Christine Amour-Levar is the co-founder of Women on a Mission (WOAM) and the founder of Her Planet Earth - two award-winning, not-for-profit organisations that take all-female teams on pioneering expeditions to off the beaten track locations around the world as a way to support worthy causes. HER Planet Earth's primary objective is to raise awareness and funds for underprivileged women affected by climate change, while WOAM aims to support and empower women who have been subjected to violence and abuse.
As a passionate human rights and environmental advocate, Christine's leadership in these two organisations reflects her profound desire and commitment to fight for gender equality and the protection of our beautiful planet.
On International Women’s Day in March 2020, we conducted an interview with Christine to learn more about her work with WOAM specifically, and how she is advancing the status of women around the globe. This interview was also a formidable way for BLACAZ Insurance to reassess and restate its commitment to championing gender equality and to raising awareness about the discrimination that still exists against women everywhere.
Why did you start Women on a Mission?
The story began about eight years ago when I met my co-founder, Valerie Boffy, who was about to climb Everest. She succeeded on the first try and on the summit of Everest she unfolded a banner that said Bearing the Flag for Women Everywhere in support of a charity called Women for Women International, that champions women survivors of war. After she came back to Singapore, together with another partner, Karine Moge, we I set up an NGO called Women on a Mission to take all-female teams to off the beaten track locations around the world as a way to support women survivors of war, women survivors of human trafficking, domestic abuse and other forms of violence and abuse.
Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today and it remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it. Women on a Mission’s core objective is to support and empower such women via our advocacy work and fundraising.
As of today, the organisation has successfully organised 10 expeditions and raised well over a million dollars to support the most marginalised women around the world.
How is the organisation funded?
We are a volunteer-based organisation. None of us get paid to do the work we do. Teammates who come on our expeditions pay for their travel costs and are also required to fundraise for our charity partners. Funds go directly to the charities we support who then redistribute the donations to the women and girls in their programmes.
We do also organise events in Singapore to help raise awareness and funds for the causes we support. Over the last few years at our fundraising events, we have hosted artists, adventurers, authors, musicians and even astronauts.
In addition to women survivors of war, whom we champion via Women for Women International, which operates in eight war-torn regions around the world, we also support and raise funds for AWARE Singapore, a well-known gender equality advocacy group, the International Justice Mission, a charity that protects those living in poverty throughout the developing world by combatting violent forms of oppression, including sex trafficking and Pertapis Home, a Singapore NGO that provides residential care for women and girls who are from dysfunctional families and who are in need of shelter, care and protection.
Basically, our operating costs are very low since we are all volunteers, and whatever we raise we donate to our charity partners.
How do you support women's rights?
My partners and I are deeply passionate about gender equality and female empowerment and we believe corporations, governments and society all have a role to play in helping improve that parity. Today, women represent half of the world’s population and every day we are growing in economic power and influence, yet continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles.
WOAM’s advocacy work centres primarily on awareness building and helping women understand their rights and build stronger livelihoods. Indeed, it is difficult to combat oppressive inequality if one cannot identify what one is entitled to. We partner with organisations in Singapore and abroad and help fund programmes focused on providing entrepreneurial and life-skills training for underprivileged women living in conflict and disaster-prone areas.
In Singapore for instance, we have also collaborated with a local law firm to provide free workshops for expatriate women to help them better understand their right and the immigration laws of this country. All this impacts their status in case of a divorce. Within the community in Singapore, some women may be endangered financially or psychologically if a divorce occurs. This happens because they are not aware of their rights, so they cannot be properly protected.
Moreover, over the years, we have also raised funds and awareness for AWARE Singapore’s Sexual Assault Care Centre, which provides a vital helpline for vulnerable women in the community.
What are the organisation's achievements?
This is an excellent question as accountability is the best way to measure impact.
Our strategy is to focus on what we do best, fundraising, and to collaborate very closely with other organisations that have a presence and the expertise on the grounds. Our partners are well-established non-profit institutions that have very good programmes and structures in place dedicated to serving the underprivileged and empower girls and women to secure a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Over the last few years our funds have enabled over 500 women in war-torn countries, mainly in Afghanistan, Iraq, Rwanda, Syria and Sudan to participate in Women for Women International’s year-long training programme, giving them the knowledge and skills to rebuild their shattered lives.
Our ten expeditions have also raised valuable funds for charities supporting hundreds of women in the countries we have visited, notably Bhutan, Iran, Mongolia, Nepal and Cambodia.
In Singapore, WOAM has partnered with Pertapis Centre for Women and Girls in Singapore. We are active through both fundraising events and the personal involvement of our teammates and volunteers on the ground. WOAM has set up a Big Sister Programme to support the young women and girls at Pertapis Home. Over the last 4 years, close to 40 big sisters have committed to act as mentors for their little sisters at the shelter. Our big sisters aim to support the social workers in their mission with their young residents, by providing further guidance and encouragement.
As a result of all these efforts, we have directly impacted the lives of hundreds of women and girls and indirectly impacted thousands more. This has become our unique way of changing the world – one woman at a time.
What are your goals for the years to come?
Our goal is to grow locally and expand globally. We are achieving the former by growing our local base of supporters, spreading the word, recruiting more teammate for our expeditions and eventually raising more funds for our charity partners.
To match our global expansion's goal, we are launching a new partnership in Dubai for Women on a Mission in 2021.
The core of our ambition is to advance women, protect them from any form of abuse and help them attain economic independence. Violence against women continues to be an obstacle to achieving equality, development, peace as well as to the fulfilment of women and girls’ rights. All in all, the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals - to leave no one behind - cannot be fulfilled without putting an end to violence against women and girls. WOAM is committed to doing its part to stop this grave human injustice. Violence against women is unacceptable and any suggestion to the contrary does not have a place in the 21st century.
How do you juggle between your work and your family?
Finding balance is not easy for anyone. How we should best manage the many important aspects of our lives has been put into question and debated around the world, and during the last 100 years especially. I believe you have to look at your life’s many important facets carefully and evaluate your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing, while finding a way to balance those interconnected parts of your life so as to be truly happy. Today, my life as a working mother of four is very busy indeed, but incredibly rewarding.
The wonderful thing is that I usually am able to decide how busy I want to be, and on what projects I want to focus on. This means I have more control over my schedule, and it has allowed me to have enough time to raise my children, while staying mentally stimulated and free to pursue many other interesting projects. Having this balance is vitally important to me.