Whenever I meet women survivors or defenders of women’s rights, I am uplifted and inspired to engage – I cannot let them down. It will be our numbers and our voices as women that will change the world.
Carol Angir is an African feminist who helps build and empower local women’s collectives in developing countries to advocate on behalf of other women. She is also ActionAid Australia’s Senior Policy and Program Coordinator – Addressing Violence Against Women, based in Sydney but working globally. She is driving their efforts to address and prevent violence against women in areas of conflict, natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies.
Facilitating program design and development with colleagues and women’s groups ‘on the ground’, Carol consults with local communities around issues of violence against women immediately after disaster strikes. She recently returned from Vanuatu, after a cyclone had caused significant and widespread damage, where she encouraged local women to take leadership positions to ensure that all women, especially those in evacuation centres, could ‘feel safe and empowered to rebuild their resilience’.
In Vanuatu, domestic violence is rampant. ‘They communicated to us well-founded fears that women in evacuation centres are at significant risk of increased violence. The centres aren’t well lit and in many instances the women feel insecure at night. They also have limited access to bathrooms. They are at even greater risk when they return home because domestic violence surges during an emergency. Women who remain with their families are also likely to suffer.’
Carol was born in Nairobi to Mama Mickal and Mzee Joseph Were Angir, one of ten children, five girls and five boys, who were treated as equals by their parents. Both parents worked to ensure that all their children went to universities and colleges despite the fact that they themselves had come from humble backgrounds. Her father instilled in her ‘that she could do anything that boys did’ and her mother always reminded her ‘to have her own voice, no matter what’. These attitudes were not typical of the times – ‘girls were taught to be silent, quiet and demure. Girls who talked too much would not make good wives.’
Carol became more aware of gender imbalance at her local high school in Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria. She was one of only five girls in a class with 35 boys – but she graduated and went on to complete her university education in India. After graduating, she returned to Kenya to help in the family business and continued to be actively involved in the feminist movement. She is an alumnus of the African Women’s Leadership Institute, a pan-African feminist organisation that supports women’s leadership programs and advocacy work in Africa.
Eventually, Carol worked for ActionAid in Kenya before moving to The Netherlands to work for Mama Cash, an international feminist funding organisation that supports groups and organisations led by women, girls and transgender people to speak out against injustice. Here, Carol provided leadership on the theme of ‘voice’ – empowering women, supporting their political participation and their efforts to challenge militarism and fundamentalism. Over the course of her career, Carol has worked with women all over the world, including Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe, linking work from the individual country programs to the international advocacy process.
It was in 2008, while working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, interacting with and listening to survivors speak of horrific and sustained violence, that Carol felt compelled to narrow her focus to working on women’s rights in conflict. ‘I love my job – you can’t do this for the money. It has to be driven by something else, something more personal and internalised,’ said Carol. She admits that at times her work is incredibly difficult and challenging – giving local women’s organisations a voice to oppose forces that have traditionally abused their power. She has dedicated her participation in this project to her sister Lydia who is also a feminist and has been an inspiration in her life, supporting her efforts and encouraging her feminist agenda.