Zimbabwe: Akashinga: The Brave Ones
Meaning ‘the brave ones’ in the Shona language, Akashinga is a women-only anti-poaching squad founded by Damien Mander, a former military-trained sniper from Australia. The group’s 40-some members remarkably comprise some of the most marginalised women from rural communities – abuse survivors, single mothers, and sex workers. Despite the harassment they’re often subjected to, the Akashinga do everything in their power to protect wildlife as men yell behind them: “This job is not for you. Go back home where you belong!”
Upon completion of training in October 2017, the first Akashinga team began operating in Zimbabwe’s lower Zambezi Valley – a former trophy hunting area that has lost 11,000 elephants in the past 10 years. In less than one year, they have made more than 50 anti-poaching arrests. In June 2018, three members of one of Zimbabwe’s most elusive ivory syndicates were sentenced to prison thanks to the Akashinga. The squad aims to recruit 2,000 more to safeguard 30 million acres of wilderness by 2030.
Syria: Ponybaby Project
An estimated 500,000 civilians have died, and some 5.6 million people have been displaced, since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, making this the largest humanitarian crisis of our time. Of the refugees, some have managed to rebuild their lives. Too many have been turned away at borders or shuffled into refugee camps.
Their plight is often defined by desperation and tragedy. But the experience of these communities isn’t one-dimensional. Ponybaby Project – an official International Refugee Aid Organisation based in Shanghai – aims to capture the resilience of many refugees through compelling documentaries, exhibitions and photographs. It also funds educational initiatives, such as skills training for children to ensure the next generation is not left behind.
“Many people don’t have a chance to talk with refugees, so they have a very unclear concept of who they are,” says René Cao, journalist and NGO founder. “They’re often seen like wild animals. But they want to live with respect and dignity, just like everyone else.”
Iraq: Daughters of the Sun
In 2014, ISIS fighters killed an estimated 5,000 people and abducted roughly 6,000 women and girls from the Yazidi community, a minority religious group in northern Iraq. Many of them have since been murdered, held captive, or sold as sex slaves. The UN estimates that 3,000 victims remain missing. But an all-female battalion called the Daughters of the Sun has been fighting to rescue them, take back their city of Mosul, and see the responsible men face justice.
“I saw children dying of thirst and hunger, old people abandoned. I saw with my own eyes women throwing away their babies as they were running from the enemy because they were so afraid of being caught,” Daughters of the Sun founder Khatoon Khider – a former popular Yazidi folk singer – told The Guardian in a 2017 interview. “Every day, I am taking revenge. It’s a very shameful thing for Isis that women are fighting against them; they believe they won’t go to heaven if they are killed by women.”
Since its establishment in 2015, the battalion has recruited more than 1,700 women, many of whom are former sex slaves. When joining, every soldier undergoes an intense, 45-day military training to learn how to handle automatic weapons, launch mortars, and fight on the front lines. Though the Yazidi religion forbids killing, these women say they hope to honour the dead and missing by fighting for justice.
In Egypt’s capital of Cairo, 95.3 per cent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. Upon relocating to the city to work for a local NGO in 2004, American Rebecca Chiao set out to make the streets a safer place for women.
She founded HarassMap with three local women in 2010 to “create a zero-tolerance attitude for sexual harassment.” In addition to public service ads and commercials, the online platform encourages victims and witnesses to anonymously report incidents via text messages or social media. The platform then maps incidents across the city, providing an invaluable tool for women and authorities alike to localise the areas where harassment is most common.
Although well-received – having reported more than 1,200 incidents to date – Chiao and her team have faced challenges. “Recently, the government launched a law against collecting data, so we are now focusing on developing safe areas. We are also taking the more institutional approach of working with shops, universities [such as Cairo University], and companies to develop policies, training, and awareness on sexual harassment,” says Chiao.