By Lucinda Pepper, contributing writer
The most extraordinary acts can seem to be the most ordinary.
During 2022, a human rights defender in a country in the Middle East received a great gift. Her mother, in that unselfish and nurturing way of grandmothers worldwide, took in her grandchildren.
Daily, human rights defenders face risks to their safety. Many women are trauma survivors themselves and work on behalf of women who have just escaped, or who have yet to escape, exploitation, danger and the threat of unending violence. While documenting survivor stories and advocating for other women, their freedom can be instantly compromised, carrying heavy consequences for their families.
Daily, human rights defenders face risks to their safety. Many women are trauma survivors themselves and work on behalf of women who have just escaped, or who have yet to escape, exploitation, danger and the threat of unending violence.”
The human rights defender, who had moved to the safety of Jordan, told Noor Al-Sagher, CVT tele-mental health trainer and therapist, that she and her husband were arrested and spent time in detention and that her mother gave her a gift when she took in her grandchildren. That gift allowed her to continue working to defend human rights. What would those children have done if not for their grandmother? How would this activist have continued to make a difference, if not for the support of her mother?
In celebration of International Women’s Day 2023, we present a collection of stories of women helping women. This straightforward-seeming topic belies the complex and intersectional identities of women and the nuanced ways women show up for each other. Through major and minor acts, women turn out in support of women. Every day, these roles include helping, caring, welcoming, anticipating, resource gathering, pastoring and listening. During and after crisis situations, women are fierce protectors, leaders, guides, documenters, navigators and collective voice amplifiers.
Connection with other women strengthens what is already strong. Hikayat, a former CVT client and refugee living in Jordan, shared her difficult story of being abducted during the war in Darfur and enduring beatings, rape and terror. In a poignant moment, another woman offered her presence and reassurance by saying, “I am here with you, and you are here with me.” Hikayat and her companion set out to escape from their captors, sharing the stories of what they had been through as they walked. In another woman’s story, Haben fled to a refugee camp in Ethiopia with only some of her children and deep pain in her heart; she had no choice but to leave two of her children behind who had been conscripted by the Eritrean military. Haben found other women refugees who had similar stories of family loss and separation; she then helped women find resources within the camp to aid in their healing.
When women help each other, their actions become a conduit for the collective, oftentimes positively affecting more than just one person. That ripple effect is frequently apparent in workplace and family settings.
When women help each other, their actions become a conduit for the collective, oftentimes positively affecting more than just one person.”
In our Iraq program, Yusra Al-Kailani, resilience programming trainer and psychotherapist, shared a story of a psychosocial counselor colleague who, while in the midst of a work training session, received a message that her baby was very sick and required immediate medical attention. Her supervisor, also a woman, directly supported this colleague in leaving the training to be present with her child, reassuring her that training could be resumed later.
Jill Davidson, a social worker in our Minnesota program in the U.S., received similar support from her colleagues when one of her loved ones died; they took over her work responsibilities. And a psychotherapist/trainer in our Nairobi program, Amrita Chudasama, shared her appreciation for their support staff. Amrita said their office cleaner frequently goes above and beyond, that she provides childcare for energetic toddlers during group therapy sessions, and that one of the translators holds babies while their mothers are doing stretching exercises.
Women will extend themselves to ensure the needs of people around them are met. Novia Josiah-Isaac, a social worker in our Minnesota program, lauded her colleagues who put their hearts into their work. Novia said these caring case workers go beyond their job requirements to be sure clients have the services they need for stability and healing. And Jill shared a story of being with a client who was going through a personally difficult time and who had just moved into a communal living facility. During her first-day tour, the other women residents warmly welcomed and received the new woman, offering her a felt sense of belonging.
Felicia Lynch, bilingual case manager for CVT’s Proyecto Mariposa on the U.S. Southern border, shared a story of a young immigrant woman, Luisa*, who lost the original sponsor supporting her relocation to Arizona. An elderly woman volunteer and immigrant advocate learned about Luisa’s situation and became her new sponsor, inviting Luisa to live with her. As Luisa became acquainted with residency in a new country and worked toward her personal goals of improved mental health and reconnecting with her detained brother, she was literally embraced and supported in the heart of a multi-generational family of women.
CVT works to be a force multiplier, lifting up women’s stories as tools for advocacy and to inspire action in defense of human rights. The daily multitude of labors women undertake create the foundation for extraordinary stories. We hope you’ll take time this month to clearly see and celebrate the amazing women in your life, to lift up their stories and to take action in support of all kinds of women, everywhere.
*Names have been changed for confidentiality and security purposes.