“We find organisations that have implemented innovative projects that tackle gender-based violence”

As part of our International Women’s Day blog series, we have interviewed some of the brilliant people that make our work at Womanity possible. In this interview, we hear from Programme Manager Laura Somoggi, on what she enjoys most about her work, and what #BalanceforBetter means to her.
Tell me a bit about your role at Womanity?
I lead our programme which is focused on prevention of violence against women, called the Womanity Award. We open a call for nominations every two years to find organisations that have implemented innovative projects that tackle gender-based violence. As part of the selection process, they have to choose another organisation in a different country to work together to adapt and deliver their innovative approach in a new geography.

Our model is based on the power of collaborations and partnerships. Once we select the pair of organisations that will work together, we give them core support to work for three years, both financial and non-financial, such as capacity building and mentoring. Our goal is to take these solutions and scale up through a carefully supported process of adaptation, that respects the local context and social norms.

I coordinate the selection process and manage the partnerships with the selected organisations. I monitor progress and find opportunities to communicate about the projects. I also act as a mentor to the organisations we support, and try to solve any issues they may have and help them connect with other relevant actors. Finally, I have a strategic role that involves thinking about the value that our programmes bring to women’s rights and the fight to end violence against women, how we can improve it, how to measure our impact, how we can collaborate with other philanthropists working in this field, how to share our learnings etc.

What is it that you enjoy most about this work?
I really enjoy working closely with organisations that are doing incredible work to end violence against women around the world. Since the launch of the Womanity Award in 2014, we have supported 3 pairs of organisations and each pair focus their work on some specific aspect related to the fight to end violence against women. The first pair was Promundo (US) and Abaad (Lebanon) and they worked together on the men’s role in combating gender-based violence In Lebanon. The second pair, Association for Progressive Communications, APC (South Africa) and Luchadoras (Mexico) are adapting a programme called Take Back the Tech to tackle online violence against women in Mexico. This year, we are starting our third programme, in South Africa, with SafetiPin (India) and Soul City Institute (South Africa) to create safer cities for women.

I learn every day about various approaches, the differences and commonalities related to violence against women across different cultures, what works and what doesn’t work to help prevent and end violence against women.  

How has your previous experience, outside of Womanity, helped you in this role?
I had two different phases in my career before joining Womanity. First, I worked as a business journalist for 10 years in Brazil, my home country. Then, after moving to London, I worked in the private sector for 9 years. I managed cross-sector partnership with global NGOs and United Nations agencies on international development projects and also led on the women’s empowerment agenda. I feel that both experiences helped me to think strategically and to work effectively in complex and multi-cultural environments. It also taught me how to build rapport and to communicate with different people in different contexts.

Are there any key learnings that have come from the Womanity Award?
Definitely, there has been continuous learning. I have learnt the importance of having power balance between partners – which is actually the essence behind our model. It is not uncommon in social impact projects that the scale-up approach is very top down: the more experienced partner works with a local partner only to replicate an existing project without taking the necessary time to ensure that the programme is thoroughly adapted and respects local cultural norms.

Why is this work on combating gender-based violence so important in the fight for equality?
Well, if women feel unsafe at home, in the streets, on public transport, in schools, at work – to name some spaces – this affects their freedom to come and go and limit the extent to which they can exercise their rights. During this selection process of the latest Award (focused on creating safe urban spaces for women), I had the opportunity to go to India to visit the project of one of the finalists and to talk to adolescent girls that were part of the programme. They mentioned that they prefer not to tell their parents if they are harassed in the street on their way to school, because the reaction would be to prohibit them to go to school and not necessarily to address the real problem of gender-based violence.  If patriarchal values are normalised and violence is accepted as part of life or culture, it’ll be very difficult to reach gender equity.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Balance for Better”. What does “Balance for Better” mean to you?
It means that we don’t even need to think about power imbalance when talking about gender. Balance should be a given. Everyone should be able to exercise their rights regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Actually, more than that, regardless of race, class, age, religion creed or disability. They are all part of what makes us human and shouldn’t be used as reasons for prejudice or discrimination.