International Women’s Day: My Thoughts & Three Conclusions

Author: Rebecca McDonald, President & Founder
March 1, 2022

As I’ve traveled the world, I have heard of horrific stories of the lack of rights, some unrepeatable. In many lands, a woman raped must have a witness because a man’s word is literally worth 2 women. If he comes up with a male witness to say the opposite, she must find 4 witnesses. I’ve discovered faith systems where the women are not allowed to take part in ANY part of the worship. They can cook for the men but have NO say in their faith. Should their family cease to produce a male, their faith dies completely out. Men can get a divorce just by saying so 3 times, but a woman can never divorce. In rare cases, if she does, she will never see her children again. Women are denied school, can’t hold jobs even if trained as doctors or lawyers, must not run a business…the list is endless.

Growing up as an American in lands where women and girls had next to NO rights had a profound effect on me. My home was a safe place where my voice was precious & heard. Being an only girl with 3 brothers helped with the “princess status.” But seriously, my parents took me seriously to the point that my word carried more weight than my older sibling due to our approach to things. I was treated like the oldest child in many ways. Meanwhile, outside my home, my girlfriends had almost no say. They were bought and sold in a marriage contract. The culture even had “marriage brokers” the same way we approach buying a home to find the right details, price, pedigree, etc. for the male family to “consider.”

Three distinct events left an impression on me.

1) You recall my 14-year-old village girlfriend was raped (by family), fought back, and had acid poured down her throat to “silence her” literally.

Nehru: My 14 yr. old girlfriend forever silenced with acid poured down her throat.

2) For the wealthy, it was even harder in some ways with more at stake. I remember 2 upper-class girlfriends. One, the daughter of the Minister of Education, a power elite family, “met and fell in love with” a high-class boy while in the USA getting their education. From the richest Bengali family, it was “OK.” BUT, they had to go through the charade of pretending it was an arranged marriage and they’d never met. Heaven forbid a woman should choose her own path…or a boy for that matter.

3) Then as an adult, I sat in the home of another wealthy family related to the nation’s President who babysat his young son. That night while my son played with the President’s son, their daughter came in angry from university classes. Her father had arranged a marriage to another wealthy family. The sisters of the “groom to be” came to “check her out” looking her up and down in the door of the classroom like she was “a cow for sale at the market.” She complained bitterly that any family whose women treated her like “property for sale” was not a home she wished to marry into. Very simply (so liberal of him), the father just said, “Ok…I’ll look for another.” She walked off happily. I sat thinking about the fact that she was submitting happily to his giving in yet still in charge of who she’d marry.

What Does All This Prove?

Simply that for all our progress as women, we have a long way to go in many lands. I have 3 conclusions from a lifetime of working to empower women.

l) I love America despite its many many flaws. I am a woman that founded an organization and has a voice in any setting and platform I wish to pursue. Yes, it may be that I have had to fight harder, dig deeper, swallow slights…but I am willing to do so if it means lifting the broken, the voiceless, the wounded, the hurting. At the end of the day, there is no slight, indignity, or put-down that compares to those of the lives we represent. So for them, we willingly take up that cross and march on. I’m patriotic not for apple pie, motherhood, or football, but for our right to speak out! I beg you to hold your rights as a privilege and luxury. The day we lose the right to speak freely, we are not a great nation anymore. I know what that looks like. I grew up with girlfriends that had no voice. We must always allow the voice of the silenced no matter whether we like its sound or not. It is what makes us great. When you silence anyone, you give predators power. Our right to free speech in every aspect is truly what sets us apart.

2) I am a mother of 3 boys (& 1 daughter), a sister to 3 brothers, grew up as an American surrounded by the “Taliban mentality,” & work with law enforcement and clergy (male-dominated). I know the world of men and I respect it. I don’t want you to bash my boys any more than my daughter. While we must find rights for women, we must not do it to the detriment of our boys. Fixing a wrong by going to extremes only hurts everyone in the end. I have an article on this on our website. Suffice it to say, All Voices Matter Regardless of Genders. We need to stick together to lift all voices in the fight for freedom.

3) Four decades of being the “Voice of the Silenced” proves those who suffer have the most profound insights. We’d be wise to listen first to them, the experts. They may not have the solutions to the problem politically, legally, or structurally. But their voices should be the template, the mentor, the guard rails that guide significant changes. To fix something without the insight of the experts is to not fix it at all. With 2 ears and only 1 mouth, listen first and twice as long. Then be the voice of the silenced no matter how small you think you are.

