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2016 in three stories

Story by ActionAid June 28th, 2017

Three stories of Actionaid's work in 2016

During 2016, ActionAid and people living in poverty and injustice, their communities, organisations and allies have achieved important changes and victories in the struggle for social justice, poverty eradication and gender equality. Here are just three highlights from 2016.

Ya Yeabu winnowing rice, Sierra Leone.
Ismene, civil engineer, inspecting the building work at the site of the Abricots Women’s Friendly Space, Haiti.
Hauwa Salami, community paralegal, Nigeria.


In 2015, women from communities across Nigeria gathered in Lokoja, Kogi State, for ActionAid-supported paralegal training, equipping them to handle and refer cases of abuse against women in their communities. Here we see the change that one of the women, Hauwa Salami, brought in 2016.

When ActionAid approached Hauwa’s community to recruit a woman for paralegal training, she put herself forward. As an ActionAid trained community facilitator with first-hand experience of harmful widowhood practices, and with a childhood ambition to be a lawyer, Hauwa was an ideal candidate.

Hauwa Salami, community paralegal, at home in Kogi State, Nigeria.

“I had always wanted to impact on the lives of my people. Whenever a woman loses her husband and is subjected to harmful widowhood practices, I feel bad, and always wished I could do something to ease their suffering.”

After the loss of their husbands, women were subjected to an extended widowhood mourning period lasting eleven months. The widows' children were taken away from the family home, they were not allowed to work to support themselves or receive financial help from family members. Additionally amongst other things they were not allowed to wash during daylight hours or wear clean clothes and at the end of the eleven months the women had to perform expensive rites, including preparing food for the whole community, leaving them even more in debt.

Hauwa counsels Esther Musa on family issues, Kogi State, Nigeria.
Hauwa, talks with a community group, Kogi State, Nigeria.
Hauwa, provides support to a young mother, Kogi State, Nigeria.

Following her paralegal training, Hauwa requested meetings with community leaders and persuaded them to change the harmful widowhood practices.

“Before the training, I never knew I could convince my community leaders to agree to the changes and even implement them. More than five women who have lost their husbands since this new law have observed only three months of mourning.”
“Women in my community now speak out on issues affecting them and I counsel them on the right thing to do.”

The length of time that women now have to adhere to the aspects of the public mourning period has been reduced from eleven months to three. Other changes mean that widows can keep their children at home with them, are able to wash and wear clean clothes, can support themselves financially by working locally, and no longer have to perform expensive rites in the community at the end of the period. Hauwa is hoping that eventually all harmful widowhood traditions will be abolished.

Asimawo Abdullahi, a widow at a community meeting, Kogi State, Nigeria.
Charity Reuben with her children. Charity, recently widowed, had to observe three months the widowhood traditions, Kogi State, Nigeria.
"I went through a lot of suffering during my time. The pain of not being with my children and being excluded for such a long time was unbearable. After the mourning period I also owed a lot [of money] as by tradition none of my relatives was allowed to support me financially in carrying out the separation rites."

Asimawo Abdullahi, a widow who had to adhere to all widowhood restrictions for the full eleven months.

Hauwa continues to support women with family issues, encouraging girls to go to school and working to stop violence against women. Her success has led her to engage with other community paralegals locally to challenge widowhood practices in their communities too.

Women leaders in emergencies, Haiti

Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful hurricane to affect the Caribbean in nearly a decade, hit Haiti in October 2016, killing hundreds of people and leaving around 800,000 homeless as it destroyed thousands of homes, schools and livelihoods. ActionAid responded immediately, providing food and water to thousands of people and distributing hygiene and cholera kits. The real strength of ActionAid’s response, however, came in the mobilisation of local women to lead on the protection of women and girls during the emergency, and the rebuilding of resilient livelihoods.

Ismene, a civil engineer, inspects the building work at the Abricots Women’s Friendly Space, Haiti.

Ismene Elismar Garconnet, from Port au Prince, is a civil engineer and a social worker, mainly working with vulnerable women across the country. During Hurricane Matthew’s humanitarian response, Ismene began working for ActionAid on women’s protection and building projects.

Ismene oversaw the building of the Women’s Friendly Spaces, and led training on women’s protection for ActionAid.

“I mostly trained women, though also a few men. We ran [the training] in hired spaces – church halls, schools – but now the Women’s Friendly Spaces are built women will have their own space to get together and learn.”
“After a catastrophe like the hurricane, there is often more violence, especially gender-based violence and sexual violence. There is also more discrimination against women. Therefore it’s very important [that] women know how to behave and respond ... If they need to, women can call me, or they can call the ActionAid hotline which has been set up."
Ismene delivers post-disaster protection training in a temporary tent, before the Women’s Friendly Space was completed, Haiti.
The completed Abricots Women’s Friendly Space, Haiti.

