Today is the first day of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence 2015 and The Pixel Project is kicking off our 16 For 16 campaign with our 6th annual list of 16 female role models fighting to end violence against women in their communities. The intent of this list is simple: to highlight the good work of the heroines of the movement to end violence against women wherever they are in the world. The women and girls in this year’s list hail from 18 countries and 4 continents.
Many of these outstanding women and girls have shown that it is possible to transform personal pain that came out of facing gender-based violence, into positive action to stop violence against women, empower themselves and to show other survivors that it is possible to move forward with dignity and happiness. They have refused to let bitterness and pain get the better of them, opting to stand up for themselves and for other women and girls instead. This year, we’re very proud to include a number of teenage activists who are campaigning against child marriage and acid attacks.
Others on this list may not have experienced gender-based violence inflicted on themselves but they have stepped up to do what is right: to speak up for women and girls who cannot do it for themselves, sometimes at great personal risk. All this requires immense courage, generosity of spirit and a strong enduring heart.
Without further ado, here in alphabetical order by first name is our 2015 list of 16 female role models. We hope that these women would be an inspiration to others to get involved with the global movement to end violence against women. To that end, we hope you will generously share this list via Facebook and Twitter to give these extraordinary 16 women and their work a moment in the sun.
It’s time to stop violence against women. Together.
Written and compiled by Regina Yau
Information for all role model profiles is sourced via online research and is based on one or more news sources, articles and/or The Pixel Project’s own interviews with them. The main articles/reports from which these profiles have been sourced can be directly accessed via the hyperlinked titles. Please do click through to learn more about these remarkable women.
Picture credits are listed at the bottom of the article.
Call To Action: Help us reach the $25,000 fundraising milestone for our Celebrity Male Role Model Pixel Reveal campaign this holiday season by giving generously to our “16 For 16” fundraiser (which also includes #GivingTuesday)! Find out more and donate to get awesome book and music goodies at http://is.gd/16DaysGT2015
Andréa Medina Rosas is a feminist human rights lawyer and independent consultant who works towards defending murdered and disappeared women, many who come from Ciudad Juárez, the city on the border of Mexico and the United States notoriously nicknamed the ‘capital of murdered women’. When Andréa was a teenager her feminist mother created an organisation for advancing women’s rights. Their first case involved helping a rape victim. Fifteen years later, Andréa is devoted to working with survivors of sexual violence and legally advocating for an end to violence against women. Andréa believes that women from different cultures need to come together to talk about gender violence and to work together on solutions.
In 2006, Australian aid Charlotte Campbell-Stephen was brutally attacked and gang raped for 8 hours by a violent Nairobi gang. Campbell-Stephen courageously reported her rape in a roomful of male police. She took her rapists to court even though she was told by the police that no one won rape cases in Kenya (the Australian embassy in Kenya even advised her to go home). She was supported throughout her gruelling years-long court ordeal by the women from Nairobi’s slums, and Geoff Kinuya, the detective to whom she first reported her case in 2006. In May 2015, the documentary about her fight for justice, I Will Not Be Silenced, was launched at the 2015 Human Rights Arts and Film festival in Melbourne.
Chieftainess Mwenda (Sophia Thomas Chibaye) rules over 111 villagers is on a mission to stop child marriage – a mission which began when, four years ago, she learned about the dangers of teen pregnancies. She told the Thompson Reuters Foundation: “”No one should allow a child in school (to marry)”. Mwenda believes that educating her communities is the key to ending the practice of child marriage: “Children can only be safe in a school environment. As long as they remain in school they are safe from marriage.”
Flavia Carvalho is a tattoo artist who decided to use her skills to help survivors via her project A Pele da Flor (The Skin of the Flower) through which she tattoos over scars women had suffered from acts of violence free of charge. Carvalho was inspired to do so after she met a client who wanted to cover up a scar on her abdomen that was the result of a violent attack by a man whom she had turned down. She told The Huffington Post: “Each tattoo would act as an instrument for empowerment and a self-esteem booster… The project’s name refers to the Portuguese expression “A flor da pele” (deeper than skin), which speaks of how strongly we feel when facing an extremely difficult or challenging situation.”
