Salma Project : Women Empowerment through Self-defense and Sexual Health Education

Changemaker Catalyst Award and Alvarez recipient Momi Biniafer Sagoe spent her Summer semester Planning and implementing her venture, The Salma Project. Salma Project was designed to build confidence and empower women! This Pilot Project aimed to empower and educate women aged 18+ to use movement to communicate about sexual health and self-defense to help reduce sexual and gender-based violence in Greater New Orleans areas.


The first session of the self-defense class with participants and instructors and a welcome message from the owner of the gym (the only male in the picture)


As in the most devastating events in the world, women turn to be at a disadvantage position. This situation, like many other situations, manifested during the Covid-19  pandemic. I remember hearing on the news how women were killed and beaten during the lockdown, and I was very heartbroken.


Women are known to be weak; that is why women and young teenagers are disadvantaged in most Sexual violence, gender-based violence, and domestic violence. Empowering these young girls and women to feel more empowered in their bodies, voices, relationships, and communication in hopes of reducing sexual and gender-based violence in the Greater New Orleans areas. This led to the 8-10 person pilot program, The SalmaProject.



 Participants and program Executive

In the Fall of 2022, We participated in the change maker cohort, where We had the opportunity to share our venture. We gained guidance from the staff member and fellow cohort guest speakers that came and educated us on how to develop our ideas or venture. After being given the tools and guidance from my Change Maker mentor (Amanda Tonkovich) and partner (Darling Kittoe), we piloted The Salma Project in the summer. This is a no-cost program meant to engage women and/or assault survivors regardless of socioeconomic status.


The Planning Phase of this Project Started during the summer when We attended webinars and courses to understand our target participants further and created a pre and post-survey curriculum and consent form while networking and researching to find a safe place to practice Juitjisu self-defense. The program Duration was initially a four-week class and approximately four weekly meetings for 90-120 minutes on Saturdays. However, we had to merge it into two weekly sessions for approximately 3 hours. This change was to ensure that participants could recall some of the self-defense techniques after the program. Half an hour was spent on sexual health education, bystander intervention, boundary setting, and five components of self-defense adopted from WAVE Self-Defense (think, yell, run, fight and/or tell), and the other half of the time on practicing basic self-defense of which the instructors were all female from the local jujitsu gym Nola BJJ. The owner of  NolaBjj was kind to offer a free month of continuous women’s self-defense classes and reduce the monthly fees after the end of the project for all participants.


 Program Executive and CEO of Nola BJJ


We have gained a lot of skills implementing the first pilot program, from learning more about the topic and also gaining the skill of creating a curriculum, planning, and implementing a project. We were able to use all the knowledge gained in our master’s in public health program in practice. This was a great experience seeing women empowered through skill and knowledge. Above all, hearing from participants about how important and relevant the project is now more than ever with the increased rate of sexual violence warmed our hearts.


 The picture was taken after our last session with participants and their goodie bags.


In order to engage with a group at a disadvantage as a changemaker, it is crucial to have an open mind and push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. We saw this as a chance to learn more about a huge problem and the individuals whose lives are most directly affected by it and to connect and empower women. By researching in-depth into the problem, going to webinars, and speaking with mentors who have knowledge of the problem, We became knowledgeable about these concerns. We learned something new about ourselves, the women, or this topic at every meeting and event. 


As a Changemaker, we hope this will be the right step for every woman in the world, free from abuse.


 Last session with participants and instructors, a fun picture




“…..Every woman everywhere has a right to live free from abuse.”

                             House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi