Visible Women

These girl-led grassroots organisations seriously deserve your attention

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Anisa Easterbrook
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Anisa Easterbook from girl-focused collective, With and For Girls, sheds light on 10 inspiring grassroots organisations supporting girls and women all over the world. 

Spurred by the #MeToo movement and the Women’s March, gender equality is undoubtedly topical today - women and girls are angry. However, much of the narrative we see online and in mainstream media seems to exist only around women rising up in the Global North.

Young girls, who suffer the double discrimination of age and gender bias and are oppressed globally by patriarchal systems, still have no real voice. We are only made aware of disadvantaged girls struggles through statistics, posters on the tube or via the lens of those in privileged positions.

But there are powerful girl activists all over the world, who are on the frontline of fighting for gender equality. These girls are slaying with all the odds against them - starting up their own feminist organisations, rising up globally against injustice, rallying their sisters, standing up to their own families, governments, their friends at school and their teachers.

It’s these girls who need to be supported and recognised as leaders in unleashing radical change in a growing patriarchal and authoritarian world.

Girl-led organisations frequently lack the resources they need to achieve their goals. In order to ensure a brighter, safer and gender equal world for future generations, we must recognise, give platform to and join forces with girls fighting the good fight globally - not just within our own communities. 

With and For Girls is a girl-focused Collective consisting of organisations such as MamaCash, Stars Foundation and NoVo Foundation who came together in 2014 with the shared belief that girls are agents of change.

Each of the 10 fierce girl-led organisations below have received a support and recognition from With and For Girls, who strongly believe that if haven’t heard of these grassroots groups before, you really need to. 

Teen’s Key, Hong Kong

Teen’s Key, photographer: Leah Valle

Teen’s Key is the first young women-led organisation in the country, founded by Bowie Lam who has spent years advocating for the rights of female sex workers.

In Hong Kong, thousands of people under the age of 25 are exploited by the commercial sex industry. Working underground, these marginalised young women and girls face extreme difficulty when accessing health care, seeking a new job, or returning to school. 

Teen’s Key established a platform to advocate young people’s sexual and reproductive rights and focuses on marginalised groups such as sex workers and young women with unplanned pregnancies. 

The organisation provides a range of services to young women including counselling, education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, a hotline for sex education and peer-to-peer support groups for young women. Members of Teen’s Key actively go to red light district areas and infiltrate social media platforms to ensure vulnerable young women and girls know where to go and who to speak to if they are need of help.

Through partnership with universities, nightclubs and by using social media they have provided over 2,000 girls with free HIV and STI tests and counselling services.

Boxgirls, Kenya

Boxgirls, photographer: Rachael Ouko

Nairobi is a dangerous place to be a girl. During the post-election violence in 2008, many girls and women have been raped and left traumatised. An increase in sexual violence, combined with no platform for girls’ voices to be heard, left a lot of young women from this community vulnerable. Most girls drop out of school due to poverty and girls lack access to quality healthcare.

Boxgirls provides boxing and education, leadership and mentorship, and entrepreneurship activities to over 1,000 girls in the slums of Nairobi. The organisation campaigns for girls to remain in school until they complete their education and engages the community members with its work.

Boxgirls encourages girls to take care of their bodies, to understand issues related to sexuality and know where to report cases of sexual abuse. One member, Elizabeth Andiego, was even the first female boxer to represent Kenya at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Forum des Femmes Autochtones du Cameroun, Cameroon 

Forum des Femmes Autochtones du Cameroun, photographer: Sarah Dauphine

Aeisatu Bouba was 13 years old when her family members forced her to drop out of school and get married. She managed to escape and put herself through education. While she narrowly avoided becoming a child bride, she’s aware that countless others from the Mbororo pastoralist community in Cameroon continue to be coerced into early marriage.

