Inside the mind of the Executive Director of Women for Women International...
Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8th, ELEMIS has joined forces with Women for Women International to highlight the work the organisation does with women in the most poverty-stricken parts of the world that have been torn apart by conflict.
This week, Brita took time out of her busy schedule to tell us about her work – and how she stays hopeful and inspired.
What first sparked your passion for pursuing women’s rights?
When I was 14, my family and I moved from Germany to Venezuela. I had never seen real poverty before then, and I remember distinctly how it shocked me to see people living in cardboard boxes. It sparked a deep, lifelong passion for pursuing justice. This has got stronger over the years as I’ve learnt more about how women are targeted by violence and excluded from decision-making in some parts of the world.
What’s been your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge has been two-fold: retaining my hope and optimism when I’m faced with the darkest side of humanity can be difficult. The second challenge is the need to convince others that investing in women is right for everyone; that the situation women face is not a women’s issue – it’s an issue for all of us. An issue for humanity.
What’s the achievement you’re most proud of?
I’m so happy that Women for Women International has raised enough money to start supporting Syrian women refugees and Yazidi women in Northern Iraq. Of the millions of refugees fleeing Syria, 80% are women and children – many of whom have experienced sexual violence and have nowhere to go. Since starting a fundraising campaign last year, we’ve also been able to help 400 women in Northern Iraq by offering them psychosocial counselling and support to improve their living standards. It’s inspiring to know that there is something you can do to help if you put your mind to it.
What’s the most dangerous situation you’ve found yourself in?
When I was a teenager, I lived in Venezuela during a period of social unrest when we weren’t allowed to leave the house. We would hear gunshots on the streets, but I was never afraid. I think when you’re in those kinds of situations, you’re less aware of how dangerous it could potentially be. It was different, when I went to Bosnia last summer for a Peace March to commemorate the genocide in Srebrenica and I took my daughters, who are 15 and 13. When we arrived at the starting point for the march, there were soldiers and policemen everywhere. I could feel the tension and I was scared because I had my daughters with me and a group of Women for Women International supporters. Luckily, it was fine and nothing happened.
Which celebrity ambassadors have you most enjoyed working with?
I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to establish real friendships with all of our ambassadors. They all bring different, unique qualities but are also such incredible, strong and wonderful women who really care and go out of their way to help.
What hopes and objectives do you have for Women for Women International in the future?
We all listen to the news every day and hear about the horrors in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. I want everyone to know that when you’re overwhelmed by desperation at hearing the news, there is something you can do. Everyone can sponsor one woman through Women for Women International and together, we can change the world – one woman at a time.
Which woman has most inspired you?
There’s a young woman in Bosnia who lost her family in the genocide when she was a child. She had no opportunities and the first time she had access to skills and resources was through the Women for Women International programme. When I met her, she had graduated from our programme a year before and told me that she’d just been elected onto the local council in her municipality. It was the first time that a woman had been elected and she was only 25. I was utterly inspired when I heard this story.
What’s your most inspirational tip for women today?
Always have hope and follow your dreams. Speak your truth and be the best version of you that you can be. And when you become fearful, think about your sisters in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq and what they’ve gone through. Picture their bravery and it’ll give you strength and inspiration.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve created a Pro-Collagen Marine Cream Ultra-Rich with a lid engraved with the WfWI campaign tagline, ‘She Inspires Me’.