For more than 20 years, Ashoka Fellow Agata Teutsch has been building networks of women and girls in Poland and Eastern Europe to advance anti-discrimination practices across schools, workplaces and communities. As a result, her organization, Autonomia Foundation, is uniquely positioned to respond to the disproportionate impacts on women and children of the recent crises of COVID-19 and the war in neighboring Ukraine. We sat down with her to dive into these responses. Watch the full conversation here.
Here are a few of the highlights:
The impact of crises on women
UN Women expects the Covid-19 pandemic to push an estimated 47 million additional women and girls into extreme poverty and widen the gender poverty gap. For millions of mostly women and children fleeing war in Ukraine, this crisis suddenly escalated when Russia attacked last February. Since day one, Agata and her team have been coordinating welcoming efforts targeted at women and girls in Poland. Here’s how Agata describes the situation:
Trust women as experts
It is not surprising that women and feminist organizations — who understand the issues at a visceral level — have stepped up in big ways. Agata reminds us of the importance of drawing on women, children and other excluded groups as experts and changemakers.
The long view
Like many social entrepreneurs, Agata and her team felt an urgent responsibility to step up when these crises hit. Instead of dropping everything to focus only on direct assistance, they opted for a long-term perspective. We are seeing other Ashoka Fellows across Europe making the same important choice.
No one size fits all
When dealing with large-scale crises, it’s tempting to look for one-size-fits-all solutions. While everyone seeks safety and a dignified way to make ends meet, answering those needs might look quite different if you are a woman fleeing with children, a lesbian couple, or a trans woman. Agata urges us to acknowledge this diversity and leverage each person’s unique assets to develop solutions that will work for them.
*Photo credit John Brighenti.