Fraidy Reiss’s marriage to an abusive husband was arranged by the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community she came from when she was just 19 years old. Reuss told NPR that she knew her husband for only three months before they were married, and that as she tried to raise her two daughters, she began to fear for their lives because her husband would lunge at her and describe in graphic detail how he was going to kill her. After courageously escaping her abuser and leaving the community, she founded Unchained At Last – a nonprofit dedicated to helping other American women escape arranged and forced marriages. Unchained At Last also offers women free legal assistance and representation, as well as assistance with the social services they need to rebuild their lives.
When Hadiqa Bashir was 10 years old, her grandmother tried to pressure her into a marriage but she saw how one of her classmates who got married in the sixth grade suffered from severe domestic violence and, with the support of her uncle, fought her grandmother’s decision and won. Today, Hadiqa is a 13-year-old activist working to end child marriage in her culture while calling for families to send girls to school. She goes from door to door in her community to talk to parents of girls about the benefits of educating daughters. She said: “I realised that many other girls would suffer like my classmate, and that’s when I decided to start this campaign. Educate your children, don’t make them marry early, give them freedom. That is my message.”
According to the UN Population Fund, Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. The country is ranked 8th out of 20 countries considered to have the highest rates, and in 2012 one in every two girls was married before the age of 18. In June 2015, Senior Chief Inkosi Kachindamoto created a major stir when she annulled 330 customary marriages in Dedza district in the Central Region of Malawi, sent the children back to school, and fired the village heads who sanctioned the marriages. She told the Nyasa Times: “I don’t want youthful marriages, they must go to school … no child should be found loitering at home or doing household chores during school time.”
British human rights lawyer Madeleine Rees has worked on ending violence against women in the various roles and capacities she has taken on over her career. She was a United Nations official in Bosnia during which she blew the whistle on the role of UN peacekeepers in sex-trafficking. She has also helped shape the protocol for the investigation and documentation of sexual violence in war zones. Currently the secretary general of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Rees said: “Stopping rape in war is never going to be entirely possible but there are ways to create more accountability.”
Malika Saada Saar is a formidable activist and human rights lawyer who has devoted her life to advocating for the rights of women and girls. While at Georgetown University, Saada Saar founded Crossing the River, a written and spoken word workshop for mothers in recovery from substance abuse. The group eventually became the Rebecca Project, a policy and advocacy group which advocates for women and families. The Rebecca Project’s notable successes include effectively lobbying for a ban on the practice of restraining incarcerated women during childbirth. Saar is currently the Executive Director of Rights4Girls, a human rights organisation that focuses on curbing violence against women through public policy and awareness.
Renowned Pakistani beautician and entrepreneur Massarat Misbah was closing up one of her many beauty salons when she was approached by a young acid attack victim who begged her to help restore her face. Misbah was shocked at the disfigurement suffered by the young woman and decided to start a nonprofit arm of her beauty business called the Depilex Smile Again Foundation. To date, Misbah and her team have helped over 500 victims of acid attacks to restore their appearance through reconstructive surgery, apply for jobs, and rebuild their lives. Misbah told Women’s Agenda: “To me, Depilex Smile Again Foundation is a platform for survivors of acid and kerosene oil. It exists for them to come out of terrible situations and try to change their lives for the better.”
A decade ago in Lucknow, India, Monica Singh suffered a brutal acid attack orchestrated by a man whose marriage proposal she turned down. Sixty-five percent of her body was burned severely and she had to undergo over 40 rounds of reconstructive surgery. Aside from rebuilding her own life as she works on her fashion career, she founded the Mahendra Foundation which provides support for other acid attack survivors. In her interview with The New York Times, she had this message for acid attack survivors: “Keep on living. Keep fighting. And be something that you always wanted to be. Forget that you lost your face, your soul is still intact, your mind is still intact. Keep on doing.”
16-year-old Muzoon Almellehan has been dubbed “the Malala of Syria” by her community of war survivors thanks to her tireless work to end child marriage over the past two years. Muzoon’s inspiration for her campaign began when she arrived in Jordan among an influx of Syrian refugees in 2013 and noticed that the rates of child marriage were rampant in the Za’atari refugee camp where she lives. UNICEF and Save the Children enlisted young activists to talk with parents about the importance of girls’ education. Muzoon joined up and quickly became an adept campaigner. She told the Daily Beast: “Lots people were listening [to me], even fathers… because I wouldn’t tell them in a forceful way, or say, ‘You have to send her to school.’ I’d initiate the debate and say girls’ education helps them the most.
