American Jewish World Service ramps up efforts to support women and girls in East Africa

from American Jewish World Service
Published on 04 Mar 2014

AJWS will expand work on the sexual health and rights of women and girls in Kenya and Uganda

NEW YORK, NY — American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish international development and human rights organization, will soon expand its work to address the sexual health and rights of women and girls in Kenya and Uganda.

AJWS will provide more support for local grassroots groups and other human rights organizations that offer family planning and HIV prevention services to girls and young women; advocate for broader access to reproductive healthcare; and promote the leadership and economic independence of young women and adolescent girls. AJWS will also support organizations that work with boys and men, police officers and religious leaders to help end violence against women and girls in their communities.

The funding for this expanded focus arose as a result of a conversation between Lynn Schusterman of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation during a meeting of the signers of the Giving Pledge, an initiative to encourage the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their resources to philanthropy.

“AJWS has been a pioneer in linking global service and responsibility to the Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world,” said Schusterman. “I am proud to partner with them and with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in their efforts to end poverty and promote human rights in the developing world.”

“Jewish tradition teaches us that saving one life is equivalent to saving a world. We are focused on empowering women in Uganda and Kenya and supporting their right to make decisions for themselves and to shape their own futures,” said Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS. “We are grateful to Lynn Schusterman for understanding the deep connection between Jewish ethical teachings and the rights of women and girls to live full and productive lives.”

Supporting Women and Girls in Kenya Girls and young women in Kenya experience high rates of HIV and AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, early childbirth, sexual violence and poverty. Adolescent girls and young women in Kenya have limited access to family planning and other critical health services. Women and girls often lack basic information about their sexual and reproductive rights and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

AJWS has worked in Kenya since 2004, supporting organizations that equip women and girls with the knowledge and resources they need to make choices about their own bodies.

For example, AJWS has supported Heshima Kenya for five years. The organization was established in 2007 in response to the influx of adolescent refugee girls from neighboring countries fraught with conflict. Humanitarian organizations did not meet the needs of these young women, and Heshima Kenya filled the significant gap in services for these adolescent refugee girls. Through its Girls Empowerment Project, Heshima Kenya provides girls with sexuality education, counseling on sexual violence, access to contraception, referrals to gynecologists, safe houses and other support services.

Supporting Women and Girls in Uganda In Uganda, about 75 percent of young people with HIV are women and girls. Most become infected during adolescence. A lack of access to information about sexual health—along with escalating rates of poverty—have led to high numbers of girls dropping out of school, early marriages and pregnancy. Most young women and girls living in rural areas in northern Uganda have little or no access to reproductive health services.

AJWS has worked in Uganda since 1995, supporting organizations that enable women and adolescent girls to access health services and information. These groups also change social norms that prevent women and adolescent girls from living safe and dignified lives.

For example, AJWS currently supports Gulu Union for Women with Disabilities (GUWODU), which promotes the reproductive health and rights of girls and women with disabilities. Through advocacy and economic empowerment programs, GUWODU trains girls, nurses, midwives and others to communicate about sexual health in sign language for girls and women who are hearing impaired. GUWODU also mobilizes girls and women with disabilities who are living with HIV and AIDS to form self-help groups, so they can advocate for financial support, medical care and equal treatment in their communities.


American Jewish World Service

Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, American Jewish World service (AJWS) works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.