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The importance of fostering a sense of significance

At WONDER, we have always believed that women should be able to have agency in their own lives, to make decisions for themselves, and be able to support themselves and their families. However, our understanding of empowerment doesn’t stop there.

WONDER is built on the philosophy that a sense of personal dignity is enhanced by the freedom to make informed choices, and support oneself and one’s family. The belief that each individual possesses an intrinsic value, simply by the fact of their existence, remains at the root of our vision for each of the women and girls we support. We call this fostering a sense of significance. 

“Significance” is not a word that is typically found in approaches to international development. Yet, as our chief programmes officer Olivia Darby shares, it can often be the most important thing that women and girls take away from our programmes: 

“When I was at Yarani, I asked the women what they had gained from their courses. I was expecting them to say that they were earning more money. The answers were so much more profound. 

They told me that yes, they had signed up to the programmes to earn more money, but they had come away feeling that they knew their rights. They had wanted to earn money to financially support their children better, but their time together, learning life skills, had shown them that they could be a better mother in a hundred other ways: they had previously felt they were failing their children and could now love them better, let alone feed them better. 

They said they didn’t need to recommend the course to a friend, because everyone who knew them before could see the change: they shone with gentle confidence, hope and interest in those around them.” 

For the first time, the women attending training courses at Yarani felt significant. “I didn’t realise that my life mattered before our soft skills classes at Yarani and receiving mentoring,” one student said. 

How does feeling significant make a difference in a woman’s life?

This sense of significance is fundamental when understanding empowerment. For many women we work with, poverty does not just take away their choices, but their ability to choose well. Recurrent stress, and often trauma, place women and girls in a constant state of survival mode, which can make it difficult to make clear, informed decisions. Women are often supporting children and other family members, and may not be in control of their own finances. They have never had someone tell them that they matter, and as a result, they may feel they have no power to change things, even in situations they know are wrong.

Through recognising their own significance, women and girls increase their self-esteem. They gain a greater awareness of their own dignity, strength, and importance. Over time, this helps women understand the rights they have, both within their family and out in the world. They are less likely to stay in a bad work environment, and more likely to make decisions with their husbands as equal partners.

Since the early days of WONDER, we have always believed in providing women and girls with quality education and vocational training, so they could gain the skills, resources, and opportunity to exit poverty for good. Yet that alone is not enough to empower women. We also believe in providing women and girls in our programmes with a sense of community, one that gives them the message that they matter, they are significant, and they have power, not only to change their own lives, but to change the lives of others – perhaps those of their children, their neighbour, or their friend.

 Ultimately, we want each of the women and girls we work with to not only have choices and opportunity, but to look at their futures with hope.