5 inspiring women who’ll show you anything’s possible

Oriana Lauria's picture
Oriana Lauria Digital Communications

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 Kanja, 40, founder of the Wangu Kanja Foundation in Kenya
Wangu Kanja, 40, founder of the Wangu Kanja Foundation in Kenya
Photo: Georgina Goodwin/ActionAid

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 SolimanAzza 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 BrazilCarla, 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 MalawiTiwonge, 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.

Manu, Combat squadsManu, 28, COMBAT squads member in Ghana

Manu has been a member of the COMBAT squad in her village for 6 years, and she has 6-year-old daughter.

“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.

Ask David Cameron to act on violence against women

Photos: Georgina Goodwin/ActionAid, Nana Kofi Acquah/ActionAid, Lianne Milton/Panos/ActionAid, Arjen van de Merwe/ ActionAid, Rene Clement

‘I’m free with people. I like helping my community.’ Manu Yaa lives with her daughter in Brong Ahafo, Ghana, where she’s a member of her village’s anti-violence team. Manu says there used to be a lot of violence against women and children in her community, but after six years of her team’s work this has reduced considerably. Here’s how they’ve brought down violence in Brong Ahafo:

Manu Yaa
Manu Yaa has been working for six years to end violence against women and girls in Ghana.
Photo: Nana Kofi Acquah/ActionAid

"It is important for COMBAT to be here," Manu explains. "Before the way women and children were treated was very bad."

‘COMBAT’ stands for Community Based Anti-violence Team – a group of volunteers, including Manu, suggested by the village’s chief who work together to tackle violence. ActionAid trains COMBAT squads on human rights, social welfare, and support for survivors of domestic violence, and supports them regularly with further training and supplies.

Working to end violence against women

As part of her village’s COMBAT squad, Manu speaks to people at local churches and mosques, helps spread the word about the importance of education, and hosts local women at her house to help fight domestic violence.

"We discuss the issues. I do a lot of counselling. I teach people how to handle violence, how to make a report to the Domestic and Violence Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) and the Commission of Human Rights."

Combat SquadNaomi Manu, Thomas and Doris Owusu Prempeh are members of COMBAT.

Bringing down violence isn’t easy, but the COMBAT squad is already making a difference in girls’ lives. Manu told us how she helped one girl who was being mistreated by her parents:

"A young girl came to me and said she wanted to attend school but her parents wouldn’t let her, they had no money. They wanted her home to do the chores and they insulted her. I talked to the parents and in the end persuaded them to let her have an education."

Stand with Manu

The changes Manu’s making are badly needed. Violence against women is no small problem – it’s one of the most widespread violations of human rights in the world. Luckily, there are incredible women like Manu standing up against violence – not just in Ghana, but all over the world.

But governments everywhere need to do more to stand with them. And this September, they have a big chance to do just that, when they meet to finalise the new Sustainable Development Goals in New York.

We’re standing with women like Manu against violence. Will you stand with us?

Tell our government to stand with women now

Ben Thomas is an ActionAid Local Organiser – part of our UK-wide network of campaigners that take action locally to tackle global poverty and injustice. Ben took our Fearless campaign to LeftFest - a local political festival in Southampton - to spread the word. Here’s how he got on, and why he’s campaigning for ActionAid.

Ben and Emily Fearless campaign at Leftfest
Ben (centre) and his wife Emily representing the Fearless campaign at LeftFest
Photo: Ben Thomas

Joining the ActionAid team has been an inspiring experience. On our recent training weekend we learned about the new Fearless campaign, and ActionAid's work on women's rights, and shared stories of brave women we know.

My ‘fearless women’ are from my wife’s family who stood up to the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Standing up to Apartheid in South Africa

In the photo below, I am in the middle at the back, and the lady next to me is my wife’s aunt, Betty van der Heyden. She spent time in prison and under house arrest for standing up against apartheid, and advised the first African National Congress (ANC) government.

Ben and Emily's Fearless familyMy family in South Africa

In the face of shocking brutality and long prison sentences, Betty and her family felt able to make a stand because they knew they had support not only from their community, but from others around the world who stood with them against injustice.

