Today is the first day of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence 2018 campaign and The Pixel Project is kicking things off with our 7th 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 15 countries and 5 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.
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 2018 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.
It’s time to stop violence against women. Together.
Note: Information for all role model profiles has been 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.
Written and compiled by Regina Yau
Female Role Model 1: Chino – Japan
When Japanese actress Chino won a settlement from a director who sexually harassed her, she decided to use the settlement money to start a #MeToo group to stop sexual and power harassment that is endemic in Japan’s entertainment industries, provide counseling and legal help for victims, and to demonstrate that speaking out is a viable course of action. She was inspired to come forward about her experience by the #MeToo movement around the world and said: “Was it hard? Was I afraid? Of course I was. But I came forward for the sake of others who may also want to pursue their dreams.”
Female Role Model 2: Dr Christine Blasey Ford – United States of America
When Brett M. Kavanaugh was shortlisted to become an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, an American professor of psychology, came forward to publicly accuse Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers. Dr Blasey Ford’s courage resulted in a senate judicial committee hearing into Kavanaugh’s suitability to be a Supreme Court justice, but also emboldened thousands of sexual assault and rape survivors to publicly talk about their experiences via the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport. Dr Blasey Ford said in her testimony: “I am a fiercely independent person and I am no one’s pawn. My motivation in coming forward was to provide the facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you can take that into serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed. It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell the truth.”
Female Role Model 3: Elisa Iannacone – United Kingdom
Photographer and sexual assault survivor Elisa Iannacone was looking for a way to show the psychological impact of the trauma suffered by survivors. From this sprang her latest photo project, “The Spiral of Containment: Rape’s Aftermath” which was the result of four years spent working with survivors to express “trauma through art.” Speaking to Newsweek about the project and subsequent exhibition, Iannacone said: “I’m sure that a lot of people that come through will see themselves reflected in the work, so i think it’s just building a community of people that understand the impact of rape, that reject it and that want to collectively stand against it. I think the key to change is to talk about it and not stand for it anymore which is what we’ve done for way too long.”
Female Role Model 4: Jan Logie, MP – New Zealand
On 26 July 2018, New Zealand became the first country to pass national legislation granting victims of domestic violence 10 days paid leave to allow them to leave their partners, protect themselves and their children, and start rebuilding their lives. This groundbreaking law is the culmination of seven years of work by Green MP Jan Logie, who worked in a women’s refuge before entering politics. Ms. Logie told The Guardian: “Part of this initiative is getting a whole-of-society response. We don’t just leave it to police but realise we all have a role in helping victims. It is also about changing the cultural norms and saying ‘we all have a stake in this and it is not OK’.”
Female Role Model 5: Khadija Siddiqi – Pakistan
Khadija Siddiqi was repeatedly slashed across the throat and abdomen by fellow student Shah Hussain in an attack that was motivated by revenge after she had spurned his advances. Her attacker was acquitted by the high court and her case has become a cause célèbre, with the acquittal viewed by some as effectively sanctioning Violence against Women. Speaking to The Observer, Siddiqi said: “I’ve had so many messages saying ‘this happened to me’, and it gives people strength. There is a stigma for women to get justice, not just in Pakistan but across the world. This shows if you hurt or kill in the name of honour, you will be challenged. As a law student, I owe it to these women to show the justice system isn’t just for the rich and powerful.”
Female Role Model 6: Lucia Annibali – Italy
In 2013, Italian lawyer Lucia Annibali nearly lost her eyesight after a brutal acid attack organised by her former boyfriend that left her battling for her eyesight. Following the attack, Annibali was made an honorary citizen of Parma and was invited by then-head of the Department of Equal Opportunities Maria Elena Boschi to serve as an advisor, a role that she still serves in today. This year, Lucia is running for Parliament in Italy, where she hopes to lead efforts to stop Violence against Women. Annibali said: “The attack changed my life for the better. Regaining my sight and relearning to eat are all battles that make you truly appreciate the value of life.”
