Oriana Lauria

Digital Communications

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.

Rape survivors from Mukuru slum (Nairobi) earn a living by by producing their own line of peanut butter.

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, Wangu Kanja FoundationWangu 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 backAfter 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:

The Wangu Kanja Foundation

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."

The Wanju Kanju FoundationHealth 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.

You can listen to the full interview with Wangu's here.

The peanut butter revolution

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."

Wangu Kanja, Wangu Kanja Foundation

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. Sign up for emails now and join the #fearless movement!

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Photos: Georgina Goodwin/ActionAid 

Barry Johnston

Head of Advocacy

The UN just agreed a historic goal on ending violence against women. That's great news and a big step in the right direction, but a target alone isn't enough. Here's what the UK government can do to make sure the world's leaders keep their promises and take some serious actions to end violence against women, for good. 

David Cameron giving a speech

David Cameron's promises

David Cameron launched his new Government with a nice bit of theatre. He allowed the TV cameras into his first Cabinet meeting and there, holding a copy of his winning manifesto for all to see, he set his Minister the challenge to implement it all… in full.

Now, many of those Ministers were probably quite surprised to find themselves sitting at the Cabinet table, so I’m not sure many of them had even read the thing in full. But I did – all 80 pages. It’s the kind of thing you have to do in my job.

And here’s why. Squirrelled away in there, on the very last page in fact, you’ll find a pretty important line. It says, “We will continue to lead efforts to tackle violence against women and girls… at home and abroad.” Not just work on it you’ll notice, but lead.

For the PM and his ministers the first test of this commitment is just around the corner.

Standing with fearless women

This September world leaders will gather in New York to sign up to the new Sustainable Development Goals. Thanks to the persistence and collective action of women’s groups – and with the support of the UK Government – these goals contain a dedicated target to end all forms of violence against women and girls.

20 years ago, the Beijing Summit on women broke new ground for women’s rights.  But summits alone don’t bring change.

Today, shockingly, one in three women still face violence. Women like Wangu from Kenya, who was car-jacked and raped in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi.

Wangu is not a victim, she is a survivor of violence. She has been a fearless activist, campaigning for the rights of her fellow Kenyan wanawake (women) to be free from violence; founding her own NGO and setting up a small business to provide economic opportunities for other survivors of violence.

Wangu Kanja, Wangu Kanja FoundationWangu Kanja, 40, founder of the Wangu Kanja Foundation in Kenya

In truth, it is not prime ministers or governments who will lead action to end violence. It is individual and collective fearless women, like Wangu, standing up and speaking out, taking action and demanding their rights.

But political leaders can stand alongside these fearless women. We know from decades of experience that when women are empowered to lead change, when they are given adequate resources with a proper plan and institutions to hold governments and perpetrators to account, that we can reduce violence.

The three things he can do

We are asking David Cameron to stand with fearless women like Wangu when he goes to New York at the end of this month, by joining a special meeting of Heads of Government and committing to:

  • Back a fund that will ensure that vital resources get directly to women’s rights organisations battling against violence on the frontline;
  • Work with other key countries to develop and deliver national plans to end violence;
  • Support a global watchdog report to track progress on the new target on ending violence against women.

We have two days to get David Cameron to join this meeting in New York, where we hope he'll stand with Fearless women to end violence for good. Help us ask him to show up.

Ask David Cameron to stand with fearless women

Photos: The Open University, Georgina Goodwin/ActionAid.


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, 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 has been working for six years to end violence against women and girls in Ghana.

"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 (centre) and his wife Emily representing the Fearless campaign at LeftFest

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


Shajjad Ali

Advocacy Team

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.

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