What is empowerment? Announcing Me and My Hijaab’s new campaign

12 Mar

On Wednesday 7th March, the day before Women’s International Day (WID), I attended a joint celebration of WID hosted by Islamic Relief and EMEL Magazine. It was also the launch of Islamic Relief’s ‘We are Empowered’ project.  Among Islamic Relief’s many projects and fantastic work around the world, this one especially touched my heart.

While listening to various speakers and watching footage from the ‘We Are Empowered’ project, I felt the true essence of empowerment. The word ‘empowerment’ is often used in reference to the subjugation or objectification of women. That we need to be ‘empowered’ from the inequalities that women suffer due to their gender. And rightly so, after all, empowerment is about giving someone back their rights. But I feel that the concept has somewhat been hijacked. That it has a deeper meaning. That empowering someone is far more about unequal pay- not that this is not an important issue, but we seem to have neglected the bigger picture. A fantastic example of empowerment is Islamic Relief’s ‘Shea Butter Project’:

“In southern Mali, Donmbia Kadia Samaki had a plan to start a business to produce butter from shea tree nuts, which Islamic Relief supported with a loan. Over a few years, the business has grown and now employs 74 women, supporting the whole community!

Islamic Relief then partnered the business with a cosmetic company in France, training the women to ensure that the shea butter meets the high standards of the cosmetic industry. The butter is not being exported to Paris.

The money made from the butter not only supports the women and their families, but helps the business grow: recently they built a manufacturing and storage facility.

All Donmbia Kadia Samaki needed was a little help and thanks to the micro-credit load, she was empowered to not only support herself, but her entire community.” ~ Islamic Relief.

I have dreams, you have dreams, everyone has dreams. Take a small moment to think about the dreams you had and what you’ve been able to do to achieve them. Now imagine thousands of women around the world who have similar dreams but are unable to fulfil them because they don’t even have the money to feed their families.

This isn’t about giving a hand-out, but a helping hand, in the form of a short term, interest free loan (micro-finance). Using micro finance, a woman is able to start her own business and acquire the skills she needs to become self-sufficient. But it doesn’t stop there. Once she repays the loan (98% of these loans have been paid back so far) it is ‘recycled’ and given to another woman, and another after that, empowering women, families, and communities around the world.

In terms of donating to this project, I want people to understand exactly what they are giving to- a truly special and unique project. You won’t be ask you for money every month, as your donation will be used again and again. We want you to know that in helping us, you will be helping to empower a woman, so that she is no longer dependant.

One core value I truly believe in is helping people to help themselves. For  me, charity is not only about food parcels or monthly donations. It’s about prevention, and long-term solutions. And this is exactly what ‘We Are Empowered’ is about.  It is giving someone, male or female, who is vulnerable, poor, suffering the chance to excel. It is not patronising them. The people who truly want empowerment are willing to work for it, which the why the Shea Butter Project was such a success. An extraordinary woman had a dream. With some help and her hard work and dedication, that dream came true. She was not only empowered by Islamic Relief’s help, but empowered by her own hard work.

This is empowerment in its purest form- and it truly inspires me, which is why I am so pleased to announce that the Me and My Hijaab blog will be running a campaign to raise money for the ‘We Are Empowered’ project- breaking the cycle of poverty and allowing women to support themselves through business.

Please click here for more details.

~ Zara

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