18-year-old Afghan music artiste Sonita Alizadeth uses rap music to push back against child marriage, including her own. When she was told that she would be married off as a teenage bride to a man she had never met, she wrote the song “Brides for Sale.” The song’s lyrics include: “Let me whisper, so no one hears that I speak of selling girls. My voice shouldn’t be heard since it’s against Sharia.” Sonita’s music video for the song features her wearing a wedding dress… and a barcode on her forehead as she pleads with her family not sell her off. Her parents loved the video and called off the wedding. Today, she uses her music to help other girls in danger of being sold off for marriage and to continue pushing against the tradition of child brides.
Journalist Tania Rashid has tackled the issue of violence against women through a story on gang rape in Bangladesh (which she had to pitch repeatedly for almost a year before it was accepted by Vice News), followed by her latest documentary production with Vice News, “Sex, Slavery, and Drugs in Bangladesh,“ gives appalling insight the daily happenings of Daulita which is the largest Bangladeshi brothel and the largest bordello in the world with more than 1,300 sex workers who serve over 3,000 men daily. Born in Saudi Arabia to a Bangladeshi father and Pathan mother before moving to the USA, Rashid was inspired by CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour to become a journalist dedicated to telling human rights stories.
Penninah Tombo is a female genital mutilation survivor who has been harassed, threatened, and attacked by her tribe because of her dedication to helping Maasai girls escape female genital mutilation, forced early marriage, as well as helping them complete their schooling. In 1992, she founded Nasuru Ntoiye (Let’s Save the Girls) to advance her work. According to Tombo, her activism and advocacy on behalf of women and girls has met with stiff opposition because Masai men do not want their daughters to be educated and to learn they have rights. However, she continues to persevere and told the Los Angeles Times: “We are trying to change our way of living. We are trying to change the boys and girls, so that they can change our community.”
Sima Basnet and her friend Sangita Magar were studying at a tution center in Jhochhen, Nepal, when four masked men broke into the center, barged into the room, and splashed acid on them. Today, Sima speaks out against acid attacks. She told The Baltic Review: “I’ve always wanted to become a singer and I will not live in fear.” She adds: “I want some kind of justice, but I will go on with my life no matter what. This is my message to all girls and women out there; don’t give up.”
- Andréa Medina Rosas – From www.nobelwomensinitiative.org
- Charlotte Campbell-Stephen – From “I Will Not Be Silenced” trailer (YouTube)
- Chieftainess Mwenda (Sophia Thomas Chibaye) – From www.trust.org
- Flavia Carvalho – From ‘This Tattoo Artist is Covering the Scars of Domestic Violence Victims Free of Charge’ (Buzzfeed)
- Fraidy Reiss – Courtesy of Fraidy Reiss (www.unchainedatlast.org)
- Hadiqa Bashia – From Hadiqa Bashir’s Facebook page
- Inkosi Kachindamoto – Courtesy of UN Women
- Madeleine Rees – From “Madeleine Rees (cropped)” by Foreign and Commonwealth Office – http://www.flickr.com/photos/foreignoffice/8650982041/in/photostream/. Licensed under OGL via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Madeleine_Rees_(cropped).jpg#/media/File:Madeleine_Rees_(cropped).jpg
- Malika Saada Saar – Courtesy of Malika Saada Saar (www.Rights4Girls.org)
- Massarat Misbah – From ‘Meet The Woman Changing The Face Of Domestic Violence In Pakistan’ (Women’s Agenda)
- Monica Singh – Courtesy of Monica Singh (The Mahendra Singh Foundation)
- Muzoon Almellehan – From ‘Meet The Malala of Syria’ (Nina Strochlic/The Daily Beast)
- Sonita Alizadeh – From Instagram – @sonitaalizadeh
- Tania Rashid – Courtesy of Tania Rashid
- Sima Basnet – From ‘Nepalese Attack Survivors: “I Won’t Live In Fear”‘ (Sanjog Manandhar/Baltic-Review.com)
- Penninah Tombo – From The Los Angeles Times.