Transforming Personal Pain Into Positive Action: The Pixel Project’s 16 Female Role Models 2012

Today is the first day of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence 2012 campaign and The Pixel Project is kicking things off with our 3rd 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 14 countries and 4 continents.

Many of these astounding women 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 instead.

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.

So without further ado, here in alphabetical order by first name is our 2012 list of 16 female role models. We hope that these women would be an inspiration to others to get involved with the cause. 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.

Note: 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.


Female Role Model 1: An Phong Vo – United States of America

Attorney An Phong Vo who is based at the nonprofit Boat People SOS’s West Houston office began working with trafficking victims in 2007. She is one of the leading U.S. experts in helping victims to obtain special visas to stay in the United States and stabilise their lives. Vo, who escaped Vietnam as a child and speaks fluent Vietnamese, graduated from law school at Louisiana State University and has taken on major cases including assisting Central American women held prisoner by traffickers in Houston. Now she is headed for Bangkok where she will attempt to aid an estimated 500 asylum-seekers – including victims of human trafficking – living in donated apartments after fleeing oppression from Vietnam and slavery conditions in other countries.

Female Role Model 2: Chantal Bilulu Myanga – Democratic Republic of Congo

Chantal Bilulu Myanga is the Programme Coordinator for Women and Children with Héritiers de la Justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which helps women who have survived the extreme sexual violence far too common in the Eastern Congo—and works towards ending the impunity that enables it. Ms. Myanga often talks about the negative “power of silence”—and the need to support women in opening up about their experiences. She says: “If you have been raped, to keep silent is to kill yourself slowly from the inside.” Ms. Myanga also believes that men to be involved in stopping the violence, noting that “they are not the enemy and they need to be with us, taking responsibility.”

Female Role Model 3: Charlene Smith – South Africa

Charlene Smith was raped and stabbed in her Johannesburg home by an intruder over a decade ago. She refused to remain silent about being raped and became known as the face of rape survivors in South Africa at a time when this scourge was an anonymous epidemic. She is now on a mission to obtain HIV prophylaxis for other women who had survived rape, and has written two books. “Proud of Me”, her first book, is aimed at helping rape survivors and is about coping with the aftermath of the rape and her journey to rebuild her life. Her second book “Whispers on Her Skin” is aimed at advising medical professionals about how to help the healing process.

Female Role Model 4: Damayanti Sen – India

Damayanti Sen, the first woman in the history of Kolkata Police to be given the mantle of deputy commissioner, detective department (DCDD) led her team of detectives to fight against steep odds to bring justice for the survivor of a gang-rape. And they succeeded even though the investigation had started a week late; The forensic test didn’t yield any clues apart from indicating that assault had taken place; The accused had watertight alibis; There were inconsistencies in the victim’s statement; And the chief minister had herself remarked that the victim’s claim was fabricated. This is no mean feat in a country which has recently been voted by women’s rights experts as the worst country for women among the G20 nations in a survey conducted by Thompson Reuters Foundation.

Female Role Model 5: Fatma Anyanzwa – Kenya

Fatma Anyanzwa made headlines in the early 1990s for her tenacious fight against rape. She founded the first anti-rape organisation in Kenya and bore the brunt of standing in the frontline against rape and assault. She was once arrested for protesting in front of a courthouse to demand justice for three schoolgirls who had been raped by two Asian factory workers, sparking an international petition for her release. She said: “The fight against rape was not an easy one. We were not only fighting rapists, but also a judicial system that could not deliver justice to victims.” She currently oversees the Kenya Grassroots Leaders Network in Kibera which comprises women leaders at grassroots level collaborating with local authority, government, religious organisations and NGOs to sensitise the community about rape.

Female Role Model 6: Hawa Aden Mohamed – Somalia

Hawa Aden Mohamed, known as “Mama Hawa,” founded the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development which has assisted more than 215,000 displaced and victims of violence since 1999. Mama Hawa is a former Somali refugee who returned from Canada to Somalia in 1995 to help Somalis who have fled war, famine and violence. In 2012, Mama Hawa won the United Nations refugee agency’s Nansen Refugee Award for her work in helping thousands of Somali women and girls, many of them rape victims, start new lives in their battered homeland. “In a society like Somalia, it’s very often that a woman or a girl is raped and they are severely marginalised thereafter. So what she has done is given them is a home, a new start, hope for a new life and their dignity back,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a news briefing.

Female Role Model 7: Johanna Crawford – United States of America

Johanna Crawford is the Founder and Executive Director of Web of Benefit – a U.S.-based nonprofit working to help women who have survived abuse to successfully rebuild their lives. When she was young, living in a middle-class, white suburb of Philadelphia, her father—a handsome, charming man when sober—drank often and abused her mother.  When she was 13, he tried to kill her.  She rarely saw him after that. When Ms. Crawford was 55 years old, she volunteered at a crisis shelter and gave a survivor US$40 and knew that she had changed her life.  This inspired Ms Crawford to start Web of Benefit.

Female Role Model 8: Luz Méndez – Guatemala

Luz Mendez is a Guatamalan women’s rights activist and peacemaker who has long advocated for the recognition of women’s rights in peacebuilding efforts and bringing to the surface a long-hidden dimension of war: sexual violence against women. Between 1991 and 1996 Luz participated in the peace negotiations as the only woman and as part of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity’s delegation.  She dedicated special attention to highlighting the crimes of sexual violence committed by state forces – of which the overwhelming majority were indigenous women. Her successes included the inclusion of the penalisation of sexual harassment in the accords.

