karate grandmaScreenshot via AJ+

A group of elderly women in Kenya are learning how to defend themselves against the rape epidemic spreading throughout their slum. These “karate grannies,” ranging from the ages of 60 to 85, first began meeting in 2007 after a group of young bandits began lurking through Korogocho. The boys robbed and would, oftentimes, rape their elderly victims because they believed that these older women were less likely to have HIV+. Now, these grandmas are fighting back. 

Under the instruction of Sheila Kariuki, 29, these grandmothers learn a mix of kung-fu, karate and taekwondo. However, given their age, the focus of their training isn't so much on strength as it is on accuracy and attracting attention. As Kariuki explained to The Telegraph, “You don’t need to hit hard to be accurate. Accuracy is the key to the technique.” In their weekly classes, these women are taught about different vulnerable points such as the nose, collarbone, chin and, of course, the crotch. 

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When the women start hitting punching bags, they repeatedly yell “No!” as each blow lands. "I teach them to yell, which is the opposite of screaming,” Kariuki says, "When you yell, you are in control, relaxed, telling the world that you don't like what these young boys are doing to you, and telling them to stop.” 

All 150,000 residents in Korogocho are crammed together within a space of 1.5 kilometers. Just eight miles away from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, a majority of the residents live in squalid conditions. Electricity is patchy and there’s no running water. Crimes, such as rape, are common and the police can do very little to stop them given the small number of officers. 

Many of Kariuki’s pupils live alone, but this self-defense training has helped ease their fears. One of these elderly women, Jane, is 55-years-old and, thanks to the program, she was able to fight off an attacker. She told her story to AJ+: “He touched my neck. And then I boxed him, and another one and another one.” 

The oldest student, Gladys Wanjiku, has been lucky so far. “I pray so much for them not to come,” she told The Telegraph, “but if a young man wants to rape me, I know where to hit.” 

According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, nearly 14% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been the victims of sexual violence. In a neighborhood where even a trip to fetch water can be risky, these elderly women are empowering themselves, now able to walk around freely and confidently with their training. 

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Kariuki has expanded her self-defense classes to offer some for younger girls as well, and already her teachings have made an impact on women. "Our program does make a difference. We have testimonies of old women now able to defend themselves using verbal or physical techniques.” 

We’re so proud of badass grannies for kicking ass and keeping their community safe. You can check out an interview with some of these awesome ladies below:  

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