Celebrating what we’ve achieved in a turbulent year
Launching any new venture is challenging – and starting the Leading Women Fund at the height of a pandemic certainly tested the ingenuity of everyone involved. (Did anyone know how to use a Zoom breakout room before last year?)
Yet in the past 12 months, the Fund has achieved more than anyone dared to hope, bringing together a group of dynamic, committed women and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund cash assistance for Syrian refugee women in Jordan.
“When I started the Fund, I hoped to create a global community of women working together for gender equality, and I believe we’ve already started to build that,” says Naomi Steer, National Director of Australia for UNHCR.
“I feel privileged to be part of such a wonderful network of women all over Australia who have already given so much of their time, energy and funds to help Syrian refugee women. I can’t wait to see where we take the Fund next.”
Nearly 200 women attended our online event on July 30 last year, in which Australia for UNHCR Board member and tech guru Zoe Ghani appeared on a panel with LWF ambassador Janine Allis, along with Deputy Representative to the UNHCR in Jordan, Carolyn Ennis, who spoke honestly and movingly about the situation for Syrian refugee women in Jordan.
Cash assistance, she said, was both a practical and dignified way to help refugee women, one third of whom have found themselves the head of their household. “It saves on money like shipment and transportation [of supplies] and warehousing,” she explained. But more than that, cash assistance gave women the opportunity to manage their own budgets again.
“It removes the sense that we are the benefactors giving the grateful beneficiaries plastic buckets of food they don’t want,” she continued. “We have to remember that refugees are not ‘a problem’. They are not ‘other’. They are people just like us with refugee status.”
Nearly 800 people registered for September’s Zoom panel with UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Kelly T. Clements, and it was a huge privilege to hear from the most senior woman in refugee aid globally. Kelly was joined by Australia for UNHCR special representative Marta Dusseldorp and UNHCR Head of Office for Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, Irene Omondi. One of the highlights was hearing about the success of refugee students in the national robotics championships.
And then in March, to celebrate International Women’s Day, we welcomed one of the most famous models in the world, Adut Akech, to a special event, where she was interviewed by Vogue Australia editor-in-chief Edwina McCann. The event raised an incredible $34,150.
Each donor to the Leading Women Fund supports a Syrian refugee woman and her family for a year, enabling her to meet the essential costs of living. This support is vital: one third of Syrian refugee households is led by a woman, and legitimate paid work for women is hard to secure, particularly now that the economy has been so badly affected by lockdowns.
And cash assistance works: research released by UNHCR in Jordan last month revealed 87 per cent of recipients spent cash assistance on food, and 83 per cent spent the funds on rent. Almost everyone reported that cash assistance improved their quality of life and reduced feelings of stress ̶ something Jameela, a Syrian mother of four, knows only too well.
After fleeing her home city of Homs in 2013 for the relative safety of Jordan, Jameela, a widow, relied on cash assistance from UNHCR to help pay rent and other basic expenses. But after three years, she was told that her payments would cease, due to the overwhelming number of desperate families who needed support.
“Sometimes I wasn’t able to cover the full amount of the rent and, when this happened, I used to get scared of being evicted by the owner of the house,” she says.
To cover the shortfall, she was forced to borrow money and accumulate debt, as well as use funds that were meant to cover school expenses such as books and equipment for her children.
So it was a huge relief when she received a text at the start of this year informing her that her cash assistance was being restored. “All I wish is that God leaves me in good health and safety, and for my children to have a beautiful future,” she says.
This year, the Leading Women Fund plans to bring more donors together in person ̶ firstly, at the World Refugee Day event on June 18 in Sydney (purchase tickets here for the livestream event).
In July, we’ll be holding a ‘tea with the experts’ webinar for our donors with an inspiring panel of field workers and experts, and of course the Connecting Worlds app opportunity starts again later in the year. More than anything, though, we want to nourish and deepen the relationships between our impressive network of donors, and the refugee women they’re supporting with life-changing funds.
Find out more about how you can help Syrian refugee women
Craftivists Stephanie Dunlap and Tal Fitzpatrick reached out to artists around the world to raise funds for Australia for UNHCR
The majority of funds raised by Australia for UNHCR are directed to UNHCR’s emergency operations, providing the ready funds and resources to respond quickly and effectively in situations of crisis and disaster.