Forum des Femmes Autochtones du Cameroun, which translates as Forum of Indigenous Women of Cameroon (FFAC) was founded in 2010 by Aiesatu Bouba and a group of other indigenous women, to create a society where indigenous women and girls can be free from all forms of violence, discrimination and marginalisation. 

The Mbororo live isolated in small, remote communities with little access to basic services such as schools, hospitals, safe drinking water and electricity. Mbororo girls are often forced into early marriage, often to much older men and girls and women depend entirely on their husbands. 

The organisation offers psychological counselling to adolescent girl victims of gender-based violence and provides them with temporary shelter and access to education and health facilities to children affected by HIV/AIDS.

It is currently supporting 50 orphans and other vulnerable children infected and affected by HIV/Aids in three regions of the country and has helped over 1,200 people.

Young Women’s Freedom Center, USA 

Young Women’s Freedom Center, photographer: Angelica Ekeke

Every day in San Francisco, the most marginalised girls and young women are told they have little chance of success., that they are criminals, damaged or broken. Women and girls of colour, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and non-binary young women often suffer from the destructive impacts of misogyny, racism and poverty most. 

Many have been victims of violence or trafficking or worked in the sex industry. Others have struggled with drug addiction and homelessness. Instead of being treated as victims of trauma, they are often dismissed as criminals and pushed into in an already overburdened systems such as prison or child protective services, which neglects their vulnerability and mental health.

The Young Women’s Freedom Center (YWFC) was set up in 1993 to help empower girls and young women to overcome the conditions that have held them back. 

The organisation works to contribute to social change movements by supporting young women, raising awareness via campaigns, advocacy and carrying out research. YWFC provides support, training, networking opportunities and paid internships to young women and girls aged 14-24 who have been incarcerated, who have lived and worked on the streets or who have become isolated young mothers.

Integrate Bristol, U.K.

Muna Hassan, an FGM activist, was one of the four girls who started a movement that grew into the charity Integrate Bristol. She is famously known as the fierce teenager who told David Cameron to ‘grow a pair’ on Newsnight in 2012. She has advised Ministers, spoken at TEDxWomen and continues to be defiant and direct in her campaign to end gender inequality and the abuse of girls’ rights. 

Integrate Bristol works to integrate young people who have arrived in the UK from other countries and cultures into British society. The organisation also promotes gender equality through creative projects that raise awareness and provide education about the risks of female genital mutilation.

Her Turn, Nepal 

Her Turnm, photographer: Uma Bista

Her Turn works to create a safe and protective environment for adolescent girls in the rural Sindhupalchok and Gorkha region of Nepal, to enable them to live their lives with dignity and self-esteem. Extreme poverty has led many families to encourage early marriage as a way to ease the economic burden they face. 

Once married the girls are pressured to have children as soon as possible, often before their body is ready, posing enormous health risks and complications for the girls and their children. With little knowledge of their rights or basic information about how their body works, the young brides are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, particularly in a patriarchal society where domestic violence is considered a private matter.

The organisation has worked with 2,570 girls in 37 schools in 21 Village Development Committees in Sindhupalchok and Gorkha districts, which are considered among the least developed in Nepal.

Rock Girl, Cape Town

Rock Girl, photographer: James Oatway

In the gang-ridden township of Manenberg, Cape Town, children are witness to the horrors of violence and daylight shootings on a daily basis. Chances are high that by the time they are teenagers, they will have joined a gang or been a victim of gang violence.

In addition to the dangers such violence poses to children in general, South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape and sexual violence on the continent, which puts girls at an even higher risk.

Rock Girl’s first project was the design of a “safe bench” in collaboration with artists and designers. The colourful bench was placed in a school as a violence-free spot where girls could gather safely. This inspired the ‘Safe Spaces’ campaign which created real and symbolic art spaces in some of the most dangerous places in Cape Town and in Johannesburg in a bid to raise awareness about violence.

