Yes, we can!

Crocheting and Empowering Collective / Samaha Monteiro


Samaha Monteiro lived many lives and knew instability and violence up close. The first time that the Bahian artisan and entrepreneur felt her world was falling apart was still in her childhood, in view of her parents' drug addiction. “I never had food at home, nor security,” she recalls. Growing up in Itacaré, on the south coast of Bahia, she was also used to the harassment of much older men. They harassed her and were not prevented by her family, according to her, because the presence of the guests was convenient. It was like her body wasn't hers at all.

At 17, living with her father and taking care of four siblings, Samaha had her first sexual intercourse with her boyfriend who was six years older. The only time she had unprotected sex, she got pregnant. An unintended pregnancy. Indirectly forced by the events to an early marital union, she suffered postpartum depression and soon saw her boyfriend start a relationship with someone else...a 13 year old girl.

Many years after definitively leaving home with her daughter, after going through the abyss of drug addiction herself and re-encountering her mother, Samaha found an older man, the one who would later be the father of her other two children. She thought it would be safe, but he also had violence in his hands.

“I don't know how many times I was threatened, how many times I took a bus with a broken mouth. I arrived at the police station once with blood running down my legs. I was ashamed and had nowhere to go. And people just told me that I had to put up with it, because if I had chosen to spread my legs open, if I had chosen to have a child, I had to take it. This is what a family, when it is poor, says to women who suffer violence”, explains Samaha.

“At first I thought: who would want to learn crochet? This is old stuff. But I put things together and it worked out”

Living in the district of Serra Grande, in the municipality of Uruçuca, Samaha met a non-governmental organization (NGO), started attending courses in development of social projects and entrepreneurship and for the first time she heard about empowerment. What she learned she put into practice and, after separating from her husband, she tried to make sure he never touched her again. When she felt alive again, she thought she needed to tell her story. "What I experienced I don't want for anyone, especially for the girls and I had to find a way to tell that to them," she says.

Along with a drama teacher and a lawyer, Samaha rescued an old skill and created the collective named Crochetando Empoderando, which offers, in addition to free legal assistance for victims of violence and bodily expression workshops, crochet classes for teenagers. “At first I thought: who would want to learn crochet? This is old stuff. But I put things together and it worked out”, she sums it up.

When she submitted her project to the "She Decides" Tender Notice, a project supported by the United Nations Population Fund in partnership with the Elas Fund, Samaha only wanted two things: to prevent more girls from becoming pregnant in adolescence and other women from staying in abusive relationships. She wanted to tell her own story to echo and change someone else's story. Only then, she says, will she be able to change the world. Only then will she be able to save herself. “With every girl and woman I help, I feel like I’ve healed a little”, she sums it up. "And we still have a lot to do".

Project: Yes, we can!

Location: Itacaré

People directly benefited by the project: 500 women and 82 men.

The project “Yes, we can!”, by the Crochetando Empoderando Collective, was designed to expand the debate in the Southern Coastal Territory of Bahia on sexual and reproductive rights in order to stimulate improvements in actions and public policies that contribute to providing universal access to sexual and reproductive health and qualify the demand, by expanding access to information on the subject for adolescents and women living in that area. A large part of the activities were carried out while crochet workshops took place, in a mix of dialogue and handicraft. The project also established a partnership with other groups and continued in dialogue and articulation with several groups of women to further reverberate the actions and information.

Photography: Daniele Rodrigues / Writer: Fabiane Guimarães e Rachel Quintiliano / Editor-in-chief: Rachel Quintiliano / Content review and approach: Anna Cunha, Juliana Soares and Michele Dantas / Artwork and Composition: Diego Soares

This story is part of the publication “Driving Force: stories and actions undertaken by women and for women in Bahia”, that shows the result of a partnership between the United Nations Population Fund and the Elas Fund to support projects led by women residing in the Brazilian State of Bahia, who work to promote actions involving training and information on sexual, reproductive health and rights. To learn more about the project and other stories, visit brazil.unfpa.org/forcamotriz