Passionate to be the Voice of the Silenced:

Two Hurricanes, One Disaster

Reports from our partners in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean

By: Darius Hall, Intern
and Bethany Winkel, Senior Staff Writer

With several partners in areas affected by the recent hurricanes, Women At Risk, International (WAR, Int’l) is keeping a close watch on the news. Hurricane Maria, which began pounding the Caribbean as we prepared this article for press, has narrowly bypassed our partners in that region. In the meantime, we have been gathering information from several of our partners who have weathered through Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey

Considered a Category 4 hurricane, Harvey decimated southeast Texas with winds topping out at around 100 miles per hour. Unforeseen record-breaking flood waters topping out at almost seven feet were witnessed throughout southern Texas. Advised by officials not to evacuate, much of the southeastern Texas population suffered through possibly the worst hurricane the area has faced since Hurricane Carla in the 1960s.

Though located directly in the path of Harvey’s havoc, our safehouse partner in Texas fared relatively well, despite the rest of their region being significantly dismantled.  The staff, residents, and animals were all reported safe, and the staff and occupants worked tirelessly to calm and assist others in the community. However, two women in the safehouse’s outreach program have lost everything in the flooding, and many other families the safehouse assists have also been affected by Harvey. WAR, Int’l is helping to raise funds for them, and they wish for our continued prayers as they attempt to adjust to this tragedy.

Hurricane Irma

Harvey had barely dissipated when Hurricane Irma made landfall. With wind gusts covering over 70,000 square miles, a diameter of almost 300 miles, and speeds peaking at about 185 miles per hour, Hurricane Irma wreaked devastation in the Caribbean as well as the southern part of the United States. Impacted states include Florida, Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas, and even Tennessee. Millions went for days without power, homes have been completely destroyed, and flood waters defile the streets, making transportation and adequate living nearly impossible.

In light of the damage and destruction Irma left behind, WAR, Int’l was concerned for several partners, both stateside and abroad, who are located within the path of the hurricane.

A Report from Our Florida Partner

While Irma itself was projected to become a Category 4 hurricane by the time it touched down in Florida, our outreach partner fared relatively well, noting that by the time Irma had reached them, it had diminished to a Category 2 hurricane. The organization was well prepared and took early precautions, which included boarding up their windows, securely fastening down outside amenities, and turning a garage into a makeshift stable for their animals. While Hurricane Irma seemed to significantly demolish much of coastal Florida, our outreach partner reported that they had no property damage and that all the occupants and animals were unharmed.

Irma’s Impact in the Caribbean

With the brunt of Irma’s force hitting the Caribbean Islands, WAR, Int’l was particularly concerned for the neighboring nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where we have several partners.

Haiti was impacted less significantly than many other areas. However, the hurricane has brought many other issues upon this nation. Our partners in Haiti indicated that the flooding and mudslides were a very real threat that could damage the infrastructure of their already frail and weak nation. The flooding caused by Irma within Haiti has the potential of overtaking roadways, which will make travel and rescue efforts very difficult. Mudslides as well are a very serious concern for Haiti, since much of its agriculture has been decimated over the years due to the many major natural disasters that Haiti has endured.

In addition to dealing with the fallout from Hurricane Irma, there is also much civil unrest going on within the nation. Protests have turned into violent riots where vehicles are being set on fire, local businesses and shops are being plundered, and authorities are using tear gas as a means to subdue the violent protestors.

The Dominican Republic was one of the countries receiving the fullest extent of Irma’s wrath within the Caribbean. Our partners reported rather severe damage now plaguing the area, including flooding that is about 3 feet high. This, in turn, is making travel on the streets an almost impossible task. In areas where the raging waters have subdued, debris and refuse litter the streets, leaving a terrible reminder of the wrath of perhaps the most detrimental storm to ever come out of the Atlantic coastal region.

Updates from Our Caribbean Partners

The good news is that, as far as we know, our partners in these areas were spared any loss or injury. Our partnering safehouse in Haiti suffered only minimal damage from the initial wind gusts. They reported that all of their staff, women, and families were safe and all facilities were fully intact. Our Haitian microenterprise partner likewise reported no loss. In the Dominican Republic, our education partners were prepared with supplies and a plan for providing refuge to affected families. However, Irma moved to the north, sparing them from damage. We have not received updates from our partnering Dominican safehouses, but we trust that no news is good news. Meanwhile, our Caribbean partners have been spared the wrath of Hurricane Maria, and for that, we are very grateful.

How You Can Help

In spite of all the turmoil and tumultuous times facing those abroad and stateside, there are many ways to be proactive and assist those who need help. Here at WAR, Int’l, we make it a priority to lend a helping hand for those who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances and situations. Because of this, we have set up an emergency “Rescue 911 Fund” so that, even on short notice, we can come to the aid of our partners and those they serve. This includes assistance with disaster relief and efforts. Keeping these people in prayer is also a helpful way to show caring and hope (Philippians 2:3-4).  It is important that we come together in difficult times to support each other in the best way possible.

