Wealth that helps teen moms learn and apprentice in such livelihood skills as tailoring.

9. Life Insurance Makes All the Difference

DHAN Foundation has enrolled more than 18,000 people in such social security products as life, accident and health insurance that for the first time provide significant financial cushions for the poorest of the urban poor. DHAN’s motto — “Savings First, Credit Next, Insurance is a Must, and Pension is Best” — helps guide whole communities on pathways out of poverty and toward greater social interdependence. Learn more about DHAN’s unique approach >>

Meet Our Consortium Members

Abenaa Akuamoa-Boateng
Founder/Director, Women’s Health to Wealth
Kisumu, Ghana
“All these girls have dreams. They want to do something,” Abenaa said about participants in WHW’s 125+ Girl’s Clubs’, which encourages girls to follow their dreams.
Learn more about Abenaa >>

Beldina Opiyo-Omolo
Founder/Director, Alice Visionary Foundation Project
Kisumu, Kenya
“It’s essential to provide a safe space for the girls to talk where they feel they can express themselves” Beldina said about the Girls’ and Teens’ Clubs AVFP offers girls and young women in the community.
Learn more about Beldina >>

Lynda Brown
Director, SE Center, Bread for the City
Washington, D.C.
“We provide opportunities for the women to share their stories so they can build trust with one another,” said Lynda Brown about the variety of workshops offered as part of WomenStrong D.C.
Learn more about Lynda >>

Rose-Marie Chierici, Ph.D.
Founder/Executive Director, H.O.P.E.
Borgne, Haiti
“We’re always asking ourselves, ‘How can we empower women to be self-supportive?’” said Rose-Marie about the economic empowerment programs H.O.P.E. offers women in northernmost Haiti.
[Learn more about Rose-Marie >>]

M.P. Vasimalai (Vasi)
Director of DHAN Foundation
Madurai, India
“Everything we do must have a long-term approach, it must be sustainable. It’s essential to co-create new programs with the community,” said Vasi about his organization’s process for determining which programs to implement.
[Learn more about Vasi >>]

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