For several months now, Junayna Al Sheibany, the founder of Tanzania Feminist Collective, had been posting information about rape culture, women’s mental health and misogyny through her personal Instagram page.
After around one month of posting, in June, Junayna opened her account and was surprised by what she saw. Women were resonating with what she was saying, and were directly messaging her, to tell her about their own sexual trauma and ask for advice. But one of the main issues for getting the support they need? Money.
While there are many forms of support that women need after experiencing sexual abuse, such as medical care and legal care, Junayna says the main way she is able to help these women is through providing them with access to therapy, through collaborating with Safe Space. She shares that due to the trauma and negative emotions linked to sexual abuse, survivors may be at risk for mental health conditions.
It was then that Junayna and Araika Mkulo saw an opportunity to crowdfund to pay for mental health services. Araika, the founder of Safe Space, recognizes that therapy can be expensive, and not accessible to those in need: “at Safe Space, we have been working with victims of sexual abuse. But the problem is that obviously, not everyone can afford therapy. It can be expensive. We are trying to create online content to support people, such as ebooks, but you cannot replace therapy. When Junayna reached out to me, we started thinking of ways we could help these women get funds to get the mental health support they need.”
It was then that the Tanzania Feminist Collect and Safe Space decided to crowdfund as a way to raise the money, with a goal of £1500. This will allow nine women to have eight sessions of therapy, over the course of several months. With already half of that money raised, Junayna said she has been surprised at how quickly people have donated.
The crowdfunding aspect, Junayna says, has been part and parcel of Tanzanian and East African culture for a long time: “there is a lot of power in the redistribution of income. I keep seeing a lot of incredible initiatives that come about from a GoFundMe page, and it ends up helping so many people. Circulating money within each other is a concept that has always been there, especially in Tanzania. We are just translating that onto an online space.”
“Even for weddings in Tanzania, we have the ‘mchango’ where people come together and give money. Or if someone is sick in my family, and hospital bills are high, there is a culture in East Africa that we pool our resources. This initiative is akin to that, but it is taking part in the digital space.”
While the identity of the women who will receive the therapy sessions is protected, Junayna and Araika both share that the aspect of crowdfunding, and people donating their own money as a way to support and help these women, is powerful. Araika says: “a big consequence to women’s mental health as a result of sexual violence is this feeling that they are not grounded anymore, and you can start to think it is your own fault. But this fundraiser demonstrates to these women that there is a community that cares and wants to support them. It is validating.”
Crowdfunding, Junayna says, is also not purely about the money. It is about the dialogue and conversation that comes with it: “we want to raise public awareness about sexual harassment, and the mental health implications that come with experiencing sexual assault. There is still some stigma around therapy, and we want to start more conversations and break down those barriers.”
Araika agrees that the crowdfunding aspect is helping to spread the word about sexual violence in Tanzania: “when you are landing on our page, you follow the story, and learn more about patriarchy, sexual harassment, and trauma. We are trying to kill two birds with one stone – raise money and awareness at the same time.” “On social media, it can be easy to brush these topics as a trend and a hashtag, versus a call to action. But when people donate money, that means they are paying attention.”
While Junayna and Araika both agree that crowdfunding can be powerful, they are also looking for avenues to be able to sustainably fund sexual assault victims to access mental health care. This is something, Junayna notes, that many countries are struggling with: “I think when it comes to providing mental health support, a lot of countries struggle with making it accessible. I know that there are institutions, which are looking to fund initiatives such as these. We are working on cementing the structure at Tanzania Feminist Collective before we apply. At the same time, we have a large following on our social media pages, people based in Tanzania but also diaspora. They want to get involved and support the cause.”
And seeing many people come together and support this particular cause has made Junayna and Araika proud. Junayna said: “there is a strong communal aspect to this. I am proud of the Tanzanian community, whether they are based in Africa or outside Africa. Crowdfunding for important initiatives, like this one, is one way we can all connect digitally.”
“It has made me feel as though I am part of a bigger community, and I feel hopeful for what young people can achieve when we put our minds together.”
By Priyanka Sippy