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We are our sister's keeper: Remarks from Women Helping Women 2018
By Karen Santilli / April 6, 2018
International Women’s Day was celebrated just last month, and naturally there were lots of social media posts.  One in particular caught my attention. 

It was a Ted Talk given by Musimbi Kanyoro, CEO of The Global Fund for Women. She talked of how she grew up in a small village in western Kenya and of a philosophy that was an integral part of the upbringing in her village. If you get a chance, watch her Ted Talk - it really is beautiful. 

In it she explains “isirika,” which she describes as “a way of life that embraces charity, service and philanthropy.” The essence is that we are our sister’s keeper, that we have a mutual responsibility to care for one another.  Isirika affirms our common humanity.

As I continued to listen to her present this philosophy so eloquently, it made me think of Crossroads’ recent social media campaign about people who are experiencing homelessness, that they should not be defined simply as “homeless,” but rather as a mother, sister, or friend who share common interests and values. 

Following the principles of isirika, Ms. Kanyoro would assert that you do not see a homeless woman first, but rather you see a human first, and she has value, and she can contribute and achieve.  She goes on to implore that now is the time to give more for women, and that if you want to solve the problems in society, you must invest in women and girls (I’m sure my friends from Sophia Academy would agree).

Unfortunately, we still live in a society where it is common practice to pay women only 83 cents on the dollar. I believe that there is also gender bias when it comes to funding homelessness.

Services are prioritized for the chronic homeless, most of whom are men; and we have prioritized funding for veterans, most of whom are men. No doubt, chronic and veterans are certainly worthy of this funding support. 

But what if you are a woman who is homeless – and you’re not a veteran nor chronic?  With such limited resources invested in addressing the solutions of homelessness, what resources are left to help you? Is there an appropriate level of investment in services to house and support women? I would say there is not.  Women are among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population nationwide. But they remain underserved.

Last year, Crossroads helped nearly 1,000 women. Additionally, there were more than 75 who sought safety at our domestic violence shelter. 

In a state as small as Rhode Island, where everybody knows everybody, more than a thousand women felt unsafe, were hungry, homeless, or needed our help. That’s almost three times the number of women who attended this event today.  And that’s just the women who showed up at Crossroads.

For one in four women, domestic violence is the primary reason for their homelessness. For many others, all it takes is one unexpected medical bill. The loss of a job. The death of a spouse.

While homelessness is not an ideal state for a man or a woman, women experiencing homelessness face unique challenges. More than three-quarters report being victims of physical assault, rape or stalking. More than 60 percent are over the age of 50. And inequality in the workplace makes escaping homelessness even more difficult for women.

We need your help. Women experiencing homelessness live in the margins of society. In the margins of the systems that are meant to help them.

In the words of Musimbi Kanyoro, now is the time to invest in women.  This is our time to support one another.  Let us embrace it and be our sister’s keeper.  Let us bring the philosophy of isirika to Rhode Island so we can help women experiencing homelessness contribute and achieve in our society.

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