The Global Goals: Including Marginalised Women Conflict Survivors

When the world came together to agree the Sustainable Development Goals (Global Goals), it did so with the commitment to ‘leave no one behind.’ This commitment means that the Goals cannot be considered successful if they do not deliver for everyone. As a framework designed for governments, the targets of the Goals focus largely on the existence and, to a lesser extent, the implementation of formal protections such as laws, policies, etc. As an organisation with almost twenty-five years’ experience working with some of the most marginalised women survivors of conflict, we at Women for Women International know that the most marginalised women often receive little support from formal protections (if they even exist).

Women for Women International is committed to ensuring that the Global Goals deliver for marginalised women survivors of conflict. We know that even where formal protection frameworks are in place for women’s rights, they are often not implemented due to lack of political will and resources. Successful delivery will require legislative change, more effective implementation, changes in attitudes and more informal changes at community level. We take our role seriously and believe it is important to hold ourselves accountable to how we, as an organization, are helping to deliver the Global Goals. As such we have published a report that tracks our organisational indicators against the Global Goals.

About Women for Women International

Since 1993, Women for Women International has worked with more than 462,000 marginalised women survivors of war in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the DRC, Kosovo, Iraq, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Sudan. We were founded on the belief that stronger women build stronger nations.

Our core work is centred on a holistic, rights-based programme to address the needs of marginalised women in conflict-affected countries around the world.  We see sustainable change for the women we serve in four key outcome areas: earning and saving money; developing health and well-being; influencing decisions; and connecting to networks.


IN THE PHOTO: A group of newly registered programme participants sitting in the entrance way to the Women for Women Centre, may with letters from their sponsors in their hands PHOTO CREDIT: WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL 

Women for Women International’s year-long investment in individual women includes: building knowledge in areas such as the value of women’s work, basic health education and rights information; skill development in numeracy, business skills and a chosen vocational skill. We provide resources through monthly cash transfers and referrals to health and legal services.  We also help break the isolation caused by war and insecurity by training small groups of women in safe and comfortable spaces to form tight support groups upon which they can rely.


We run a range of complementary support, including: advanced business skill training; cooperatives and saving groups; and community advocacy training. We have been a pioneer in men’s engagement activities aimed at targeting male community leaders and family members of our women participants in Afghanistan, DRC, Nigeria, South Sudan, Rwanda and Kosovo. We aim to sensitise them to issues of sexual and gender-based violence, the value of women’s work, reproductive health, girls’ education, and women’s participation in community activities. For example, in Afghanistan, male religious and community leaders, are currently being trained on women’s rights in Islam with the aim that their strong influence on community social norms and practices will have an impact on women’s position in society. Over 15,000 men have been reached in the past 15 years.

Addressing gender inequality through the Goals’ targets

The importance of legal frameworks and changing attitudes

Gender equality is the focus of Goal 5 but there are several indicators throughout it that are fundamental to promoting gender equality. Target 5.1 is only one of 169 targets in the Goals, but in many ways is the lynchpin for Agenda 2030. The indicator for this target is limited to “legal frameworks being in place to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex,” yet its realisation is dependent on transformational change in every country that systematically discriminates against women and girls in all areas of their lives.

This is no small task and has so far not been achieved in even the most developed of countries. In many of the countries where we work, the deference to local, customary norms often reinforces ‘traditional’ gender stereotypes and leads to multiple forms of discrimination. In Afghanistan, for example, public spaces are often segregated and women are not allowed to leave the home without a male escort. Many of the Afghan women we work with are dependent on their husbands or male family members to represent them at market for example, by negotiating sales and handling money.

As the discrimination faced by the women we work with is pervasive and linked to local contexts, a comprehensive, community-based approach is essential to successfully challenging it.

Effective transformational changes to the norms are likely to succeed in the long-term but smaller changes are also possible in the short term. For example, through our men’s engagement activities in Afghanistan we have that 99 percent of men participants reported positive attitudes regarding women’s role in family decision-making at graduation compared to only 6 percent at enrolment.

IN THE PHOTO: WOMEN FOR WOMEN Afghanistan 2015 PHOTO CREDIT: Millie Harvey

The importance of adult education and training

Targets within Goal 4, notably 4.1 – 4.5, are fundamental to building women’s opportunities. Both in terms of adult education, training to redress existing gaps in opportunities, and investing more in girls. From the perspective of the women we work with, education and training is key to their economic and social empowerment – supporting them to run more profitable businesses and to know and claim their rights. 83 percent of women in our programme report using the vocational skills gained to generate personal earnings at graduation. Covering both social and economic (combined) training, and creating a reliable network amongst themselves is key to providing women with a solid foundation for future learning.

Goal 16 covers many state-building blocks for governments, necessary to close the implementation gap including: strengthening national institutions (16.A); “significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere” (16.1); and to promote the rule of law and access to justice (16.3). Together with target 10.3 that aims to eliminate discriminatory laws, the realisation of these targets would see monumental advances in human rights in countries, particularly for women and other marginalised groups. Indeed, target 16.10 aims to “Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.

The key to this lies within target 16.Bpromoting and enforcing non-discriminatory laws and policies” which is to be gauged by complaints of discrimination under international human rights law. This is not a new framework and many governments have interpreted elements of it into national standards.

The question remains about whether the Goals and surrounding momentum will be sufficient pressure to move forward in areas which have seen little progress so far.

Their realisation also assumes that the government is present, when what we see in countries affected by conflict is often an absence of government. Even when conflicts are ending and peace and state-building processes are underway, support for women’s rights (including building robust protections) is often not seen as a priority, and women – both as government and civil society representatives – are excluded from such fora.

