sisterhood transcends race, culture or geography and is bringing women and men from different backgrounds together
In 2018, I had the privilege of going on a life-changing trip to one of our sister offices, Žene za Žene in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I want to tell you about a young woman called Fatima who I met in Sarajevo, a participant in our Women's Leadership and Income programme.
Twenty-six years ago, the Bosnian capital Sarajevo was subjected to daily shelling and sniper attacks from Serbian nationalist forces. Tens of thousands of women and girls were raped and the conflict is ranked among the worst atrocities in modern European history. Women for Women International was set up to provide services and solidarity to the women of Bosnia and Herzegovina who had experienced the very worst of humanity. It started with a simple letter-writing campaign which created a personal connection between women living under siege or in refugee camps and the outside world.
As part of our letter sharing history we launched the #MessageToMySister campaign on International Women’s Day 2018. It was an opportunity for people to send a personal message to the women in our programme, telling them that we are standing alongside them and that we share their hopes and believe in their abilities. Before we landed in Sarajevo, I wrote my #MyMessageToMySister so that I could hand-deliver it to one of the women in the programme. My message read:
Decades after the war, it is still a shocking experience to be in Sarajevo. Though the country is in the process of healing, if you look close enough, you will see scars from the war throughout the city. As we drove from the airport, many of the apartment buildings were still covered in bullet holes – evidence of the horrific chapter in the city's history.
I met Fatima when we visited the Women's Leadership and Income programme where she was a participant. The programme enrolled about 20 young women at the beginning of 2018 and focused on four areas: leadership, women’s role in society, entrepreneurship and business plan development.
When I first saw Fatima, I remember thinking how incredible her red lipstick looked on her. I told her I loved her style and I admired the beautiful flowers she’d made from tissue paper as her chosen business skill.
During the session, Fatima talked about her passion for teaching others and how she loved sharing her experiences with other women. She also expressed her love for making paper flowers and how she was able to turn it into a business. Listening to Fatima was so inspiring, her bravery encouraged me to also believe in myself and in my own abilities. She made me think about some of the things I’m passionate about but haven’t followed through or have kept a lid on because of self-doubt.
After the session, I walked up to Fatima and started a conversation – this time not to talk about just make-up but to also express my admiration for her strength and bravery. We clicked instantly, just two girls from different backgrounds chatting about the many things we are passionate about.
I knew straight away that I wanted to share my #MessageToMySister postcard with her. I wrote that message not knowing who I would be sharing it with, but it connected so strongly to how I felt about Fatima in that moment.
One thing this trip has taught me is that the global sisterhood is a powerful thing. It is bringing women from different backgrounds together, it transcends race, culture or geography and that is what makes the #MessageToMySister campaign so special. Fatima shared what my message meant to her:
I’m so happy to have met Fatima and to call her my friend, and I am grateful to be given the opportunity to inspire her with my words. Your words can also be a source of hope and encouragement to a woman like Fatima.
Let's celebrate the power of the global sisterhood this International Women's Day!