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More about our plenaries...
Brita Fernandez Schmidt is an advocate and promoter of women’s empowerment, women’s rights and equality. She frequently writes about the challenges women face all over the world in the context of poverty and conflict. Brita is a public speaker on these issues. She has lived in and/or worked with over 16 countries spanning three continents. Brita has led several influential women’s organisations and networks.She currently runs Women for Women International - UK as Executive Director. She has grown the organisation from when it first started in the UK to a medium-sized organisation which is helping thousands of women in countries affected by conflict and raising millions through effective and innovative donor relationships and partnerships. Brita holds a MA in Women’s Studies from the University of Sussex. Originally from Germany, Brita went to school in Venezuela. She now lives in the UK with her husband and two daughters.
Brita's plenary will take place on Thursday 12th April
Knowledge is power: access to education for marginalised women
Brita Fernandez Schmidt has worked for over 20 years with marginalised women all over the world. She has seen that no matter where in the world, access to knowledge is the key to unlocking potential and transforming lives. Brita will reflect on the lessons she has learned for providing access to education and knowledge to the most marginalised women in developing countries who have never been to school and the ripple effects that this has on their families and the wider community. She will share the practical approaches that organisations like Women for Women International have developed for teaching in the absence of literacy. Her talk will be making references to different contexts of extreme poverty, including a recent project that provides English language teaching to Syrian women refugees in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. The specific work that Women for Women International delivers in countries affected by conflict directly relates to the wider International Development frameworks, such as the Global Goals, which were agreed by the UN in 2015 and set the global agenda for poverty reduction. In her plenary, she will show how her organisation is contributing to the implementation for these goals and provide insight into how education plays a key role in making these goals a reality.

An interview with Brita Fernandez Schmidt
What got you interested in the field of charity work, especially the empowerment of women?
When I was 14, my parents, who were teachers, moved to Venezuela, where my father taught at the German School in Caracas. I remember seeing the poverty in Venezuela and how it affected women disproportionately. That was the starting point for my passion. I have never understood why society would treat over half of humanity as second class citizens simply because of their gender. A strong sense for justice and equality has continued to inspire me and drives my work. Being able to help women to fulfil their potential and improve their lives is the greatest satisfaction, it is my purpose and working with charities I have found to be a  very effective way of achieving this purpose.

What about this topic inspires you?
Through my work, I get to travel to many different countries, meeting women in many different contexts. What inspires me deeply is that the experiences of gender discrimination, and the hopes and dreams of women no matter where they are, are very similar. There is so much more that connects us than what divides us. I am driven by a sense that the woman in Afghanistan who lost her family in the war and is now not sure how she will survive, could have been me. The Yezidi girl who was held for 2 years as a sex slave by ISIS could be my daughter. That is what inspires me, and the knowledge that it is actually in our power to change the situation of women and girls around the world.

Do you have a favourite motto, saying or quotation you can share with us?
Yes – ‘Life is a Journey, not a destination’. That is my favourite saying and has been for as long as I can remember. It helps me in difficult situations to realise that they will pass and are an opportunity to learn. It also helps me to embrace change and be excited about what is around the corner

As our audience is so international, could you mention some of the countries you have lived and/or worked in?
As I mentioned, as a teenager I moved to Venezuela from Germany. Whilst living in Venezuela, we travelled extensively in Latin America and in my working life I have continued to visit many countries, from Nicaragua to Peru and Guatemala, India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Congo, Egypt and many others. I also lived in Belgium for few years whilst working at the European Women’s Lobby.

What is your favourite thing to do when you are not working?
I love spending time with my family. My husband and I have two daughters (17 and 15) and a dog and we are all very close. We play tennis together and go for long walks. I also love reading and I am forever buying books by inspiring women, so I always have a big pile next to my bed.

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