At Veeda, we are naturally huge supporters of organizations that empower and help other women in the world, especially when it comes to women’s health, which is why we’re chatting today with the marketing officer, Rosey Ellum at Womankind, an organization that delivers changes for women's rights on a global scale.
We thank them for this interview and the collaborative opportunity they gave us by accepting our Veeda donation for some of the safe houses in Ethiopia.
How did the Womankind organization start and what is the inspiration and mission of it?
From day one, Womankind was an organisation set up by feminists who wanted to transform the lives of women and girls. We were founded in 1989 by Alec Reed, and under the leadership of our first Executive Director, Kate Young, we launched on International Women’s Day (8 March) with the mission of supporting women’s right organisations and doing development, not just welfare, by women, for women. Two ideas formed the basis of our mission: a group of women has greater strength than one woman alone so women can best bring about significant change by getting together; and by supporting projects that enable women to become aware of their human rights we could make the most change. And we still stand by those ideals today!
How is the Womankind funded and what projects are you specifically seeking funding for?
We get funding from a range of different supporters. We have an amazing group of people who give us whatever they can to support our work, through regular gifts and cash donations. We also have lots of people who fundraise for us, doing things like marathons, skydives and bake sales – their passion and commitment is truly inspiring. We also receive funding from trusts and foundations as well as the UK government, the EU, other governments. And, we have a handful of brilliant corporate sponsors like Veeda who recently helped provide much needed sanitary products to our Safe Houses for vulnerable young girls and women in Ethiopia. Like all charities, we are constantly evolving and looking for new avenues of support – corporate fundraising is an important area for us to grow over the next few years and we need support from companies like Veeda to help us do this.
At the moment there are quite a few projects that we are seeking funds for so that our partners can continue their critical work supporting women. In Kenya and Tanzania we are working with two organisations, FIDA Kenya and Women’s Legal Aid Centre (WLAC), to end violence against women, child marriage and female genital mutilation. Our partners are working with community groups, local leaders and services such as the police to change attitudes and promote human rights. WLAC works in a refugee camp to train refugees as paralegals so they can help their fellow residents with things like land disputes, forced marriages and physical and sexual violence. And FIDA Kenya is running radio shows, community conversations and awareness campaigns so women can get the support they need when violence happens and make change in their communities.
How many people and countries have you supported with your work?
Throughout our 27 year history we have worked in over 70 countries and directly supported over 18 million women and girls. Last year alone we worked with 32 partners in 13 countries, supporting 103,124 women and girls.
Are you aware of the social impact you have for women worldwide and what kind of reception you’ve gotten so far?
As well as working directly with women, we also reach millions of people through awareness raising and changes to laws and policies. Last year we supported 10.4 million people through radio shows, education programmes and changes in laws. For example, our partner Women’s Peace and Justice Project in Sierra Leone told us that thanks to their radio shows, adverts and discussions, people across a huge area better understand women’s rights and how to protect them, such as how to get help if they suffer violence. We know from our experience that this has a huge and lasting social impact on communities.
What have been some of your biggest challenges so far? What are the challenges behind finding partners and creating on-going collaborations with them?
One of the biggest challenges for all women’s rights organisations is funding, and we’re no exception. Huge strides have been made in terms of national and international law, but these could mean little without funding for grassroots movements. Women’s rights organisations need flexible, long-term funds that reflect women’s needs.
But there is no shortage of women’s rights organisations and movements challenging discrimination and promoting women’s rights, in every country of the world, and working at all levels, from local to global. We work with organisations where we share values and a vision of a better world for women. Our ongoing collaboration takes good communication, an honest and open working relationship, and a commitment to working in equal partnership.
How do you communicate your values, stand out in the crowd and get attention both in the online and offline world?
We live and breathe women’s rights. It’s our sole purpose. So we aim to communicate real women’s voices and raise the profiles of our partners. We have very committed supporters, both online and offline, and they help us enormously to spread our message.
Online we do this through social media, email, our website and the media. By giving the women we support a voice, we bring the issues that they care about to the forefront. We also try new ways to engage with people. For example, for International Women’s Day this year we produced a mobile app called ‘Suffragette Roulette’, a game to draw attention to the many challenges facing women in politics around the world.
Offline communication is just as important. We keep our supporters updated with a twice-yearly newsletter, which again focuses on the partners and women we work with. We also produce a yearly impact report, celebrating the amazing achievements of our partners and campaigns. And we bring some of our online projects to life, such as producing a physical game of ‘Suffragette Roulette’ to be used by schools and community groups. Of course, a lot also goes on behind the scenes to communicate our message and goals. We’re in regular contact with other organisations, working collaboratively, and with the UK government to make sure they prioritize women’s rights.
How do you confront the social stigma around menstruation? Why is it important to change the dialogue around periods?
It’s important because women and girls should not feel ashamed to have periods – we all have them and they’re part of our lives. Also, it’s discriminatory to deny women and girls their rights when they’re menstruating, such as making them stay home from school or work. We communicate openly about menstruation, for example on social media, and we support organisations that are working to end the stigma surrounding periods. For example, our partner FIDA Kenya recently got a motion approved at a county council to provide sanitary towels in all primary and secondary schools.
What’s your motivational mantra and what inspires you as an organization?
Our main source of inspiration is the women we work with. Our partners are truly brilliant and provide our daily motivation. There’s DEMUS in Peru, which has been creatively campaigning for justice for survivors of sexual violence for years, taking to the streets and forcing the government to listen. There are our three partners in Sierra Leone, Women’s Peace and Justice Project, Graceland and Women Against Exploitation and Violence, who have shown incredible strength and resilience since the beginning of the Ebola epidemic to continue to ensure women’s rights aren’t forgotten. And I could go on! Every time they update us on their work or we meet the staff and women they support, we feel renewed and invigorated.
We’re also hugely inspired by our supporters, who do incredible things to raise money. We’ve had people doing Ironman competitions, marathons, skydives, long-distance swims, walks across countries, and much more. Seeing their enthusiasm for women’s rights keeps us going.
What has been the greatest success for Womankind so far?
Our greatest success is our 27 year history. We’re still here, fighting for women’s rights every day. And we won’t stop until we have a world where women have equal rights, choices and opportunities and not discriminated against just because of their gender.
What hopes and plans do you have for the future?
We are currently working on implementing our new strategy, which will bring us closer to a world without discrimination and violence. Our aim is to play a leading role in delivering real impact for women and women’s movements around the world. We’re still committed to strengthening women’s rights organisations and we’ll continue to grow our feminist voice and support women’s movements to make gender equality a reality. Women’s movements are changing the world – by demanding equal rights and equality under the law, by supporting and empowering women, and by holding governments and decision makers to account. So we want to use our resources to support them.
Our key themes will continue to guide us: the right for women to live free from violence and exploitation, to have equal economic rights and equal influence and leadership. They’re more important than ever.
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