Yayane Louisiane Nazaire, Women's Rights Coordinator for ActionAid local partner KPGA (Konbit Peyizan Grandans/Farmer’s Movement of Grand Anse) has been working with ActionAid Haiti and ActionAid-trained women community leaders to distribute emergency supplies to the village, including food, clean water and soap.

ActionAid have been working with KPGA for 10 years. It is the rootedness in the community which enabled ActionAid to respond to the longer term needs of the affected communities and not just immediate relief. KPGA work primarily on women’s rights, food security, sustainable agriculture, education, environment and good governance.

The KPGA office in Jérémie commune, supported by ActionAid, was severely damaged in the hurricane.

“Physically I wasn't here, but this affects me too because I manage the programme here. So to see the office and church destroyed like this breaks my heart … It’s hard to have the strength to coordinate and support others when I have lost everything too – I have two children, no husband and my home has been destroyed. But together with the community we will work out a way to fix it.”
“After we have rebuilt we will need to focus again on our farms. We have to stay strong, especially the women. We have to show an example to our community. We know ActionAid will be there with us and for this we say thank you.”
Yayane stands outside the severely damaged KPGA office on the left, Haiti.
Community members await emergency kits being distributed by ActionAid’s local partner KPGA, Haiti.

Johanne Moïse, 28, an ActionAid-trained local leader, helped co-ordinate and lead the humanitarian response in her community.

“Because I’m an emergency-trained officer and I am always volunteering to help with awareness-raising, the morning before the storm I was communicating with ActionAid,” Johanne explains. “They had called to know how the area where I lived was looking and if people in high-risk areas were being urged to evacuate. I went to two shelters and did the assessment, and when I got to the third shelter… I realised just how extraordinary the storm would be.”

Johanne’s training meant she was not only active in the initial emergency response, but also took charge in the aftermath of the hurricane. She is now a Protection Co-ordinator.

“The training helped me realise that I don’t have to wait for a man or for a superior of mine to say ‘Johanne, let’s go!’ I can take the reins all on my own. The training helped me know how to handle myself and how to manage an emergency situation, which is why during Hurricane Matthew I was able to handle myself like I did…. The training has shown me all the leadership potential that I had within.”
Johanne Moïse is an ActionAid-trained women’s leader from Femmes En Action (Women In Action), Grand Anse, Haiti.
Houses destroyed by Hurricane Matthew, Grand Anse, Haiti.

After Ebola: Subsistence Rice farming in SIERRA LEONE

Rice is a staple crop in Sierra Leone, and subsistence rice farming has long been one of the main occupations of the county’s rural women. However, during the 2015 Ebola crisis, rice farming was severely disrupted.

Ya Yeabu, winnowing rice, Tonkolili, Sierra Leone.

During the Ebola crisis, ActionAid provided food support to the region, but once the emergency subsided it switched to providing rice seed and commercial agriculture training to women’s farming cooperatives, allowing women farmers the opportunity to restart production and get back on their feet. One trainee was local farmer Ya Yeabu.

Women from farming cooperatives with their harvested rice, Tonkolili, Sierra Leone.
Harvested rice, Tonkolili, Sierra Leone.
“Our first drive is to provide for communities to get back on their feet, so after providing them with food during the crisis [we’re starting] to give them rice seed so that the can cultivate”

Yayah Mansaray, Programme Officer, Tonkolili.

Ya Yeabu’s group harvested over 100 bags of upland rice in 2016 – their first harvest since the Ebola crisis – with another 100 bags expected in the coming months.

“We are happy for our rice and the training given to us by ActionAid – now we have enough to feed us at home, and to sell. We are even planning on incorporating other women into the group – and from this harvest, we want to give them seeds so that they too can plant and have a bumper harvest.”

Following the recent construction of a dry store, Ya Yeabu’s co-operative is now looking to purchase a milling machine, which would save them valuable time spent manually cleaning the rice. But the benefits to the community have not only been financial.

“We the women can now come together and work for our homes and our children, there is a oneness amongst us,” says Ya Yeabu, “and this is shown in the amount of rice we have harvested.”
Ya Yeabu holds some of her grains of rice, Tonkolili, Sierra Leone.

These are just three examples of the inspiring changes achieved by the people, partners and communities with whom ActionAid works around the world.

If you would like to find out more about the impacts seen over the last year, please read the ActionAid Annual Report 2016.

Footnote: Photos: Community paralegal story by Fati Akabar; Emergency leadership, Haiti by ActionAid and Dylan Roberts/FreeSociety and Post Ebola by ActionAid