Physical, sexual, and psychological violence against women is pervasive and across the world. In Uganda, estimates show that more than half of all women are likely to experience some sort of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Mildred Apenyo, an entrepreneur and women’s rights activist, is doing her best to combat these issues by empowering women through self-defense and holistic personal safety camps. She started Fitclique Africa, the first homegrown, women-only gym in Africa, to give African women a place where their mental health, well-being, and physical safety are prioritized. Opened two years ago, Fitclique Africa provides safe spaces for women to engage in physical exercise without being at risk of harassment or self-consciousness.
Although Fitclique’s classes and programs have given members opportunities to become physically strong, physical strength does not always guarantee personal safety, especially on a large-scale level when dealing with violence against women. The hope is that Fitclique Africa will empower people to stand up for their constitutional rights, become more active members of their communities, and help change the conversation about gender-based violence. Apenyo explains that “personal safety will never be achieved until we as a society, and individuals, take responsibility for the ways that our cultures, religions, social, and economic structures make women vulnerable.” Fitclique Africa is working to do that very thing, to change the mindset of its members with the hope of changing the mindset of society.
With the realization that societal changes don’t always come quickly or easily, Apenyo also offers short-term strategies for people who face situations where they are physically or psychologically threatened. She explains that when you are put into a situation that makes you feel threatened, “Take a deep breath and ask yourself if you are physically unsafe, or if you are uncomfortable. If your threat isn’t yet physical, take the opportunity to run away. If you are physically being attacked target your attacker in the following areas: nose, groin, throat, and eyes, and then run. Remember that you are fighting to get away, not to win.”
With continued diligence and community dialogue, Apenyo hopes that the effects of Fitclique Africa will inspire confidence and safety for women across Africa. The work of reducing gender-based violence in Africa helps not just women, but the entire region because stronger and more empowered people means a stronger and brighter future for the continent of Africa.
To learn more about Fitclique Africa, visit facebook.com/fitwomenug/.