The Fearless campaign does the same. It shows grassroots women’s groups that the people of the UK stand with them to end violence against women and girls.

In the run-up to the UN General Assembly in September, we are making sure the government really feel the pressure to do more to stop the violence.

Community campaigning at LeftFest

With the help of my wife Emily, and another Local Organiser, Maria, I recently ran my first stall in Southampton as part of LeftFest.

Ben takes the Fearless campaign to Leftfest

Although a little nervous talking to people at first, I soon settled into it and enjoyed telling people about the campaign. One veteran ActionAid supporter said on the day; “This is such an important issue, I’m so glad ActionAid are getting behind this because I know you make a real difference”.

Running this stall was an exciting experience, and I am looking forward to my next one in Portsmouth. I hope to be able to grow more support for ActionAid on the south coast.

Want to get more involved with our campaigns like Ben?

Find out more about our community campaigner network


In Rwanda, mothers like Emerance struggle to find enough work to feed their families. British MP Jeremy Lefroy joined ActionAid UK staff to visit one of our projects in Muko, northern Rwanda, to see how ActionAid support has changed the lives of women and children living there. 

Emerance farming potatoes, grown by her and her cooperative.
Emerance farming potatoes, grown by her and her cooperative.
Photo: Crystaline Randazzo/ActionAid

Hunger used to be a big problem in Muko so, thanks to funding from the Big Lottery Fund, ActionAid gave a group of women the money they needed to set up their own cooperative scheme, and Cooperative Hugukirwa Muko was born. The women do a number of activities, such as growing potatoes and weaving baskets that they can then sell for money. ActionAid also provided training in basic business skills to help them maximise their income so they can afford to feed their families and invest in more tools to expand their business.

Jeremy Lefroy, Conservative MP for Stafford and a member of a Parliamentary Committee that looks at how to tackle poverty overseas, recently came to see the cooperative with us, along with his wife Janet. Jeremy leads Project Umubano, the Conservative Party’s International Social Action project in Rwanda, Burundi and Sierra Leone – and was keen to find out more about ActionAid’s work.

Emerance digging Irish potatoes, RwandaEmerance (pink t-shirt) and fellow cooperative members digging Irish potatoes farmed by the cooperative.

The cooperative has changed Emerance's life

While there we had the chance to meet some of the women involved in the cooperative, and I was inspired to hear how their joint business venture has made such a difference to them. 

Emerance is more recent member of the cooperative. She has two children: Damien, four, and her adopted son, Michel, 14.

Emerance said the cooperative has changed her life:

“I first got involved with the cooperative when a local lady called Philomen reached out to me. She asked if I’d like to go and work on her behalf while she was pregnant. She offered to babysit Damien while I went to the cooperative. Then, when she came back after having her baby, the cooperative kept both of us, making me a fully-fledged member. They really liked me and were very happy with my work.

"To start us off, each woman is given a pig. That pig was so helpful to me when I was building the house. I sold it and I got money to support the building.

Our cooperative has come a long way. We have bought a garden and land for 2,000,000 KRW (around £1,850) and we are preparing to plant a banana plantation."

Emerance weaving a basket, Rwanda

“We do lots of things in the cooperative. Sometimes we dig potatoes, tend the gardens, or weave baskets. My cut enables me to buy food for my family and pay for my son’s schooling.

"Life in a cooperative is so much better. That’s why we have now trained 30 other young cooperatives to be strong and I’m always encouraging people to join cooperatives. For me it’s a happy place – everyone needs happiness."

Jeremy's visit

Jeremy was impressed by the success of the project. He told us: “The women’s cooperative, supported by ActionAid, has done a superb job in designing, building and running the nursery with the livestock farm alongside.

Jeremy Lefroy visiting the local school in Muko, Rwanda

“In my work in developing countries over the past twenty-five years, I have seen how important it is to support people as they sustain livelihoods and create jobs. This is integral to the work of ActionAid.”

Jeremy Lefroy with a women's cooperative in RwandaJeremy Lefroy (back left) and me (back middle holding up basket) with the cooperative.

Get involved

Governments around the world together have the power to put a stop to poverty and hunger. Showing MPs our projects overseas is a great way to get them to see first-hand what it is like to live in poverty and to encourage them to take action to help people like Emerance. 