Celebrating Mothers Around the World

By Alyssa Evans, WAR, In’tl Intern

Women At Risk, International (WAR, Int’l) celebrates motherhood year round by caring for women and children in need of love and acceptance. Through our partnering safehouses, vocational programs, and orphanages, we strive to provide nurturing environments for these individuals as they recover from risk and trauma. Becky McDonald, President and Founder of WAR, Int’l, often notes that our partners serve as “Mommies to the Mommyless.” For WAR, Int’l and our partners, mothering and nurturing at-risk people all over the world makes Mother’s Day all the more meaningful. Knowing just how valuable mothers are in each culture across the world, we decided to take a closer look at the diverse ways they are celebrated.

The oldest Mother’s Day traditions date back to the ancient Egyptians, who celebrated the Goddess Isis, Mother of the Pharaohs. In modern day Egypt, they celebrate “Eed omm sa-eed” on March 21, the first day of spring. Yet Mother’s Day around the world is celebrated on different days according to the holiday’s origins in that country.

American mothers will be celebrated this year on May 14. Mother’s Day was first proposed in the United States by Anna Reeves Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe out of a desire to unite mothers who had lost sons in the Civil War. Jarvis’s daughter, Anna M. Jarvis, later lobbied for six years to create a national day of recognition for mothers. Mother’s Day became an official holiday in the United States in 1914.

Canadian Mother’s Day is also held on the second Sunday in May and is said to be the country’s third most popular holiday, right after Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Card sales and phone calls are the highest on Mother’s Day.

Feliz Día de las Madres, celebrated in Mexico on May 10, is the busiest day of the year for restaurants. Mothers are given flowers and serenades from mariachi bands. The most popular song to celebrate the day is “Las Mañanitas”:

I would like to be a little ray of sunlight/ To enter through your window
And greet you with Good Morning/ Lying in your bed
Of the stars in the heavens/ I have to bring down two
One is to greet you/ And the other is to say good-bye.

In the United Kingdom, “Mothering Sunday” is held on the fourth Sunday of Lent and originated in the 1600s in England. Fasting rules were set aside for that day, when mothers were given freshly picked wildflowers and special Simnel cakes baked with fruits and almonds.

In Japan, “Haha no Hi” is now celebrated on the second Sunday of May, just like in the United States, but it originally was held on Empress Koujun’s birthday. Today, Japanese mothers are given flowers, and children draw pictures of their mothers and enter them into contests.

Mother’s Day in South Africa also coincides with the North American celebration on the second Sunday of May. Mothers and Grandmothers are celebrated as life givers, and their sacrifices for their families are recognized by reversing family roles for the day. Children bring their mothers breakfast in bed and do the chores all day. Here they take the tradition of giving flowers a step further: everyone wears flowers in honor of the holiday.

All around the world, mothers have a special day when they are recognized and appreciated. No matter where or on what day you celebrate Mother’s Day, it seems that moms everywhere appreciate baked goods and meals, songs, jewelry, flowers, cards, and homemade gifts. When you shop for your own mother this week, consider visiting the WAR Chest Boutique, online or at one of our three Midwest locations. There you will find jewelry, accessories, chocolate, coffee, and other gifts mothers will love. When you honor your mother with a meaningful gift from our Boutique, you also help provide a woman or child with an opportunity to be “mothered” by our partners and programs.

Information for this article was gathered from a variety of sources, including Mother’s Day.


Keeping Their Heads Above the Water:

How Our Peruvian Partners are Coping (and What You Can Do to Help)

By Ellie McLellan, WAR, Int’l Intern
and Bethany Winkel, WAR, Int’l Staff Writer

The worst storms to hit Peru in nearly twenty years have drenched the nation since December, and with the spring rainy season, flooding has risen to crisis proportions. Though huaicos—heavy rain which brings flooding and mudslides—are a normal occurrence in the Andes Mountain regions, it has been a long time since they have been this catastrophic. So far this spring it is estimated that there have been about six hundred of these flash floods, nearly ten times as many as Peru normally gets in a year (Peruvian Times).

Flooding has caused bridges to collapse and roads to become impassible in many places, hampering relief efforts and affecting coastal highways and city streets alike. The Pan-American Highway North, which connects all of coastal Peru, has sustained significant damage. Repairs to the transportation infrastructure alone are expected to take two to three years and could cost the country as much as $1 billion (Los Angeles Times-). According to various sources, the flooding has destroyed an estimated 29,000 houses and damaged over 145,000 properties, including hundreds of hospitals, thousands of schools, and an estimated 62,500 acres’ worth of crops damage. Another $3.1 billion in lost productivity puts the country in severe economic crisis. Peruvian economists have put reconstruction costs at more than $6 billion.

