Need a reason to feel cheerful about 2016? Well look no further than these stories about women who have done some incredible things this year. Sometimes small scale, often unnoticed, their achievements across communities in Africa and Asia have helped save lives and challenge stereotypes.
Whether it’s the mum in Kenya who went back to school at age 42 or the Bangladeshi campaigner who secured land for impoverished families, their efforts show that positive change can be brought about by anyone, anywhere.
In Kenya, Feddis went back to school aged 42 and is now standing for election
Trump and Brexit equal a year of seismic political shifts. But in one Kenyan coastal community an ordinary mum of five has created ripples of her own.
My children are proud of me.
As a young girl, Feddis dropped out of school and married. But she clung to her dream of completing her education. So, at the age of 42, she went back to school and sat in the same class as her son as they both took lessons.
The pair celebrated when they graduated together. And it doesn’t end there. Feddis, a farmer who used to feel shy speaking out in public, now hopes to stand for county level elections in 2017.
“It’s still a dream. I still can’t believe I have a certificate,” said Feddis, who was inspired to go back to school after joining an ActionAid-funded women’s group. “My children are proud of me.”
If elected, Feddis wants to get funding to improve the local maternity clinic. She also wants to advocate for women who never got to finish school. In Feddis's community, women cannot stand for election if they haven't graduated from high school.
“It still hurts me when a potential woman in her community is locked out of leadership circles because she has no formal education or certificate to show for it,” said Feddis.
In Bangladesh, Hasina won back land for 60 families
In Bangladesh, another woman was recognised this year for her victory in a David versus Goliath style battle. Although the Bangladeshi government sets aside plots of land for poor people, the land is often snatched away by wealthy and powerful landowners.
If citizens’ rights can be ensured by the state party, people can live in peace.
Hasina, a 38-year-old local woman, decided enough was enough. As leader of an ActionAid-funded women’s group, she urged her community to unite against the illegal occupation of their land. Despite facing threats, they lobbied local government and secured enough land for 60 families.
The community, including members of the marginalised indigenous groups, rejoiced and named the plot ‘Hasina Palli’ in her honour. Hasina was also recognised at national level when she won the prestigious Joyeeta award this year.
Joyeeta, means victorious woman in Bengali, and the award is given to women who have proved themselves as remarkable role models in their communities.
The picture above shows Hasina being given her award. She says: “If citizens’ rights can be ensured by the state party, people can live in peace.”
In Zimbabwe, Wadzanai helped get food and clean water to women and children during the drought
In 2016 extreme weather destroyed millions of lives. Drought, floods and food shortages caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon affected more than 60 million people around the world.
In Zimbabwe, communities struggled to cope with severe and prolonged drought. “It has been immense,” said Wadzanai, 28, a Zimbabwean sustainable agriculture and disaster risk management officer for ActionAid. “All parts of the country have been affected.” Wadzanai formed a response team that swiftly got food to school children like Melanie, pictured below, and clean water to expectant mums.
I felt a sense of sisterhood and brotherhood that I was able to help and bring a smile to people’s faces.
More than 5,400 pupils got porridge via ActionAid feeding programmes at their schools, including Melony and her friends below. This had the double benefit of stopping kids from dropping out of school during drought and ensuring they are nourished enough to concentrate on their lessons, said Wadzanai.
Melony said: "I am no longer missing classes because I eat porridge three times a week at school."
Wadzanai also made repairing and building water boreholes at maternity clinics a priority. “Some heavily pregnant women were having to walk long distances to carry buckets of water on their head so they could have clean water ready for the time of their delivery,” she said. “You can imagine that doing this so close to labour can cause complications.”
Being able to help the worst affected communities filled Wadzania, who is a disaster risk management officer, with a sense of pride and solidarity. “I felt a sense of sisterhood and brotherhood that I was able to help and bring a smile to people’s faces,” she said.
Since the El-Niño weather phenomenon worsened in 2016, ActionAid has responded by delivering aid to more than 111,000 people across Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Lesotho, Malawi, Vietnam and India.
In Tanzania, Jovina helped change the law to make tax fair
As the New Year looms, tax is probably the last thing you want to read about. But hear us out. Tax revenue translates into amazing things; including more money for hospitals and schools. That’s why we want to end 2016 by bigging up the work of our colleagues in Tanzania.
Jovina, 44, head of programmes and policy at ActionAid Tanzania, and a network of more than 80 grassroots campaigners managed to change a law so that companies now pay their fair share of value added tax (VAT). This new measure has resulted in the government increasing tax collection from various sources boosting their tax revenue by at least 900 billion Tanzania shillings (£336 million).
We will continue to campaign to ensure the tax revenue is spent on public services, especially in rural areas.
In 2016, this contributed to a five per cent hike in the education budget, an increase of around 405 billion Tanzanian shillings (£150 million). That money came in particularly handy this year as the government abolished secondary school fees, enabling more parents to afford to send their children to school, while also having the new tax revenue to invest in better resources for education.
“When I heard about this win, I felt excited and very motivated,” she said. “Sometimes it can take a long time for a campaign to bear a result. I thought, ‘Aahaa, this shows campaigning works’.”
Jovina and her colleague’s work doesn’t stop there. In 2017 they plan to continue campaigning to ensure the funding from tax revenue goes towards improving maternal health services. "We will continue to campaign to ensure the tax revenue is spent on public services, especially in rural areas," she said.
So there you have it. We hope you enjoyed these stories of success from women we support around the world.
As the countdown to the New Year begins let's raise a toast to all those women who keep on doing what they can to bring about positive change, for good. And if you would like to help us do more in 2017, please make a donation.
Photo credits: Kate Holt/ActionAid, Kate Holt/ActionAid, ActionAid Bangladesh, ActionAid, Rachel Palmer/ActionAid