“When customers praise my dishes, I feel so confident. I realise that I am as capable and independent as any man!”

Last International Women’s Day in 2016, I wrote about gender inequality in India, and how although the Western woman is now largely free, women in countries like India are just beginning their journey to liberation. This year, I want to talk about some of the most vulnerable, repressed women in the world – refugee women – and how efforts to empower them are paying off.

First, let’s look at a social enterprise helping to empower refugee women here in Australia. Located in Logan, just south of Brisbane, The Spice Exchange aims to employ migrant women and help them find their voice. At The Spice Exchange, women from around the world come together to create spice blends, gingerbread and condiments, based on ingredients and recipes widely used in their home countries. Many are single women with dependent children, limited education and poor English. All of these factors made it difficult to find work.

Besides helping the women improve their English, working at the social enterprise also teaches them marketing, workplace culture and how to price products. This way, they can either stay or move on to other jobs or perhaps their own businesses. However, it sounds like the women are loving their new jobs at The Spice Exchange. Salima Muzima, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, says “It’s changed my life and I’ve learnt so much that now I’m able to do anything”, can pay her bills and wants to encourage others to join. Adhel Mawien Ukong has also invited other women to join, and says the program has given opportunities to both her and her children.

India is also home to many refugee women, and they too need opportunities for economic and social empowerment. This includes thousands of refugees from Afghanistan, one of the most repressive and dangerous countries in the world, especially if you are a woman. Because of poor employment prospects, the UNHCR and its partner, Access, have helped Afghan women in India set up businesses such as Ilham, a catering service in Delhi. Seven women run Ilham, including Qadria, who says, “The orders are growing every day and the money is good. I am able to pay my daughter’s school fees and buy them what they want”. Ziyagul, while enjoying her work at Ilham, dreams of owning her own restaurant. “I feel so happy that I am able to share some of my culture with people here. When customers praise my dishes, I feel so confident. I realise that I am as capable and independent as any man!” With many women in all countries, including some Western women, still feeling less capable and independent than men, Ziyagul’s confidence is something we can all learn from.

IWD Be Bold for Change

Women are also achieving great things here at Moeloco and the HOPE Foundation. Our teen ambassador, Alessandra Kitinas, is a social entrepreneur herself with the Freedom Scrub, and is speaking at the IWD Be Bold for Change event. I am so proud of how far she has come, and I believe her spot in the event is well-deserved. And the girls helped by HOPE are far from helpless. Anita came from a home without electricity or running water, and is now preparing for the entrance exam to study medical science, with zoology as a backup plan. I must say that she has come this far without the help of a private tutor, which her family could not afford.

In Australia we really are so privileged, so it is worthwhile to think of other women on this day. What are you doing to celebrate or contribute this International Women’s Day?

To all our sisters, stay true to who you are and keep being a woman who cares, nurtures and loves herself as well as others!

Dream Crazy,

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