Of even greater concern, of course, is the personal cost to the people of Peru. By April 1, the estimated death toll from this natural disaster had risen to over one hundred, while nearly 700,000 people have been displaced. In addition to dealing with significant losses—homes, possessions, businesses, and even loved ones—families are also at risk from contaminated drinking water, insect-borne illnesses, and exposure to the elements. And it is not over yet. While there has been a brief respite in the flooding near the end of March, the heavy rains are forecast to continue through April.

Among the many affected by the flooding are the women and families employed by Women At Risk, International (WAR, Int’l)’s three partnering organizations in Peru. Café Femenino, a community of female coffee growers, points out that this time of year is already a “lean time” for its growers, who count on the upcoming harvest season for their profits. However, those profits will likely be significantly diminished by the damage to crops and roads. A partnering foundation is helping to raise emergency funds and provide food packages to Café Femenino women and families in two hard-hit regions.

Peruvian Designs, which markets toys, ornaments, and decorative items made by at-risk families in the Andes Mountains, reports that many of its artisans have been impacted by water shortages, damage to their homes, and travel restrictions. The basket makers have suffered the greatest losses, as most have seen their entire inventory of product and supplies destroyed. The flooding has also brought swarms of mosquitos in greater numbers than anyone can remember, putting children and the elderly at risk. To help alleviate this risk, Peruvian Designs is working to get mosquito nets to its artisan communities.

Like Peruvian Designs, Blossom Inspirations works directly with local artisans who create ornaments, toys, and decorative items. Many of these artisans are struggling to maintain their livelihood in the wake of the flood damage. Blossom is actively participating in relief efforts by donating fifty percent of all its sales in March and April to help provide essential food, water, and medicines to families and communities affected by the flooding.

How can you help? There are two effective ways you can partner with WAR, Int’l to help the Peruvian organizations we serve bring relief to the people of their country. First, you can support our Peruvian partners by purchasing their products, which are featured this month in the WAR Chest Boutique and on our website. Unique products handmade by Peruvian artisans include stuffed animals made from alpaca Fur; delightful hand-knit finger puppets; whimsical painted ornaments; and beautiful, functional, intricately carved gourd birdhouses. Our Café Femenino Coffee, which is organic as well as fair trade, comes in both whole-bean and ground varieties. Your purchase of these products helps sustain artisans and coffee growers struggling to recover from this catastrophe.

You can also help our Peru relief efforts by donating to WAR, Int’l’s Rescue 911 fund. Created out of a need to have immediate funds available, this fund allows us to come to the aid of our partners in emergency situations, including disaster relief. WAR, Int’l is using a portion of this fund to aid our partners in their flood relief efforts.

As the Peruvian people help each other through this national crisis, WAR, Int’l, is pleased to be able to play a small role in the relief efforts. Thank you for joining us in this “rescue” effort as we team up with our Peruvian partners to bring needed aid to the people of their country.

Be Bold for a Change

Across the globe, March 8 is celebrated as International Women’s Day. This celebration of women can serve as a great reminder to appreciate the women in your life and all they have done for you. However, International Women’s Day is not just about appreciating what women have done. It is, and always has been, a day for women to come together to make life better for one another.

This sense of solidarity and need for change is what inspired the first Women’s Day. It began in 1908 with suffragettes marching on the streets of New York City, protesting for equal rights, and the following year, National Women’s Day was declared in the United States. It gained international recognition in 1910, with women from over seventeen countries agreeing to observe a day to emphasize the fight for equal rights. In 1975, March 8 was officially designated by The United Nations as International Women’s Day. Organizers have selected yearly themes since 1996, ranging from ending hunger for rural women to ending violence against women.

The theme for 2017 is about making a change in the world. This year’s slogan, “Be Bold for Change,” encourages us to do something in the name of women around the world—especially something we might not usually do. The International Women’s Day website suggests actions such as calling out instances when women are excluded, reinforcing and supporting women’s triumphs, and encouraging women to further their education.

At Women At Risk, International, we are working to support and empower women every day of the year. Our partnering safehouses, both international and here in the United States, rescue and restore at-risk and wounded women by giving them a safe place to heal while providing counseling, education, and skill training. Our vocational training and microenterprise partners give at-risk women the opportunity to make their own living, empowering them to safely support themselves and avoid exploitation. Educational and outreach programs in the United States and abroad give women who want to better their situation the power to do so.

This March 8, consider what you can do to help women around the world. Find a way to be bold for change—perhaps through supporting or volunteering with WAR, Int’l. We wish all women around the world a very happy International Women’s Day!