Find out more about how you can encourage your MP to fight poverty by becoming part of ActionAid's community campaigner netowork.

Become a community campaigner

Tax dodging now firmly on the global agenda

Natasha Adams's picture
Natasha Adams Tax Campaign Manager

Last week the world's governments came together in Addis Ababa to discuss how to fund the global fight against poverty. Although we were disappointed by the outcome, it was still a big step forwards for the global movement to make tax fair because it pushed the idea of a global tax body firmly on the international agenda for the first time.

Campaigners in Australia in front of the Sydney Opera House.
Campaigners in Australia in front of the Sydney Opera House.
Photo: ActionAid

What were we campaigning for?

The Financing for Development summit offered an exciting opportunity for the creation of a new global tax body. The whole international tax system is broken and a global body would have given developing countries a say in setting new, fairer rules. Developing countries are hit hard by tax dodging.

We recently exposed how a mining company called Paladin dodged US$43million in Malawi. Those billions of missing tax dollars could have been invested in public healthcare and education to fight poverty.

Children living near the Paladin mine in Malawi. The money lost to tax dodging could help pay for their public education and schooling.  Children living near the Paladin mine in Malawi. The money lost to tax dodging could help pay for their public education and schooling.

What happened at the summit?

The bad news is that rich countries refused to budge and the summit didn’t agree to set up a new UN tax body. Instead, the small existing UN group of tax experts would be funded to meet more often. This is woefully inadequate and won't fix the broken tax system. Sadly, the summit’s outcome beyond tax also falls far short of what is really needed to tackle global poverty

But it's not all bad news

Developing countries fought hard to get a global tax body on the agenda, and it stayed there. In fact, this was the most contentious issue, with negotiations on tax being the last to conclude and the hardest fought. It's no mean feat to focus the world’s governments' attention on a small UN committee no-one had heard of before.

With your support, ActionAid played a major role in the fight. Campaigners from 15 ActionAid countries across the world worked together to lobby politicians, get media attention and mobilise activists around the world. Thank you to everyone who joined us in taking action!

This isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning! 

As one senior UN official said after the end of the conference, it’s a sign of real change when an issue like this dominates an international summit. This is just the beginning, not the end of the fight for a fairer global tax system.

We will keep you updated on the next steps from here - watch this space!

Download our report Levelling Up to find out more


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Photo credits: Global Alliance for Tax Justice and ActionAid

Take action to support a global tax body

Steven Frost's picture
Steven Frost Campaigns Team

Next week, government ministers from across the globe will descend on Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, for the Financing for Development summit. Along with a coalition of developing countries and campaigners, we’re calling on the summit to agree to a new global tax body. Read on to find out how this could help people living in the world's poorest countries.​

Activista's campaigning for Tax Justice
Campaigners in Nigeria take to the street to fight for tax justice
Photo: ActionAid

What's at stake?

Global tax rules currently make it easy for multinationals to dodge tax at a whopping cost to developing countries. According to experts at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this could be more than $200billion a year.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Archaic tax treaties, and countries competing against each other by offering big tax breaks to multinationals, are also costing developing countries. 

As a result, they are missing out on funds which could be used to provide essential services for some of the world’s poorest people.

Unfair tax rules harm the poor

In Uganda, Angom Grace has to walk over 30km twice a week just to get the painkillers and malaria drugs she badly needs.

Angom GraceAngom Grace, 35, has to walk over 30km twice a week to get medicine

Essential services - like well-resourced health centres in Angom's community - could be paid for by income raised from cracking down on tax dodging, unfair treaties and harmful tax breaks.

Why a global tax body?

Current attempts by richer countries to create a fairer tax system are just tinkering round the edges. An intergovernmental tax body would give developing countries the opportunity to develop a tax system that gives them a fair chance to finance their own development. All countries, rich and poor, should have a say - and that's what a global tax body would mean. 

Campaigners from all over the world have been fighting to get a tax body to the top of the agenda at Financing for Development, but we need to keep up the pressure to make this a reality. So ahead of the summit please lend your support and call on George Osborne to support the campaign to make tax fair. Everywhere. Call on George Osborne to support a global tax body  


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