2020: A Year Like No Other


Dear friends,

I am proud to have been a part of JASS since I joined as Regional Director for JASS Southern Africa in 2010. In March of this year, I stepped into the role of Executive Director – right after a beautiful Mexico-City gathering of our community (staff, founders, and friends) to reflect and learn from our history and reaffirm JASS’ work as we prepare for another stage of growth with new leadership.

By the time we returned, the Covid-19 pandemic had descended on us all, with devastating consequences for the community-based women we support who were hit the hardest. Because our staff are embedded in the movements we support, every day brought news of sickness, death, insecurity, and violence. During the course of the year, we lost some people in our broader community, even as our staff were dealing with health crisis in their families and amongst their friends.

However, amidst the difficulty and grief, we also learned of the incredible ways that women were holding their families and communities together. Women organized to meet basic needs such as food, water, sanitation and shared accurate health information while addressing long-term issues such as violence and food insecurity. As always, women played critical roles as first responders, bridging the gaps where social safety nets have been eroded, and systems have failed.

I am proud that JASS has been able to support this extraordinary organizing by our allies and partners. At the core of our movement building approach is a leadership and accompaniment model that sustains women’s organizing efforts and prepares them to respond to moments of opportunity and crisis. This approach has repeatedly illustrated that when women are organized – have the movement infrastructure in place (skills, alliances, communications strategy, strategic savvy, political clarity, etc.) –they are well-positioned to leverage their collective power for lasting change that benefits everyone. Without the groundwork we laid over the last 15 years, we would not have been able to respond to this moment with agility and creativity rooted in relationships of trust.

As we end 2020, we continue to face uncertainty. Yet, we are presented with many moments of possibility. Our world is unsustainable. Things are breaking open. The communities and movements we accompany are organizing and building collective power in big and small ways to push back against systems that no longer serve the majority, while showing us visions and solutions for a different future. They remind us that the practice of cultivating hope, even and especially in the midst of struggle, fuels us all.

I end this letter with a few words from a blog I wrote earlier this year called, The Long Haul:

The only way we can make sense of this moment is to treat it as an invitation to remake completely a world that is being devastated by pandemics, unsustainable economic systems, and structural violence. If we are going to accept this invitation, then we are in it for the long haul. The work of organizing, popular education, and movement building is critically important. It is this work that sustains the displays of public protest that visibly challenge and change the system. The slog work, which a friend jokingly calls the slug work, is about organizing street-by-street, block-by-block, and neighborhood-by-neighborhood paves the way for the slow growth that allows people to seize the political opportunities when they arise.

The work of change is the long haul full of twists and turns but also joy and hope. I invite you to join us for the long haul work of building a just and sustainable world for us all. Invest in and support women leaders to build and sustain the movements that allow them to both respond to crisis moments and to do the long-term work of rebuilding our world.

Thank you for supporting JASS throughout the year. We could not have done this without supporters, friends, and allies like you. We hope you will continue to invest in the hope and promise women’s organizing for a just future.

With love and solidarity,

Shereen Essof

Executive Director