In 2015, Rock Girl on the Road began taking high school girls on road trips across South Africa where they are trained as reporters and photographers in partnership with the Children’s Radio Foundation and Iliso Labantu Photography Cooperative. The aim is to create a new generation of women journalists, advocates, and adventurers who are equipped with the skills and knowledge to speak out about the injustices they face. 

Girls are at the heart of the decision-making process at Rock Girl and so far has impacted 10,000 people since it was set up in 2011.

Feminist Approach to Technology, India

Feminist Approach to Technology, photographer: Mansi Midha

Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT) tackles the harmful gender stereotype that ‘girls and tech do not mix’. The organisation provides girls with training in technology and holds workshops on women’s rights to promote the inclusion of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The organisation works with schoolgirls, college students and girls who have left the formal education system. It provides counselling to girls and young women and works with parents and community members to gain support for girls’ rights and their inclusion in STEM.

FAT has had a strong impact on its beneficiaries, many of whom have gone on to enrol in higher education and apply for jobs in the tech field. Over the years, FAT has seen a tremendous change in attitudes at the individual, family and community levels with respect to girls’ rights.

L’Association Errahma des Handicapées Azilal, Morocco

L’Association Errahma des Handicapées Azilal, photographer: Lina Laraki

L’Association Errahma was founded in 2002 by Halima Annagi who became disabled at just one years old. After years of struggling in education, and social activities Halima founded the organisation to create a brighter future for girls like her.

Notions of disability are outdated in Morocco, and so people with disabilities are often treated as charitable cases. Due to gender prejudice toward girls, females with disabilities face the double discrimination of social, economic and educational exclusion. 

L’Association Errahma offers disability screening services, medical services and supports those who need surgical interventions. Their main goal is to safeguard the wellbeing of people with disabilities and promote their integration in the economic and social fabric of Morocco.

The organisation conducts regular cultural and sporting events to promote the inclusion of girls with disabilities, in addition to discussions and workshops to raise awareness of the issues they face.

The Productive Organisation for Women in Action (POWA), Belize 

The Productive Organization for Women in Action, photographer: Morena Perez

POWA was founded in 2003 in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and works to eliminate discrimination and gender inequity in southern Belize and to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Adolescents, particularly girls, have limited access to information on sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR), which means they are unable to understand and negotiate safe sex. This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. 

POWA seeks to build the capacity of girls and women and engage the community in bringing an end to violence against children. It does this through a series of workshops, lectures and awareness initiatives which enable girls to become empowered. 

In 2011, POWA established a youth arm called Girl POWA that targets girls who are particularly vulnerable. The organisation teaches girls in Dangriga, Belize to develop self-esteem and coaches them on SRHR. Girls are taught leadership and team building skills and encouraged to engage in organised sports. POWA’s innovative approach to programming and its strong commitment to girl representation in its decision making has been a key factor of its success. Its activities are rooted in the needs and desires expressed by the girls themselves.  

National Federation of Women’s Communities of Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyzstan

National Federation of Women’s Communities of Kyrgyzstan, photographer: Tamila Zeinalova

The National Federation of Women’s Communities of Kyrgyzstan (NFFCK) was set up by a group of 12 to 14-year-old girls to fight against child marriage, bride kidnapping and gender-based violence. Today, the organisation works to help women and girls aged 10-19 acquire the skills for a healthy, active and independent life.

NFFCK is a grassroots organisation whose clear vision has impacted thousands of girls in the country. In the last two years, NFFCK has helped 41 girls avoid child marriage and provided 482 girls with practical support. It has supported 1,648 girls with consultations on child marriage and bride kidnapping. Thanks to NFFCK’s work, more than 12,000 girls have increased their knowledge of girls’ rights.

If you would like to support any of the With and For Girls organisations today, please see the Beyonce inspired #FreedomForGirls is Girl-Led change campaign to donate.

Images: Lina Laraki / Rachael Ouko / Sarah Dauphine / Mansi Midha / Uma Bista / Tamila Zeinalova / Stars Foundation / Morena Perez / James Oatway / Leah Valle /Angelica Ekeke