I came across the International Women's Initiative (IWI) by accident. One of our lovely contributors, Gina Love, was sending in a submission, and after a discussion about anxiety and art, she introduced me to the IWI and her sister via email. I immediately recognized the importance of this organization, and extended an interview invitation to all of the members of the events team at IWI. Read on to hear about how their position within the IWI raises awareness for women's rights around the world and how IWI is making a global difference.
IWI is a growing Non-Government Organization (NGO) dedicated to alleviating human rights violations against women worldwide. Founded in 2012 by Aubrey Shayler, the organization is entirely volunteer-run. The events team started out in April last year and consists of Lily Robertson, the Director of Events and Event Coordinators, Juliet Osborne, Alissia Passarini and Miranda Love, who put together IWI’s first official and hugely successful Gala event in 2016.
Sarah Sickles for Pink Things: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions about the International Women’s Initiative. Can you give us some background on the organization and how you became involved?
Lily Robertson of IWI: At it’s core IWI is a human rights NGO, but we’re specifically focused on situations where women’s human rights are under threat. Unfortunately, we don’t yet live in a world where human rights are applied equally to both genders!
We believe women should be the protagonists of their own lives. I love that sentiment because I think it resonates on all levels - no matter where you live, or who you are, or what you do, your life is your own and you should be able to live it any way you want.
Our Executive Director started IWI after reading an article about the poor conditions of maternal health for women in northern Uganda and was inspired to do something about it. As an organization, we’re fairly small and quite young (started in 2012) and entirely volunteer run. We don’t have all the answers, but everyone working with IWI is passionate about doing what we can to make a difference for women.
“NO MATTER WHERE YOU LIVE, OR WHO YOU ARE, OR WHAT YOU DO, YOUR LIFE IS YOUR OWN AND YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO LIVE IT ANY WAY YOU WANT.”
PT: So you’re an event coordinator for IWI, can you tell me about your role and how it aids in accomplishing the goals of IWI?
Juliet Osborne of IWI: As event coordinators, we have two main priorities: to raise funds and awareness for IWI and its mission, and to curate enjoyable and memorable events that help to attract and retain loyal supporters. We engage our audience with great lineups of speakers and performers and are always thinking of new ways to entertain at our events, while also reinforcing our underlying message. Our supporters are our life force, so engagement is the most important thing.
The more support we gain, the more we can accomplish, and it’s truly striking how much of an impact even the sale of a £1 raffle ticket at an event can make. In the case of the Safe Birthing Program (which our last event raised funds for), the proceeds from a single raffle ticket buys one safe birthing kit, and potentially saves the lives of a mother and her baby.
PT: How does IWI benefit women globally?
Juliet: IWI benefits women not only in a targeted and localized manner through the likes of the Safe Birthing Program, but also by raising awareness of violations to the human rights of women globally. IWI is committed to defending the human rights of all women, and we have an excellent blog on our website that highlights specific cases, as well as more general women’s rights issues. The first step in the fight against women’s rights violations is awareness, so the more people we can make aware of IWI through our events, the more we will be able to do in future for women across the world.
“IWI IS COMMITTED TO DEFENDING THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF ALL WOMEN”
PT: Tell me about your recent fundraiser! I hear that over 200 people attended and that you raised almost £1,700! What was it for? When did it take place? Who attended? How did you raise the money?
Alissia Passarini of IWI: After over 4 months of work, we held IWI’s first official massive event in Shoreditch, an inner city district in London, and more than 200 people attended! We raised £1700 through our event, donations, and a raffle. More than 30 people contributed to the realization of this dream - food and beverage donors, volunteers, even our friends and family came by to help out. I am extremely proud of our fundraiser and I believe that a little progress can make a big difference in this world.
PT: Talk to me a little bit about the Safe Birthing Program. It’s one of the first major initiatives to launch from IWI. How was this accomplished and what has it been like since?
Lily: As a women’s rights organization, IWI believes that all women everywhere should be provided with fundamental human rights, and that includes the right to adequate healthcare.
The Safe Birthing Program (SBP) is the flagship endeavor for IWI, essentially the program that brought IWI into existence. We work with three local health centers in rural parts of Northern Uganda with limited resources and provide them with birthing kits. These include very basic but necessary tools to make childbirth a safer experience for women.
The Safe Birthing Program is based in Amolatar, Uganda because women there have the highest risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth in the world. Globally, maternal mortality has declined by 44% between 1990 and 2015, with the current global maternal mortality ratio at 216 deaths per 100,000 live births. However, Uganda’s maternal mortality ratio is well above that at 343 per 100,000 - and both of these statistics are well above the 70 deaths per 100,000 live births laid out as a target in Sustainable Development Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being.
Our gala fundraiser was to raise money to fund the pilot outreach program for the SBP, including 4 more distributions of birthing kits. After, we’ll review the impact to see how we continue and where we can improve or expand. And we did fund the project!
Even though the program has been in existence since 2012 our first distribution of this pilot only happened in September 2016. There's a huge amount of planning and research that goes into scoping out a program to make sure it's really focused on having the most impact possible, i.e. finding a region and an action not already served by the charity sector. We’re in that research and scoping process with our second IWI program focused on human trafficking.
PT: What’s IWI working on next?
Miranda Love of IWI: Event-wise we've got a stand-up Comedy Gala lined up for International Women's Day on March 8th, 2017. We're lining up a few surprises and hopefully some big names and having a lot of fun organizing things, so stay posted.
