On 18th October 2018 World Jewish Relief hosted a landmark event at JW3 to celebrate the launch of our new initiative, Women of World Jewish Relief, engaging the support of our fantastic network of strong, kind and powerful Jewish women who can help us really make a difference.
This inaugural event also marked our commitment to prioritise the needs of women across our work. Women already make up a majority of the participants that we support through our programmes but we recognise that they face unique challenges, whether that is inequality socially, in the workplace or at home that deny them from fulfilling their full potential.
To mark the launch of Women of World Jewish Relief we invited three amazing women from across our programmes to speak about the challenges faced by women in troubled societies, war zones and workplaces.
Viktoria Panteley is Executive Director of Hesed Shaare Tikva, one of World Jewish Relief’s trusted partner organisations in Kharkov, Ukraine. Her tireless effort supports over 7,000 clients, the majority of whom are women.
Viktoria outlined how in Ukraine, structural inequalities have a large impact on women. The gender pay gap is as much as 25%, and the average life expectancy for women is 12 years longer than men. The result is a far greater number of isolated older women living on paltry pensions. During their working lives Ukrainian women are further impacted if they chose to have children. Without sufficient childcare provision and social stigma around working mothers, returning to well-paid work after having children is difficult. This not only delays career progression but also leaves them with a much smaller pension.
Working alongside World Jewish Relief, Hesed Shaare Tikva provides holistic support to older Jewish people in Kharkov. From dementia education, home repairs, eye operations and home care visits, our programmes are carefully tailored to the needs of this generation of older Jewish people. Viktoria’s deep knowledge and experience of helping vulnerable people is invaluable in ensuring that older Jews in Ukraine can live dignified lives.
Valentine Mukamuyenzi travelled to London from Rwanda to speak about her work with street children affected by genocide. In 1994 the Rwandan civil war culminated in one of the most horrific genocides since the Holocaust. Over the course of 100 days between 500,000 and one million people were murdered. Many of Valentine’s family were killed in the violence.
Streets Ahead Children’s Centre (SACCA) was established in 2003 to help the thousands of children left to live on the streets as a result of the genocide. They became a World Jewish Relief partner in 2005 and over the last 15 years have helped 4,600 children off the streets and into safe homes or employment.
Valentine said “I have watched as kids I helped bring off the streets have grown up and become responsible and flourishing men and women with their own families. I lost much of my family to the genocide, but through my leadership of SACCA, I have been blessed with more. The children call me mother and they come and talk or ask for advice. For many of them I am the only mother they have.”
Despite being one of the leading nations when it comes to female participation in the work force and government, the challenges facing girls in Rwanda are still much greater than those facing boys. Traditional gender roles mean women and girls are expected to fulfil the majority of domestic tasks and opportunities for wider education are limited. A lack of family planning initiatives, including sex education and contraception, means there is a high number of unplanned teenage pregnancies which disrupts young women’s lives and their chances for education and meaningful employment. For Valentine and SACCA, the challenge is not only providing material support but also changing the young women’s mindsets and empowering them to gain employment.
“Our government has made gender equality a key part of their mission but it hasn’t filtered down to people in rural areas. According to traditional culture, girls are still expected to do most of the household duties like cooking, cleaning and looking after the children” said Valentine.
World Jewish Relief worked with SACCA to create a programme which gives training and employment skills to young people. With this support, young people are able to get jobs in hospitality, construction and hairdressing both locally and in the capital Kigali. The transformation of these children’s lives and prospects is extraordinary. Not only do they have an income to support their families, but their confidence, self-esteem and mental health are also dramatically improved.
Kafa is a participant on World Jewish Relief’s Specialist Training and Employment Programme (STEP) in Bradford established as part of our Refugee Crisis Appeal. She fled her home in Syria with her husband and two young children and came to Britain on the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).
Kafa told us that sitting in her home on the outskirts of Homs, Syria, she could hear the sound of bombs falling. At first a distant reminder of the ongoing conflict until they grew closer and then her neighbour’s house was hit. She remembers how hard it was being a mother in a war zone. The children didn’t understand what was going on or why they couldn’t play outside. Food supplies became scarce and power and water shortages were common.
“Our lives were turned upside down. Suddenly there was bombing, shelling and fighting… My children couldn’t go to school. I couldn’t look after them properly. There was no peace or happiness.”
Kafa and her husband, whose mobility is limited by polio, decided to leave Syria for the sake of their children. After an exhausting journey they crossed the border into Jordan and tried their best to settle down and continue their lives. But without work they were relying on charity handouts and living in cramped conditions and Kafa clearly recalls the physical and emotional exhaustion.
“It was like a battle; you feel as though you are always fighting. We didn’t go out, we didn’t have family around. You’re just alone all the time.”
In 2015 Kafa and her family were brought to the UK. Despite her English Literature degree Kafa struggled to find work until she enrolled in World Jewish Relief’s Specialist Training and Employment Programme (STEP) where she received support in understanding how to get her qualifications recognised in the UK, additional training and help in securing a job as an interpreter.
“I hope my story can give my children the courage and power to look forward and achieve things for themselves and for others.”
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