With no way of supporting their children, many women are trapped in abusive relationships they can’t afford to leave. But a group of Kenyan women who have all been targets of gender-based violence are moving forward with the help of their peanut butter business.
Violence against women is a shocking fact of life for one woman in three globally. It not only affects women physically and psychologically, but it holds back entire communities and their development.
Bringing down violence isn’t easy, but fearless women all over the world are standing up and speaking out. Let these five amazing women inspire you with their stories of fearlessness and stand with them by taking action now.
Wangu, 40, helping survivors turn their anger into courage
I met Wangu earlier this week and she blew my mind. Hidden behind her soft voice you can hear the great pain she has overcome and turned into strength. Wangu was car-jacked and sexually assaulted in 2002. Not only was she raped and robbed, but the police would not take her seriously when she went to report the assault. Like many people facing this type of violence in Kenya, she started using alcohol and sex to ease her pain.
After months of counselling, Wangu decided to stand up and use her experience to help other women. So, in 2005 she founded The Wangu Kanja Foundation, a partner of ActionAid, which helps survivors of sexual violence access medical, psychological and legal support.
“I wanted to use my experience to inform and create the services we need in Kenya to support the survivors of sexual violence. Only survivors of such an experience can really understand what women who have suffered sexual violence have gone through,” she says.
Azza, 49, human rights lawyer in Egypt
Azza has been at the forefront of the fight for human rights for the women of Egypt for many years, and is the Chair of the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance.
After witnessing the killing of an activist by police during a peaceful protest in Cairo, Azza reported the crime and got charged under the repressive ‘Protest Law’. It was the state’s chance to be rid of a well-argued and, scandalously, female critic.
Azza Soliman, 49, lawyer and human rights defender from Egypt
We’ve been fighting with Azza for months and we’ll keep standing with her until those ridiculous charges are dropped. After a global outcry in May, which included more than 20,000 ActionAid supporters petitioning the UK Foreign Secretary, the judge threw the case out of court, but the verdict was appealed so she is still facing five years in prison. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is now following her case and pushing Egyptian authorities to drop the charges. Her next court hearing is on 26 September and the whole world is watching. Follow us on Facebook to find out about next steps.
Azza says: “Tackling violence against women is key to development and those women in Egypt who showed leadership and were in the frontlines of the revolution in 2011 and who have worked tirelessly to improve women’s issues since then should be seen as heroes – not a threat. Using violence against them is more a sign of weakness than strength.”
Carla, 15, inspiring young women in Brazil
Carla is a youth leader who helps other girls recover from sexual exploitation and be aware of their rights. The part of Brazil that she’s from, Suape, is a busy industrial hub where sexual exploitation of girls as young as 12 is common. Teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and school drop-out rates are on the rise.
Carla, 15, youth leader from Brazil
ActionAid supports local organisations to help girls to understand their potential and say no to sexual exploitation.
“At the project we have discussions and seminars, which help us to spread our knowledge throughout our community. This helps us to help other girls our age,” she says.
Tiwonge, 40, beaten but not beaten
We met Tiwonge in the hill country of northern Malawi. The tobacco harvest had just been completed – a time of conflict between the sexes as women tend the crop, and men decide how to spend the proceeds.
Tiwonge, 40, farmer and women’s rights activist from Malawi
Tiwonge was often beaten by her husband. As she left the house to address a group of women in 2006, her husband once again beat her. “I said enough is enough. I could not take it any longer.” At that moment something changed and she found the courage to stand up to years of abuse.
Now divorced and raising her four daughters, Tiwonge has joined other women to push for an end to violence and leads a local Women’s Forum, a partner of ActionAid Malawi challenging violence and discrimination. “As a single parent, I want my children’s rights to be realised and I have a big role to ensure that,” she says.
Manu, 28, member of the COMBAT squads in Ghana
COMBAT (Community Based Anti-violence Team) groups are groups of volunteers who work together to tackle violence against women in villages. ActionAid trains COMBAT squads on human rights, social welfare, and how to help survivors of domestic violence, and supports them regularly with further training and supplies.
“It’s important for COMBAT to be here,” Manu explains. “Before the way women and children were being treated was very bad. They would threaten children with sticks, and widows would lose all their property, everything. Now things are much better; there is much less violence towards children and widows are now keeping their property.”
You can stand with fearless women by joining our #fearless campaign now.
When I think about peanut butter, the first thing that comes to mind is how well it goes with jam, followed by how many calories it contains (which I quickly forget). The one thought that has never crossed my mind is how making peanut butter could change someone’s life – until last week, when I found a jar of a new brand of peanut butter in the office. Don’t worry, this is not a dodgy advertorial, but the start of a very inspiring story.
The fearless effect
It all started with Wangu, an inspiring woman who overcame her fear and decided to stand up to support other women in her community.
Wangu Kanja, 40, founder of the Wangu Kanja Foundation in Kenya
Wangu was car-jacked and sexually assaulted in 2002. She told us: “One of the men who robbed us held me hostage, pointed a gun at me. I had to choose between being alive and being dead.”
When she reported the facts to the police, they didn’t take her seriously and only recorded the crime as robbery, with no mention of rape.
Wangu says: “People don’t see sexual violence as a crime. They think it’s just an issue between a man and a woman; just like sex. They don’t understand that it takes your dignity away, as an individual.”
Listen to this excerpt from our interview with Wangu:
The stigma and blame attached to rape survivors drove Wangu into a deep depression for more than two years. Like many women in Kenya who experience violence, she used alcohol and sex to ease her pain.
But one day, she decided that enough was enough: it was time to stand up and reclaim her dignity back. After months of counselling, Wangu went from being in the darkest of places, to taking the decision to help other survivors.
In this clip, she describes how she got back on her feet and decided to act:
From the challenges and stigma she endured, Wangu set up The Wangu Kanja Foundation, a partner of ActionAid, which helps women recover from sexual abuse and find their own place in society. The Foundation uses drum therapy sessions, rape seminars and business training to help women turn trauma and anger into positive skills that could benefit the whole community.
Wangu explains: “I couldn’t stand the thought of so many thousands of Kenyan women not even knowing they had the right to stand up for themselves. So I decided to use my experience to help other women who where going through the same.”
Health workers Alex and Alice talk with Wangu in the Wangu Kanja Foundation office in Mukuru slum
Listen to Wangu explain how her foundation is changing women’s lives.
One of the aims of The Wangu Kanja Foundation is to provide financial freedom by creating income-generating activities for women. They do this by running business and entrepreneurship training and giving women the know-how and skills they need to set up their own business.
And here’s where the ‘Queenz’ peanut butter comes in. With support from Wangu’s Foundation, 15 rape survivors from Mukuru slum (Nairobi) have set up their own peanut butter factory and are now earning a living from it. And much more.
Wangu says: “These women have turned their lives around one step at a time. Their self-esteem has gone up as they are now able to pay for their children’s school fees, food and rent. The community has finally accepted them and the relationships with their families have improved. It’s amazing to see what can happen when you empower women.”
Fearless women like Wangu are standing up and speaking up all over the world, but to finally end violence against women world leaders need to stand with them. Take action now and join the #fearless movement!