Between 1992 and 2011, four percent of signatories to peace agreements and less than 10 percent of negotiators at peace tables were women.

Yet we know that when women are included in peace processes there is a 20 percent increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least 2 years, and a 35 percent increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least 15 years. To a certain extent, this is recognised in Goal 16.7 which focuses on ensuring responsive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels. However, it is clear that, for women’s participation, there is still a long way to go and there is much more that the international community can and should be doing to support this.

WfWI Afhanistan 2015 4 credit Millie Harvey


Supporting women’s economic empowerment

The sub-targets within Goals 1, 5 and 8 are particularly important for supporting the economic participation of marginalised women. Targets 1.1 (to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030) and 1.2. to at least half the population living in poverty (national definitions), combined with the commitment to ‘leave no one behind,’ implies that governments need to prioritise support for those living in the most extreme poverty first, of which women survivors of conflict represent a significant proportion. Target 5.4 focuses on valuing unpaid care and domestic work and target 5.A on improving women’s access to economic resources. Both recognise significant blocks to women’s economic participation that need to be addressed  to help lift women and their families out of poverty. This has become a key part of our program, as many of the women we work with find it easier to save money or trade in groups with other women (e.g. village, savings and loans associations or cooperatives).

Target 8.3 calls for a range of informal or self-employment opportunities that are particularly important for women who have limited access to formal employment opportunities, relying mainly on agribusiness, animal husbandry and small businesses.

These targets concentrate mainly on the economic dimensions of poverty. Yet we know that the human experience is much more than money: poverty can be a manifestation of systematic discrimination from accessing a wide range of life opportunities; it correlates with a lack of access to public services including health; and exclusion from influencing decisions or being heard. At Women for Women International, we are intent on supporting women’s empowerment – not just participation. We want to help women earn and save more, but also to influence decisions on how that money is saved, spent and invested. This is only possible through a combined approach – one which brings together economic components with social such as human rights and household negotiating skills.

Sewing class WfWI Rwanda credit Alison Wright

IN THE PHOTO:  Women at the Gahaya Links Factory where they make clothing, jewelry and baskets for export. From left to right: Evania Uwineza, Janet Bankundivye and Chantal Myirabakundabose, learning on an industrial sewing machine. Photo Credit: Women for Women International 

These economic targets, must therefore be implemented in conjunction with 5.5 to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.” Here it is worth noting that this target is to be measured in terms of parliamentary seats and managerial positions – an incredibly restricted scope of women’s leadership.

It is also notable that targets under Goal 16 do not include economies or economic participation. Whilst the relationship between conflict and poverty is complex and context-specific, the correlation between the two is clear. The World Bank and others estimate that the majority of least developed countries will be conflict-affected countries by the deadline of the Goals. This falls short of the acknowledgment of women’s economic empowerment in the Women, Peace and Security Framework. The women we work with are incredibly resilient and governments need to make a clear link between Goals 1, 5 and 16 to ensure progress towards 2030.    



There are many targets that are incredibly important for supporting marginalised women survivors of conflict across the Global Goals as well as in the commitment to leave no one behind which underpins the framework. However, as these targets relate predominantly to formal policy and practice by national governments, there are risks that women survivors of conflict will continue to be left behind due both to the dominance of informal, customary or traditional practices as well as the missing role of the international community, particularly foreign donor governments and multilateral institutions like the UN.

Based on our evidence and experience we make the following recommendations for these stakeholders to support the more effective implementation of the Goals and progress towards individual targets for the benefit of marginalised women survivors of conflict.

  • Women’s voices must be heard in the development, implementation and review of any policy, law or programme that affects their lives. This is a fundamental right, captured in target 5.5 and necessary to ensure that policy and practice effectively responds to women’s needs. The success of the Goals is dependent on listening to those people left furthest behind and supporting them to drive forward the changes that they want to see.
  • Comprehensive support: Our tried and tested approach demonstrates the importance of providing comprehensive support. Lasting change, for the women we work with, comes through providing skills and resources to build self-confidence, understand their rights, develop their capacity to sustain a livelihood and gain the respect of their family and community. For the Goals and their targets, this means that they cannot be approached as silos – efforts to eradicate extreme poverty (1.1) must go hand in hand with targets on education and training (Goal 4), women’s rights (Goal 5), decent work for women (Goal 8) and building peace (Goal 16).

 A woman at her place of business

  • Community-based: The women we work with feel little of what formal protections may exist in their countries. For them to see improvements in their day to day lives, we need to see an increase in support at the community-level on women’s rights. Not only in terms of increasing their access to services and opportunities, but also to support long-term, sustainable change in gender equality. This requires working with both women and men, not only to challenge discriminatory attitudes but also to encourage men to be allies and champions for gender equality.
  • Resources: Both the targets and the Sustainable Development Goals as a whole represent an incredibly ambitious framework for the international community to deliver on by 2030. Even when taken alone, targets such as 5.1 (ending all forms of discrimination for women and girls) alone are monumental tasks that no country has yet achieved. According to a recent study by Gendernet, just 0.5% (USD $192 million) of the USD $35.5 billion provided by major donor governments went to women’s groups in developing countries in 2014. Progress under the Goals and their targets for marginalised women survivors of conflict desperately requires a step-change in funding for women’s rights.

We can do so much more together and we urgently need more funding to help women survivors of war.

About the Author /

Brita Fernandez Schmidt is Executive Director of Women for Women International (UK). She is also the Chair of Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS) and Global Ambassador for Roundtable Global. Brita holds a MA in Women’s Studies from the University of Sussex. Originally from Germany, Brita went to school in Venezuela. She now lives in the UK with her husband and two daughters.

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