A time that has asked many of us to slow down, take stock, listen deeply, and come together in new ways. A reimagining of work, school, life, and community that has challenged us all no matter where we live or work. However, no matter how we look at the data—by race, by sector, by income—it is clear that the burden of the pandemic is falling hardest on women.
This sobering reality has been a source of deep reflection for me as a woman and a powerful reminder of what I already knew and is central to our work at ConnectHER—there are heroes among us. Every day, 'ordinary' women overcome extraordinary challenges in an effort to meet the needs of not just their own families but those of their communities. In neighborhoods, cities, towns, and villages all over the world, women are providing the essential services that hold the fabric of families, workplaces, cultures, and societies together, despite shrinking resources and the new threats to life and safety that COVID has brought. Their resourcefulness and ingenuity is awe-inspiring and provides a strong call to action to us all, to lock hands and hearts in solidarity with these amazing women. Thank you for providing life-changing opportunities for women and girls, both here in our backyard in Austin, Texas, and throughout the world.
Your support in 2020 is greatly appreciated. On behalf of the women and girls whose burden was made easier due to your generosity, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Below is just a small example of the impact that you made possible.
With thanks and best wishes,
youth participants in Austin, TX received two months of grocery gift cards and your support allowed the Travis County Girls Squad to maintain a Black female psychologist for one month.
women started micro businesses in Pakistan.
Black moms were served and 90 mamas via sister circles.
cases were handled by female lawyers in Afghanistan, including 51 Family and 15 Legal types of cases.
under-served children in Afghanistan received distance learning, packets of school work, food, and a teacher they can call to ask for help with homework due to the pandemic.
survivors and community members received access to legal, medical, training and counseling services in Zimbabwe due to an increase in domestic violence and child marriage cases during the pandemic.
women and girls in Bangladesh and DR Congo received scholarships, tutoring and emergency food during the pandemic.
babies will be safely delivered due to training of 4 midwives in Somaliland.
We grew! Our team is small but mighty—with our full-time director and two part-time staff in Austin and one part-time staff in Bangladesh, we also added two new contract positions to help with social media and communications. Volunteer consultants, event hosts and film ambassadors around the world also make our work possible.
We welcomed three new members to our board! Fayruz Benyousef, principal of Fayruz Benyousef Consulting, joined as our new board chair. Chelsea Toler, president of the Keep Families Giving Foundation, and Amani Ahmed, a student who is currently attending Harvard Law School, also joined.
Our sponsors Eloise DeJoria, WomenServe, Ian Somerhalder Foundation, and HumanAct, and the Stahl Family Foundation stood with us by continuing to support our film festival and project partners, which allowed us to pivot to provide emergency Covid-19 support and hold our film festival and other screening events online. We are so grateful for their support.
We now have an online store! You can buy ConnectHER-branded swag to show your support for our work.
In the midst of a long overdue social and racial injustice reckoning, we hosted our flagship event for International Day of the Girl, “Centering the Voices of Black Women and Girls,” with Jyarland Daniels of Harriet Speaks. We also funded microgrants to Black Mamas ATX and Measure Austin. To learn more about them, see below.
“The data is heartbreakingly clear,” wrote Erica Chidi and Dr. Erica P. Cahill in The New York Times in October. “Black women in America have more than a three times higher risk of death related to pregnancy and childbirth than their white peers. This is regardless of factors like higher education and financial means, and for women over 30, the risk is as much as five times higher.”
Black Mamas ATX are improving those shocking odds for mothers and infants in Central Texas. Their doulas offer support before, during, and after birth. They boast a 100% breastfeeding initiation—a simple intervention that offers multiple benefits, from improved health and boosted immunity for infants to a lower risk of postpartum depression for women. In 2020 Black Mamas served 23 mothers, and 90 mothers joined their “Sister Circle” support groups. Thanks to our donors, one of Black Mamas’ Sister Doulas, Aphrica, enrolled in classes to become a birth assistant and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. To see how Aphrica supports new mothers, read D’Ashtreia’s story.
When D’Ashtreia arrived home from the hospital after giving birth to her third child, she felt overwhelmed. The prospect of caring for a newborn, along with her two older children and a full-time job—well, it all felt like more than she could handle. On top of that, she was swollen and unable to breastfeed, which brought her to tears.
She found Black Mamas ATX and reached out for help. The very next day Aphrica showed up at her door. She showed her how to nurse the baby and stop the swelling. In the weeks that followed, Aphrica was there to lend a hand, answer questions, and even take her to appointments.
A year later, D’Ashtreia and her baby are doing fine. The support from Aphrica and the Sister Circle gave her the support she needed to get through that challenging time. “It put me in touch with some amazing women who have similar stories, so I know that I’m not alone.”
In the United States, covid-19 is having a disproportionate impact on Black communities. That’s why Measure, an Austin-based organization, launched the Travis County Girls Squad—to help one cohort of that population: at-risk teenage girls. The Girls Squad provide healthy connection, basic needs support, and mental wellness. ConnectHER donors supported that effort by funding monthly grocery gift cards for 10 participants and the services of a Black female psychologist for a month. To learn how the Girls Squad’s mentorships with Black women is making a difference in the lives of their clients, read Karisma’s story.