Female Role Model 9: Malala Yousafzai – Pakistan

Malala Yousafzai is a 15-year-old activist advocating for girls’ education who made headlines when she was shot in the head by the Taliban on 9 October 2012 for daring to push on with her activism. Malala earned global respect since starting a blog documenting her desire to get an education and the struggles of getting an education in the Swat Valley where the Taliban has periodically banned girls from attending school. Gradually she started promoting education for girls in interviews and advising local authorities on education. Today, Malala continues to recover from the murder attempt in a hospital in the UK and the UN Special Envoy for Global Education has started a petition and designated 12 November as #IAmMalala Day in recognition of her efforts.

Female Role Model 10: Malya Villard-Appolon – Haiti

Malya Villard-Appolon survived two rapes. In 2004, she established KOFAVIV, an organisation that helps other survivors find safety, medical care and legal aid. She would not let the 2010 earthquake (which destroyed her home and office) deter her in her work and she and her group have helped more than 1,400 women since the earthquake hit Haiti. Ms. Villard-Appolon said: “There is too much violence in Haiti. I want people… to know the work that KOFAVIV is doing to combat corruption. We are fighting for the women and children who, after the earthquake, became victims. We are fighting for justice.”

Female Role Model 11: Sabatina James – Pakistan, Austria and Germany

When Sabatina James was 18, her parents threatened to kill her because she would not submit to an arranged marriage to restore her family’s “honour”. She survived by fleeing her home, sleeping in a shelter and working at a local café in Linz where her parents kept harassing her. Finally, with the help of friends, she escaped to Vienna to begin a new life and wrote a book about her experience. She says: “Today I’m trying to break the marry-or-die tradition. I run a foundation called Sabatina, in Germany, where I live. My group acts as an underground railroad, helping women escape their families by finding them shelter and jobs.”

Female Role Model 12: Sharmeem Obaid Chinoy – Pakistan

In January 2012, veteran film-maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy became the first Pakistani to win an Oscar for best documentary in the short subject category for her film “Saving Face” about acid attack survivors. Ms. Obaid-Chinoy said: “The film chronicles the work of acclaimed British Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr Mohammad Jawad as he travelled to Pakistan and performed reconstructive surgery on survivors of acid violence. There my co-director, Daniel Junge suggested that we should make a documentary on this. I was sold in an instant, since I personally feel that acid attacks are the worst form of violence, I stuck to the idea and was determined to show the world the process a woman goes through after this hideous act.”

Female Role Model 13: Sosan Firooz – Afghanistan

With the release of her first Dari-language rap song, outspoken 23-year-old Sosan Firooz makes history in her homeland where society frowns on women who take the stage. Amongst other subjects, she sings about repression of women in Afghanistan. “We want an end to all cruelty against women and children,” Firooz chants. She is still not yet widely known among Afghans, but she’s breaking traditional rules for women in a very conservative society and members of her family have disowned her. Her father says: “I am her secretary, answering her phones. I am her bodyguard, protecting her. When she’s out, I must be with her. Every parent must support their daughters and sons to help them progress.”

Female Role Model 14: Suraiya Kamaruzzaman – Indonesia

Suraiya Kamaruzzaman is an Indonesian women’s rights activist and executive director of the women’s rights organisation Flower Aceh, which she co-founded in 1989 to champion the rights of Acehnese women.  She has worked to empower women by ensuring their safety and advising them on issues of economic and reproductive rights. Her organisation has collected and recorded data on violence against women and offers support services for victims of sexual violence. Since the 2004 tsunami, her organisation has also been running a Women’s Crisis Centre through which they help women affected by the tsunami rebuild their lives.

Female Role Model 15: Susana Trimarco – Argentina

Susana Trimarco has survived two murder attempts, her house was burnt down, she has received countless death threats, but nothing has stopped her from looking for her missing daughter whose case has become a symbol of the fight against human trafficking in Argentina and most of South America. Mrs Trimarco has launched the Fundacion Maria de los Angeles, named after her missing daughter. Since 2007, the foundation has managed to get at least 800 cases of alleged sexual exploitation into Argentine courts, which led to the rescue of almost 400 victims. in 2008 Mrs Trimarco’s struggle and story helped get legislation passed in Argentina that for the first time made human trafficking a crime. Since this law came into effect, almost 3,000 people have been rescued from human traffickers in Argentina.

Female Role Model 16: Vijaylaxmi Sharma – India

At 13, Vijaylaxmi Sharma defied tradition and refused to marry an older man despite her parents’ demands. Instead, Ms. Sharma, now 24, finished school with top marks and became a teacher. She now works in a secondary school and advises all her students that they have more to offer than just marrying young. “Recently I persuaded a 25-year-old mother, Channa, to stop the wedding of her ten-month-old daughter, Kiran. She would have been paid a small fortune for marrying her daughter off, but I managed to make her see sense,” Ms. Sharma said. “They’re so uneducated that they don’t know any other life. They think they’re doing their daughter a good service.” But I make them see that they’re not.” Ms. Sharma now plans to travel across India to educate parents about this issue