SEATTLE, Washington — The Association of Americans Resident Overseas estimates 8.7 million Americans, excluding the military, live abroad in more than 160 different countries. These Americans have a unique opportunity to help fight global poverty. One of the ways they can help is by becoming a member of one of the many American women’s clubs. These women’s clubs exist in a variety of countries. I spoke to Sallie Chaballier of the Federation Of American Women’s Clubs Overseas (FAWCO) about what FAWCO is doing, and more broadly about what American women’s clubs are doing to fight global poverty.
Founded in 1931, FAWCO initially served as an umbrella association for 7 associated clubs in Europe. Nowadays FAWCO brings together 60 member clubs in 30 different countries. The founders created FAWCO under the shadow of fascism. Chaballier says, “The founders’ vision was that enlightened women working cooperatively together could try to work for international peace and be a force for good. Nearly ninety years later that vision is still very relevant.”
While FAWCO acts as an umbrella organization, its leadership is very decentralized. Chaballier says, “We’re pretty hands-off. They’re very diverse groups, I think the smallest is seven people and the largest is about 500. Our only requirement is that English be their working language and that American citizens be involved in the leadership. We aren’t prescriptive and we don’t want to get involved in their internal affairs.” Although many of the affiliate organizations are devoted to charitable causes, according to Chaballier, some are “more social” in nature. This largely depends on where the club is located and the different reasons that member women are currently abroad.
What FAWCO Does
FAWCO leadership may not take an active role in the missions of its affiliated organizations, but FAWCO itself acts as more than just an organizing body. FAWCO is an NGO, and Chaballier believes that “what sets us apart is that we are accredited by the UN Economic and Social Council.” Of millions of NGOs worldwide, only 4,045 have this accreditation, which is known as ECOSOC status. According to the UN website, ECOSOC consultative status “provides NGOs with access to not only ECOSOC, but also to its many subsidiary bodies, to the various human rights mechanisms of the United Nations, ad-hoc processes on small arms, as well as special events organized by the President of the General Assembly.”
Beyond its organizational role and its advocacy with the UN, FAWCO will also fight global poverty on the ground. FAWCO has four “Global Issues” concerning women: Education, Environment, Health and Human Rights. These are complex, large and often overlapping issues. Chaballier explains FAWCO’s methodology, saying, “Over the years instead of trying to work on common projects on an ad-hoc basis, we’ve decided every three years to have something called a target project, the target is one of those areas of focus. We’re now on our fourth three-year cycle, we started with an environment project and now we’re on women’s health.”
These projects she described are programs of education, awareness and fundraising. Previously, FAWCO target projects have worked with various organizations. For example, FAWCO worked with Tabitha Cambodia, focusing on improving access to clean water, and the Collateral Repair Project, focusing on education for young refugee girls.
The Current Target Project
Chaballier highlighted FAWCO’s current target project, focusing on women’s health. She says that “we have found over the years that our four areas of focus intersect in many ways so that a human rights program can also be health and education.” That is certainly the case for its current project. FAWCO has partnered with a Tanzanian organization called Hope for Girls and Women Tanzania (HGWT). Activist Rhobi Samwelly founded HGWT, which is active in the Mara region of Tanzania where 32% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 report having undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). The organization works to protect women and girls in Tanzania from FGM. It is also educating families about the harmful effects of FGM and seeks to reconcile estranged girls and their families. HGWT currently provides two safe houses for women and girls fleeing the threat of FGM.
Americans living abroad have a unique opportunity. They can take advantage of their citizenship to help fight global poverty in the places where it exists through FAWCO and its affiliates. If you are interested in seeing if there is a FAWCO affiliate near you, have a look at their map. Additionally, if you are interested in Hope for Women and Girls Tanzania, be sure to visit their website.
– Franklin Nossiter