Women of the World Aids Forcibly Displaced Women in Utah

Women of the World is a Utah-based nonprofit organization helping forcibly displaced refugees, asylees and immigrant women make Salt Lake City their home.  

Established in 2009 by Samira Harnish, an immigrant from Iraq who came here to study engineering at the University of Utah, Women of the World empowers women to share their voice and achieve economic success through the programs funded through donations. When she arrived in Utah as a student, Harnish began helping forcibly displaced women in the community. Eventually she left her job of 17 years as a research and development engineer to create Women of the World and help these women full time.

“Creating an organization like Women of the World has been a dream of mine since I was a kid,” says Harnish. “I wanted to help women: to give them the confidence and power to speak up for themselves. It was a gradual process because I had to take workshops and learn about what it meant to run a non-profit.”

Samira Harnish poses for a selfie with participants at the 2018 Women of the World Fashion Show. This year’s event was held virtually. Photo courtesy Women of the World

In 2018, Harnish and Women of the World were recognized the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as a finalist for the Nansen Refugee Award, which recognizes organizations going above and beyond in the aid of forcibly displaced peoples.  

Each woman that comes into the program receives a customized service plan because no woman’s story and needs are exactly the same. Donations are the main support for getting women the resources they need to succeed in a completely new and foreign environment. Donations go toward resources and opportunities including English language books, college application fees, employment opportunities, entrepreneur business licenses, legal assistance, scholarships and more. 

To serve all situations, Women of the World offers two different English language programs: Practical English for the women who simply need English to better immerse themselves within their community and Intensive English for women who are seeking a job or college education.

Samira Harnish, Founder of Women of the World. Photo courtesy Samira Harnish

Education is especially important for career progression and is part of the foundation of Women of the World. Even though the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected women of color, the organization was able to award ten women $27,000 college scholarships in 2020 through the Displaced Women’s Education Fund of Utah. This past year, Women of the World helped 39 women find new jobs, and their clients’ annual revenue increased by $903,000.

One of the main events the organization hosts every year is a fashion show fundraiser showcasing the rich culture and the resilience of their program participants. The models wear beautifully vibrant traditional garments from their home country. The event is held in March to celebrate International Women’s Day. This year, because of the pandemic, the event was held virtually, but the women still got their moment to shine. The show featured women from African, Asian and South American countries, raising over $2,000 in an hour.  

Women of the World aims to help acclimate these women to American society while pushing them to succeed in their education, their careers and in life, but none of that is possible without the help of the public. Through donations, volunteering and simply welcoming these women into the community, we can all help them start the rest of their lives in a supportive and safe environment.  

If you want to learn more, donate, or volunteer for Women of the World, visit their website.

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