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Building an Alliance for International Women’s Rights

April 7, 2021

This article is part of a series of posts highlighting education systems around the world. With this article, we hope to educate and raise awareness on both the needs of the students and the challenges of running an online English learning program. We also hope to share heartwarming and inspiring success stories with our community of teachers around the world.

In 2003, Lisa Herb, an attorney, traveled to Mongolia. While her husband worked as a wildlife biologist, Lisa volunteered with women’s rights organizations. As a lawyer and an English speaker, she was able to help these advocacy groups with their communications and with researching domestic violence legislation.

In 2005, Lisa came back to the United States. She wanted to continue volunteering with international women’s rights groups, but she couldn’t find an organization that provided long-distance support for women. Later that year, she founded Alliance for International Women’s Rights (AIWR).

AIWR empowers women through two programs: an English program and a mentor program. In the English program, a student is matched with a trained English teacher. The student and teacher meet one-on-one over Skype twice a week for a three-month period. Similarly, in the mentor program, a mentee is matched with a mentor who has expertise in the subject matter relevant to the mentee’s work.

Today, AIWR primarily focuses its efforts in Afghanistan. “There was an intense need and desire,” Lisa explains. “We asked ourselves: how can we make the biggest impact?” In many rural places in Afghanistan, it is extremely hard for women to get an education and to participate in public life. Many cannot access the internet or English learning materials. Some are not allowed to work with male teachers. Some can’t even go out in public without a male escort. “The services we provide are the only means to access English learning resources,” Lisa says.

Before COVID-19, one of the biggest challenges was the lack of reliable internet in rural Afghanistan. It’s not uncommon for a Skype video to stop working and to have to resort to just messaging back and forth or for the electricity to go out completely during a one-on-one session. And even though AIWR operates its educational and mentorship programs online, it was not immune to the impacts of COVID-19 either. Due to the pandemic, some internet cafes in Afghanistan that were available for women to use at designated hours had to shut down, meaning that many students and mentees could not access the internet at all.

Despite the technology challenges, AIWR has had a tremendous impact. In the last 15 years, it's reached over 500 students and mentees. Past students have used their English language training to obtain scholarships and visas to study abroad, and past mentees have used their training to find employment and become leaders in their own communities.

“These women gain choice over their lives,” Lisa says. “They gain agency. Then they use the skills to pay it forward.”

AIWR is a volunteer-run organization. When asked how the average person can help, Lisa says they always need more trained English teachers and that donations are always welcome. “It’s a labor of love.”

To learn more about AIWR, to make a donation, and/or to volunteer, visit their website at aiwr.org.

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