Other upcoming things for 2017 include the launch of the Advocacy Team, which will work to change policy and bring awareness to human rights issues for women in the UK. The Human Project will be rolling out: that's IWI's anti-human trafficking program. We’ll also be holding our second gala event next October, which is super exciting. In association with The Human Project, we will also have a research partnership with the NGO Liberty Asia titled Tech Humanity. This will study the use and benefits of mobile phones to aid trafficking victims globally, and usage of the findings to create a phone app meant to aid victims.
PT: What’s the largest challenge for IWI?
Lily: With women’s rights it’s the sheer size and scale of violations that happen around the world. Working with IWI on some of their social media channels has been an eye opener to just how challenging and restricting it still is to be a woman in some countries. It’s been incredible to really see how privileged we are in terms of women’s rights in the developed world. There’s obviously still more that can be done to achieve gender equality but we’re not talking about basic human rights - we’re talking about gender pay gaps and shared childcare not access to safe healthcare or freedom from abuse.
In terms of IWI as an organization, our biggest challenge is probably the fact that we’re entirely volunteer run and so time can be of the essence! And also, because we’re still quite new everything we do is usually for the first time - but personally I love the fact that there’s no set way of working, we’re free to just try anything to find what works best for us. We’re full of incredible people dedicating their free time to the organization, but it’s sometimes a challenge to find the time and space to get things done quickly. That said, the event we ran recently was a great example of what can be achieved despite those challenges!
PT: What has been the greatest reward?
Juliet: At our recent event, it was fantastic to see such a great turnout. As a charity in its relative infancy, we really weren’t expecting any more than about 100 people (mainly consisting of our family and friends!), but people were actually buying tickets at the door after seeing our window displays!
It was wonderful to see the spirit of charity from everyone that attended, but also deserving of a mention are our incredible donors. The fact that we were able to feed, hydrate, and entertain over 200 people at no cost to IWI is a real testament to the generosity of our donors (and maybe also to our powers of persuasion!).
To see so many people listening and ready to help was amazing, and it has been truly rewarding to help make it happen.
Miranda: It's really rewarding and massively fulfilling to be a part of helping a women's rights NGO to grow from grass-roots level and promote it through my work on the events team. I have a huge respect for the team at IWI - we all do this on our down time and make things happen from scratch.
“WE’RE FULL OF INCREDIBLE PEOPLE DEDICATING THEIR FREE TIME TO THE ORGANIZATION.”
PT: What inspires you and IWI? Obviously women’s rights, but on a more personal level, or deeper desire to see equality in the world, what drives you?
Miranda: Before joining IWI, I was becoming more and more disillusioned with where equality was. I wanted to have a platform where I had the opportunity to make people realize that regardless of gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, being the protagonist of your own life should be allowed worldwide. It’s frustrating that the perpetuation of gendered language, roles, and stereotypes still exist and as long as they do, so exists inequality. Violence against women and issues like FGM, rape, and its ever-present victim-blaming culture, this abhorrent culture, this behavior, needs to change. With Donald Trump’s presidency looming, IWI will work harder than ever now that sexual assault has, sadly, been condoned on a National level. It’s because of issues like this that I’m glad to be a part of IWI. Through raising awareness of our projects, my drive to make tangible difference in deconstructing patriarchy and protecting women’s and human rights as a whole is fulfilled a little bit more every day.
PT: How has working with IWI impacted you personally?
Alissia: Before joining IWI, I was going through a very tough chapter of my life, with my job, with my partner, and with myself. I was desperately looking for a job in the event industry but my lack of experience at the time stopped me. Here in the UK, volunteering is such an attractive thing for your future employer to see on your CV. So I decided to give it a go and looked for volunteering positions that combined my great passions: organizing events and women’s rights. The first that came out was an Event Assistant volunteering position at IWI. I applied and few days later I had a call with Lily, our Director, offering me the position. On my first day of work I met loads of good people caring for the cause and the project we were working on: The Safe Birthing Program. I was feeling better day-by-day. I was regaining the self-esteem that I lost and I could speak to people and help them. My colleagues were so helpful and kind to me, it didn’t feel like we were working. Together with Lily, Miranda and Juliet we have built a great and strong team.
“THROUGH RAISING AWARENESS OF OUR PROJECTS, MY DRIVE TO MAKE TANGIBLE DIFFERENCE IN DECONSTRUCTING PATRIARCHY AND PROTECTING WOMEN’S AND HUMAN RIGHTS AS A WHOLE IS FULFILLED A LITTLE BIT MORE EVERY DAY.”
PT: How can others help and contribute to IWI?
Juliet: Come to our events…tell everyone you know to come to our events! They’re really fun and they really make a difference!
- Most importantly - stay engaged and stay in touch. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and read and share our news articles.
Finally, if you can spare a little money, please click on the donate button on the IWI home page to help us to continue our work.
PT: Is there anything else you would like to add? Anything at all!
Miranda: As cheesy as it might sound, one of the best things to come out of working for IWI and the events team is having met some completely wonderful human beings - Juliet, Ali and Lily, who have now become very good friends of mine. After the gala fundraiser, our Executive Director and Founder, Aubrey Shayler, sent us a lovely card and bunch of flowers each, which was such a thoughtful gesture. And I’d like to say a big thank you to the wider IWI team - especially Louisa, Kamini, Christy, Laurel and Tarang, as well as our donors and supporters who came to the gala. Thank you for helping us to make things possible and make a difference to the health and lives of women in Northern Uganda.
This interview was conducted via email and has been condensed and edited