The Peace Through Business program is an initiative of The Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women (IEEW), a non-profit group inspiring women in the United States and abroad to pursue greater entrepreneurial roles, to grow their businesses and start new ventures, and become more active public policy advocates.  Through its program, the IEEW recently hosted  twenty-five women from Afghanistan and Rwanda  here in the United States to receive high-level business and leadership training on topics such as accounting, finance, economics, digital marketing, and the importance of women’s involvement in politics.  

On July 24, 2012, we had the opportunity to accompany FCC International Bureau Chief, Mindel De La Torre to the graduation ceremony for these women and the experience was compelling.

Speakers at the graduation ceremony included Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues; Terry Neese, Founder and CEO of IEEW; and the Honorable Eklil Hakimi, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Verveer spoke of the difficulties that Rwanda and Afghanistan have faced after years of war and highlighted the progress each nation has made in women’s rights and economic and political development.

Today in Afghanistan, over 25% of Parliamentarians and 10% of judges are women. In Rwanda, women from different political and social parties came together to integrate their efforts and contributed to the prevention of further conflict after the genocide in 1994.  Today, 56% of Rwandan Parliamentarians are women.

The highlight of the graduation ceremony was the presentation of the Enterprising Women of the Year awards to Freshta Hazeq of Afghanistan and Rwanda’s Josephine Uwineza.  Freshta Hazeq, started her own advertising and printing press company called the Royal Advertising and Printing Press in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Since launching the business Ms. Hazeq has faced incredible opposition -- her male employees were even bribed to sabotage her business.  She persevered, however, and explained, “I never lost my passion to go ahead and ignore all of them.  I believe… nothing is impossible and no work is out of the reach of women.” Josephine Uwineza, opened, Flamingo, the first Chinese restaurant in Kigali.   In addition to her restaurant, she has launched an agricultural company and makes her own chili sauce which she plans to export. 

All of these women will take their experiences home with them to continue their endeavors and hopefully will continue to inspire others. For those of us here at the FCC who had the honor of meeting them, we know their stories will stay with us as we ourselves move forward with out own career choices.