Winner of the Atlantic Council’s 2020 Distinguished Leadership Awards, The Azadi Project is a US-registered 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization that provides livelihood and leadership skills, and psychosocial support to women from some of the most conflict-affected regions and marginalized communities.
It was founded in 2018 by Priyali Sur who, as a journalist, had reported extensively on the emerging refugee situation in the Middle East and Europe since 2015. With seed money from her alma mater School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, and mentoring support from the Atlantic Council, where she was a Fellow; Azadi conducted its first pilot program providing digital storytelling skills to women refugees in Athens, Greece in September 2018. This was done with the support of Vanessa Davaroukas and Lluis Dalmau, two former SAIS, Johns Hopkins students.
Since its inception in 2018, Azadi has impacted the lives of more than 5,500 refugee women and its programs have benefitted displaced women from Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Niger, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen. Our beneficiaries emerge as women leaders bringing positive change in their communities as well. Azadi excels at putting a gender lens on the challenges faced by refugee and marginalized women. We have run programs across the global south from Africa to the Middle East and South Asia. Azadi is advised by top international experts with extensive experience in refugee rights, women’s rights, and mental health.
Azadi means ‘Freedom’ in Hindi, Urdu, and Farsi and is at the core of our brand philosophy. As our new logo demonstrates, we’ve retained the Samarkan font for the ‘A’ of Azadi as a homage to everything that we’ve achieved in the past but used a modern font for the rest of the text as our commitment to our work with women refugees around the world. The minimalist origami bird represents hope, strength, and peace – something that we will always strive to work towards. Orange represents happiness and empowerment, and purple represents resilience, justice and dignity – just like the women and girls who attend our workshops and continue to inspire us.
Azadi envisions a world where women from refugee and marginalized communities can access their rights universally: and are not limited by geographical borders, or their race, religion, ethnicity, and/or sexual orientation.
Our mission is to empower refugee, migrant, and marginalized women and girls to unleash their true potential and transform them into community leaders. We do this by providing leadership and livelihood skills along with psychosocial support in safe spaces.
The Azadi Project’s aim is to enhance refugee women and girls’ voice and agency by providing leadership and livelihood skills, and psychosocial support to women from refugee and marginalized communities globally.
Our Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) programs offer an outlet for healing from mental trauma while building confidence – all in a safe and judgment-free space.
Our virtual and on-site workshops provide basic spoken English, digital literacy, public speaking, and other soft skills along with sessions on gender equality awareness to prepare them for leadership roles within their communities and a professional career.
Our participants report reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression and a greater sense of well-being that equips them to take on leadership roles. Many of them have also joined Azadi as consultants and volunteers to have a larger, direct impact on their community.
During the COVID pandemic, our public health activities delivered critical supplies and information to over 5,000 refugee women. Since our inception, we have benefitted displaced women from some of the most conflicted-affected countries of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, Niger, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.
Refugees — who have experienced horrific traumas in their home countries and migrated through brutal conditions — are often re-traumatized by violence and dire conditions in camps. Women’s trauma is particularly acute due to gender-based violence — including domestic violence, rape by smugglers, trafficking, and sexual assault in prison. Social norms in countries of origin make it difficult for women to request help for anxiety, depression, and PTSD among others. Refugees’ right to mental health services is enshrined in international law. And untreated mental health issues cause irreversible harm that persists across generations, according to UNHCR. Yet despite the huge need for psychosocial support, few are able to access it. Distressed or anxious asylum seekers are more likely to be rejected by immigration officials, with often devastating consequences, such as deportation to life-threatening circumstances in their countries of origin.
Their mental health crisis is exacerbated by a lack of opportunities to sustain themselves. When Sedigeh, an Afghan refugee arrived in Greece as a refugee with her husband and two children, she like most other refugees had to survive on the food packets and the 90 Euros given to them per month by UNHCR. There were no jobs for women like her. She was a refugee woman of color with almost no English language skills. Five years later in Poland– Alina – a single mother and a Ukrainian refugee woman, faced the same problem. Despite a Master’s degree, the only jobs available to her were cleaning jobs. Like Sedigeh and Alina, most migrant and refugee women do not find employment in the skilled sector. Even with the acute labor shortage exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, qualified refugee women are still unable to find jobs.
Systemic barriers that prevent refugee women from accessing paid work can include unfair expectations of caregiving responsibilities, language issues, as well as gender inequality at the workplace. In addition, labor participation of refugee and migrant communities as a whole is low due to intersectional bias and negative stereotyping. When these intersectionalities and biases meet, it becomes that much harder to find skilled jobs and integrate into host communities.
Our unique community-based model was created to meet the various challenges faced by women from refugee and marginalized communities.
Run by trained facilitators and therapists, these sessions are conducted in a safe space for refugee and marginalized women to share feelings with others in similar situations.The group sessions de-escalate the women’s emergency mental health situations by providing peer support. The forum helps refugee women deal with trauma; as well as mental health illnesses like depression, anxiety, and PTSD using a range of creative tools including art therapy.
The program builds resilience and confidence to transform women refugees into leaders and agents of change, enabling them to identify solutions to mental health and gender equity issues and implement them in their community.
The component of providing leadership, public-speaking and livelihood skills is designed to provide a holistic learning opportunity to marginalized and refugee women. This trains them to enter the job market and take on leadership roles. Women who represent marginalized and migrant communities, are women of color, or/and survivors of violence are prioritized.