When Rona Walton first Karisma (not her real name), the girl that the Travis County Girls Squad asked her to mentor, she saw an exuberant 17-year-old—captain of her school’s cheerleading squad and member of the varsity volleyball team. But she also saw a teenager who wore a worried expression that seemed out of place.
“She carried so much weight,” says Rona. Rona soon learned why: While living during Covid-19 crammed into a crowded apartment with her large family, Karisma was also juggling high school online and childcare responsibilities for her two young nephews. The family had recently experienced homelessness, so a more existential worry intruded into her thoughts: “Will we be thrown out of the apartment in 30 days? What if my mother doesn't make the rent?”
Rona encouraged Karisma to focus beyond her family’s current situation on her own dreams. Her dream was to go to college—but that idea seemed out of reach until Rona introduced her to several Black women from a background like hers who had gone to college. At Rona’s urging, she got someone else to care for her nephews and found a part-time job to earn money for college. She sent off applications to seven colleges—and quickly earned a $500 scholarship.
Now Karisma wears the confident expression of someone who knows how to achieve her dreams. Says Rona, “I definitely see that my words and suggestions are making an impact. She is starting to blossom into her own person.”
Like many organizations, we had to pivot swiftly in 2020 to put on the ConnectHER film festival virtually for the first time. We were thrilled to see so many people from all over the world join our online event! This year we received more than 200 films from students in 40 countries, and our judges were so impressed with all of the entries.
This year’s Judges’ Choice Grand Prize ($5,000) went to Maia Vota’s inspiring film Yellow Card, about a campaign kicked off by a girls’ soccer team that called for equal pay for women in sports. “I didn’t think my voice really mattered,” one of the campaigners told the filmmaker. That was before the girls’ #EqualPay campaign caught the attention of Billie Jean King and Hillary Clinton, who tweeted about it. And before Anderson Cooper and Good Morning America came calling to interview the girls for their shows.
We can’t wait to see your films for ConnectHER Film Festival 2021! Entries are due June 15. You can find entry requirements here.
We were blown away by the honesty of Bobbi Broome’s film Make Me Divine, which shines a light on the “harsh and unrealistic expectations” that popular culture puts on girls, particularly Black girls. Bobbi says, “When I talk in the film about praying to have a new body every night, that’s real.”
As a panelist at our flagship Day of the Girl screening event, “Centering the Voices of Black Women,” Bobbi talked about how crucial media representation is for Black girls. She shared how as a girl, she never saw anyone who looked like her in the media. “It wasn’t until I turned 18 that I realized that my skin wasn’t weird or ugly.”
Now an MFA candidate in the Film and TV Production program at University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, Bobbi plans to continue to produce media for women and girls of color. “I want to give all the little brown and black girls out there hope,” she says. “If I can inspire at least one little girl to follow her dreams, my life mission will be accomplished.”We’re proud that the ConnectHER Film Festival provides a platform for young Black filmmakers. You can watch some of their films here.
Muhammad Waseem’s film The Chain Breaker shined a much-needed light on the cause of women’s inheritance rights in Pakistan. When Muhammad’s film won the Standup Man Award at last year’s ConnectHER Film Festival, nearly every media outlet in Pakistan covered the story of his win, along with four international outlets and a regional radio station. “Short film…takes on patriarchy, wins international prize,” read the headline in Arab News. Now we’re proud to share that Muhammad has won the 2020 Agahi Award for reporting on women for The Chain Breaker. The awards are given out by the Agahi Foundation, which works to improve investigative journalism in Pakistan.
The Chain Breaker tells the true story of a schoolteacher who broke with local tradition to pursue a legal case to gain inheritance rights for his mother. “Even though laws have been passed to protect women’s property inheritance rights, the majority of women in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region are illiterate and therefore don’t know their rights,” explains Muhammad. “Women aren’t supposed to leave their homes unless they are accompanied by a male relative, so it is difficult for them to go to the courts or to visit relatives to advocate for their rights.”
That is changing thanks to one student’s 6-minute film--and some savvy media outreach. Women in Pakistan are learning about their inheritance rights and asking their brothers to share what is rightly theirs.
Our filmmakers are going places! In Tapiwa Gambura’s case, quite literally. After two of her films won awards at the ConnectHER Film Festival 2020 (Not Your Bride and BVUDZI), Tapiwa moved from Harare, Zimbawe, to New York City to attend Barnard College. We can proudly say that we helped her get there because she used her scholarship money to pay for the flight!
Tapiwa is a film ambassador who shares with other students across Africa the gospel of making films to create social impact. Last fall she hosted an International Day of the Girl screening event in Johannesburg, South Africa, featuring films and lively discussions about “Redefining Beauty.” More recently, she spoke at a youth filmmaking workshop in DR Congo. She told the students how she made BVUDZI with technical support but made Not Your Bride on her own with basic equipment, using her phone with a sock over it as a microphone. “I also spoke about how important it is to ask for help and seek out a community as a filmmaker,” she says. “That has really aided my journey.” We are proud to be part of Tapiwa’s community as she continues to go places.
All of the work that we do to elevate the status of women and girls around the world is dependent on the generosity of you, our incredible ConnectHER community.
We are overwhelmed with gratitude for your unwavering dedication and commitment during such a tumultuous year. We are excited about what we can achieve together in the coming year!
Thank you for believing in us,
The ConnectHER Team