Who is Fawziyat Sani? In addition to being our Development Director at S H E, Fawzi is a new mother, an amazing friend, and a jewelry maker. She's incredibly talented, intelligent, and sarcastic. She navigates life with a sense of purpose and a sense of humor, and she possesses an ability to understand the nuances of different cultures with just a glance. Her humility is as steadfast as her generosity, and her passions are as numerous as her superpowers. She's truly amazing, and we're lucky she's one of the remarkable women leading S H E.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am 26 years old, and I'm from a town in the southern part of Togo called Kpalimé. I have two older half-brothers, but I'm my mother's only child. I come from a big family of aunts, uncles, and cousins and we're all very close. When I was 16 years old, I lost my mother unexpectedly. Fortunately, I still had the financial and moral support of my extended family, especially my grandfather. I know this was an incredibly lucky because most girls in my situation would be left on their own.
I know it's a little funny because I now work to promote girls' education, but I actually did not want to attend University. In Togo, University is not a guaranteed path to a better life because our economy does not support enough jobs at the higher levels of education, so unemployment rates are very high. I think I'm an entrepreneur at heart because I've always dreamed of making and designing jewelry or owning a fruit juice shop. But my family was insistent that I attend University and study English and Communications.
After I graduated, I struggled to find work for nearly a year and a half. Most of the time, people become teachers to have some type of work at least. But my passion is not in teaching, and primary school teachers in Togo do not make enough money to survive on.
Fast-forward, and I'm now very grateful that I studied English because it's allowed me to join S H E. And believe me when I say, finding a job opportunity at an NGO like S H E is very rare here.
How did you come to work at S H E?
As I mentioned, I was at home for nearly a year and a half. I was feeling really frustrated with my situation and discouraged by the fact that I couldn't find work and wasn't able so I couldn't save enough money to start my businesses. One day, a friend of mine called to say that there were Americans in need of a translator. I had no idea how long the job was, how much money I would make, or even where I would stay, but I jumped at the opportunity!
I spent the month with Payton and translated all of their activities. It was through this experience that I learned all about S H E and what they were hoping to accomplish for girls and women. A few months later, Payton asked if I would become their full-time translator. I was so excited.
And now, after working almost 2 years with S H E, I have been promoted to the Development Director. In this role, I manage our products, our clients, and our communications. So you hear my voice in our social media and other marketing videos.
What's your ambition for your career?
My goal is to grow my position at S H E. I really like communications, so I want to help manage our website, develop our marketing, and manage our communications. Eventually, I want to become the Director of International Relations and Development at S H E.
What does empowerment mean for you?
There are so many ways to empower women and for women to find empowerment for themselves. I think it's important to say that education is such an important piece of empowerment, but we have to recognize that it's not everything. For example, you may have the highest level of education, but if you cannot find a job to support yourself financially, you are not living an empowered life.
Women should not feel ashamed if they weren't given an opportunity to get an education. Not everyone needs university, so I think it's important that we think about education in a broader sense. Technical skills and trades that we can do with our hands are an important part of an education system.
That's why I really like the job creation part of S H E's model. It's so so important for women to have jobs and financial independence, so I love getting to develop that part of our program.
What's your vision for S H E?
I think we have a great start at uplifting girls and women, but there are so many girls and women in need that we have a lot of work to do. I think it's great that S H E does many things for girls and women. For example, we don't just provide education for girls, and we don't just provide training for women. We understand that there are not enough jobs to support the number of seamstresses in our country, so we create long-term jobs for women.
What we're building is really working well and you can see the changes our program creates in women's lives. But I envision many NGOs and many local entities all working together on a similar model. Only then can we create the change that is needed - when everyone works together.
What do you think is special about S H E?
There are many things that are special about S H E. One thing that is really important from the worker's perspective is that S H E provides guaranteed, reliable pay. It's a very common problem that companies will delay paychecks or sometimes not pay their workers. We see many worker strikes because of this. But at S H E, we never have to worry that our pay will be reduced or at risk. That provides a lot of peace for us women.
Another thing that's special about S H E is our maternity leave. Frankly speaking, it's not common for women in Togo to receive maternity leave. It's even less common that maternity leave is paid. In fact, it is much more common for women to be fired when it's discovered that they are pregnant. I think that employers don't want to encourage other workers to get pregnant, so they try to remove women who are pregnant to discourage them. So imagine, you are forced to be quiet about your pregnancy for fear that you will be fired, and you won't receive any paid time to raise your child.
At S H E, we offer 3-month paid maternity leave, and I thought that was really long. As a new mother this year though, I realized just how fast 3 months goes by. It was even difficult to return to work full-time after 3 months. So I'm really grateful for our maternity leave policy and I know it makes a really important difference for working mothers.
And the last thing I will mention that's special is our company culture. Most times, the working culture is very top-down in Togo. You have very disempowered workers who are constantly fearing that they will being fired. But it's completely opposite at S H E. Our company culture allows everyone to have a voice and to grow in confidence on our team. And it doesn't matter what your title is or what your education level is at S H E. Here we're allowed to live above our own limitations and we think to ourselves that we must do everything we can to stay at S H E. It's just the best.
What else would you like people to know?
I can say that for me, S H E is life-changing. Before coming to S H E, I didn't have a job and I was losing hope that I would find one. I didn't know I have passion for girls' and women's development, but after seeing the work of S H E on the ground, I understand that this is a very noble cause and it's something I want to be a part of.
I'm encouraged to continue creating opportunities for girls and women to flourish.