By Sarah Carson
ActionAid works with some truly inspiring women who are leading organisations that fight for gender equality. This International Women’s Day, on 8th March, we’re celebrating the incredible work that groups like these do – often on tiny budgets – to protect the rights of women and girls to live a life free from gender-based violence.
Why we’re celebrating the work of women’s organisations for International Women’s Day
The world has made some big leaps forward on women's and girls’ rights recently. But, even though it’s 2016, we still have a long way to go in the fight for gender equality. Violence against women still affects one in three women globally, and five women an hour are killed by a partner or family member.
The work of women’s rights organisations challenging violence against women couldn’t be more vital. But what you might not know is that these women's organisations have been found to be the single most important factor in reducing violence against women – more important than a country’s wealth, the presence of progressive political parties, or the number of women in politics.
So as it’s International Women’s Day, I wanted to share with you the stories of three organisations who are doing incredible work to end all types of abuse against women – including rape, acid attacks, and domestic violence.
Thuzar Tin fights for gender equality in Myanmar
I recently visited Myanmar as part of our Fearless campaign, and got to see first-hand the work of Thuzar Tin’s organisation, ‘The Women’s Federation for Peace’.
For many of the women, these training sessions are the first time they’re hearing that they have a right not to be beaten.
Thuzar Tin helps women in her community at risk from domestic violence, and teaches them about their rights. As we were talking, women were arriving at the front door wanting to speak to her and her volunteers. The sense of support between these women was palpable. For many of those Thuzar Tin helps, these training sessions are the first time they’re hearing that they have a right not to be beaten.
Although they live in poverty, many of the women she helps are forbidden to work by their husbands and so are financially dependent. Thuzar Tin and her volunteers train the women in their rights as well as to sew and make soap, helping them to set up their own small businesses and earn their own income.
Thuzar Tin relies on a group of volunteers, and runs training and counselling sessions from her own home. There is a makeshift office and meeting area in her front room with a whiteboard nailed to the wall.
She told me, “If there is violence in the house, the world is not peaceful. If you get peace in the home you will see there is peace in the world."
Nimah stands up for domestic violence survivors in Somaliland
Nimah, 40, is the volunteer chair of an amazing local women’s coalition in Somaliland. Nimah was trained by the Women’s Action for Advocacy and Progress Organisation (WAAPO). The coalition support domestic violence survivors in their community: they give them access to safe houses, as well as helping with legal and emotional support.
When I see a man beating his wife, I feel like he is beating me. I can’t tolerate it if a woman is beaten.
She says, “Sometimes we tell the survivor ‘you will be okay, everything is going to be okay.’ For younger women who have no idea what their future will hold and continue to suffer, we help them to feel calm again.”
Nimah told us that angry husbands often tell her not to interfere, and one man even threatened her with rape. But she says she continues her life-saving work, despite the danger to herself: “When I see a man beating his wife, I feel like he is beating me. I can’t tolerate it if a woman is beaten.”
Sonali survived an acid attack in Bangladesh
When 10-year-old Sonali was just 18 days old, she and her mother Khodaja were the victims of an acid attack, a common form of violence against women and girls in Bangladesh. It was the result of a land dispute involving one of her relatives, and happened while they were sleeping. Though her father was next to them, it was only the women of the family who were attacked.
Thanks to the help of SoDesh, an ActionAid partner organisation, Khodaja received the support she needed and was put in touch with the Acid Survivors Foundation, which gave Khodaja and Sonali counselling and helped pay their medical bills. Sonali is now in school, and she’s a smiley child. She likes to read books and her favourite subjects are Maths, Bengali and English.
Khodaja, 25, told us that she would like to see society’s views of acid attack survivors change:
Society should start thinking that a person, whether they have faced an acid attack or not, should be treated in the same manner as anyone else, without discrimination.
Supporting women’s rights organisations
Women’s rights organisations are often the first source of support for women in crisis, the safe haven that they can turn to for help. They are also vital drivers of women’s movements, challenging gender inequality and creating change over time. The progress that we see today didn’t happen by chance – it is the result of hard work and campaigning by women’s rights and feminist organisations around the world.
Sadly, these organisations are chronically underfunded. At the moment, they receive just less than 1% of all UK aid committed to gender equality. Given how vital their work is in the fight to end violence, that just isn’t enough.
We need to stand with these organisations and the fearless women who lead them. We need to make sure the UK government is doing all it can to fund their life-changing work.
We’re calling on the government to support independent women’s rights organisations around the world. Please, this International Women’s Day, join our call.