Q&A with Yasmeen Hamza, MSW ’05

Yasmeen HamzaCEO of Womankind

On August 1, 2020, Yasmeen Hamza assumed the role of CEO of Womankind, a non-profit organization providing multilingual and culturally-responsive services and advocacy for survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking. She had previously been with the organization for eight years, most recently as Director of Community Programs, where she overaw its community sites in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens; sexual violence and human trafficking programs; community-based domestic violence services; outreach, education, and legal services; and programming specific to children and youth as well as older adults age 50 and above.

What is Womankind’s mission?

Womankind was started over 37 years ago to address the needs of Asian survivors of domestic violence and since then it has grown to work with survivors of gender-based violence, mostly focusing on domestic violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking across the lifespan. The organization provides emergency housing and comprehensive services for survivors and their children, and does community engagement and advocacy work. Unlike other primarily domestic violence organizations, our locations are not confidential because we believe in engaging with and making change within the community.

Is there a program you are particularly proud of?

I am particularly proud of our human trafficking program, which started in 2005 in response to community need, and has grown since I joined Womankind in 2012. I believe the voices of the community we serve should guide the work, and their voices helped me and other members of our staff figure out that our human trafficking program should adopt a human rights-based approach. We made the decision to join the Freedom Network, a national coalition of like-minded organizations across the country working to ensure that trafficked persons have access to justice, safety, and opportunity. As a result, we have been able to strengthen and expand our human trafficking program, build national connections, and now provide technical assistance to other organizations around the country.

How did your social work education prepare you for your position?

NYU has a strong clinical focus that helped me understand individuals from a biological, psychological, and social perspective. I have been able to translate the clinical skills that I learned there in my day-to-day macro-level work. I have a trauma-informed lens and understanding that both the communities and staff I work with are made up of different identities. Through those identities, they have different experiences and that impacts the ways in which they engage in life and in their work. So I draw on my clinical skills even in the way I help people navigate the different systems that they encounter.

What motivated you to pursue your MSW?

I earned my bachelor’s degree in child and adolescent development, which included courses in psychology, kinesiology, sociology, and other disciplines. I chose social work for my master’s because of its flexibility. Whereas psychology is focused only on the mind, social work allows you to look at an individual in their environment, and understand how systems impact them. I felt I would have a lot more opportunities in social work and the experience would be a lot more holistic. There are so many different things you can do as a social worker!

Was there a particular class at NYU Silver that you always remember?

There was an elective called Therapeutic Jurisprudence [now known as Forensic Justice and Problem-Solving Courts]. The professor at the time was the presiding judge at the Red Hook community court. He brought in speakers from different facets of the criminal justice system, like the International Criminal Court and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office. It allowed me to see how what I learned in my clinical courses could be implemented more broadly. It gave me a different perspective that I really enjoyed and it has helped me tremendously over my career. I have done work in child welfare and gender-based violence, both of which are interlinked with the criminal justice system.

Where did do your field learning?

I did my first year field placement at the Blossom Program, a youth empowerment after school program for girls in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The girls didn't want regular, one-on-one counseling sessions, so a lot of the work was done in between activities. My field instructor really allowed me to develop different programming that spoke to the kids, so I designed groups that were media based, using books and music that kids were reading and listening to. I loved it!

In my second year, I did my placement at The Jewish Board's domestic violence program. I worked directly with clients living in the agency’s shelter for people experiencing domestic violence, providing counseling, case management, advocacy, and just overall support.

Have you stayed connected to NYU Silver since you graduated?

Yes. I have been a field supervisor for NYU MSW students, which has been great. Some of them actually now work at Womankind! I have also stayed connected by speaking on panels for student groups, like the Asian and Pacific Islander / American Students for Change.

Do you have any recommendations for people considering pursuing an MSW?

I think it’s a great idea! There is a lot you can do with a social work degree so I always encourage people who are thinking about getting an MSW to do it.