Female Role Model 7: Memory Chazeza Mdyetseni – Malawi
Following the death of her parents and her uncle who paid for her to attend school, Memory Chazeza Mdyetseni was pressured by her other family members to get married when she was a young teenager. Mdyetseni resisted such attempts and after completing her education, she was inspired by her experiences to co-found the Girls on the Move Secondary School which provides secondary school education for teenage Malawian girls at risk of forced or under-aged marriage. Mdyetseni told the Voice of America that education would give Malawian girls and women many more choices and opportunities beyond marriage.
Female Role Model 8: Mhairi Black – Scotland
In March 2018, Mhairi Black, Paisley and Renfrewshire South MP (SNP), took a stand against the torrent of misogynistic online harassment that she and other female politicians and public figures had been facing on a constant basis. Black did so powerfully by giving a powerful speech about it in parliament which included reading the horrific threats and abuse that she had received verbatim. She made this speech during a Westminster Hall debate in which calls were raised for misogyny to be treated as a hate crime and the video of it went viral. Black said about online gender-based violence: “I don’t think that’s normal and I think it’s fair to say that’s something maybe that we should be looking at – something we should be talking about – because I’m blessed in that I have the same right and influence as any other elected man in this place, but what about all the female staff in here who don’t?”
Female Role Model 9: Nice Nailantei Leng’ete – Kenya
When Nice Nailantei Leng’ete was 8, she and her sister ran away from her village in Kenya to avoid the traditional Maasai practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Her sister eventually stopped running but Leng’ete stood her ground and refused to be subjected to the ritual. Today, she works with AMREF Health Africa in Kenya and Tanzania to help thousands of other Kenyan girls escape FGM and forced marriage, so they can stay in school and pursue their dreams. Leng’ete told Health.com: “I think my hope is that every young girl can become the woman of her dreams. If she really wanted to be a doctor or a teacher, I want to make sure that we are giving them that platform. We are protecting them from all these harmful practices, and they are able to become anything they want to become in life.”
Female Role Model 10: Madhumita Pandey – India
Following the brutal gang rape of Jyoti Singh (Nirbhaya) in 2012, Madhumita Pandey started interviewing rapists at Tihar Central Jail in New Delhi. These interviews formed the seed of what became her doctoral research at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK. Since then, Pandey has interviewed over 100 men convicted for rape in India. She writes in Quartz: “As one of the first studies to take into account the perspectives of convicted rapists in India, my aim was to understand the attitudes these men have towards their victims and how this thinking contributes to the endemic sexual violence that women experience in the country.” In an interview with Bustle, she notes: “When I went to research, I was convinced these men are monsters. But when you talk to them, you realise these are not extraordinary men, they are really ordinary. What they’ve done is because of upbringing and thought process.”
Female Role Model 11: Nasreen Sheikh – Nepal
At 11 years old, Nasreen Sheikh ran away from the small village on the Nepal/India border where she was born, becoming the first young woman in the history of her village to escape forced marriage. She started work in a Kathmandu sweatshop, where she worked 12 to 15 hours a day sewing garments for a large export company and sleeping on the floor. At 16, she became a social entrepreneur when she launched Local Women’s Handicrafts, a women’s sewing collective selling bags, scarves, wallets and shirts. Shortly after, she founded L.O.C.W.O.M., a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating women and children. Nasreen is determined to succeed, telling Forbes: “If I do not succeed I will shame my family and the people from my village will point to me as an example of what happens when a woman tries to move above her place.”
Female Role Model 12: Rema Rajeshwari – India
Rema Rajeshwari, the female superintendent of police in the Indian the state of Telangana is at the forefront of pushing change in how India deals with sexual violence against women. As part of her work, Rajeshwari routinely sends officers out to rural communities to gain the confidence of local leaders and change their attitudes about women reporting crimes to police. She also helped launch “SHE Teams,” groups of specially trained officers in Telangana state trained to tackle the chronic street harassment of women. In an interview with CBC Radio, Rajeshwari said: “Fighting the mindset of society is a huge battle for every woman in uniform. I have a responsibility to leave a legacy for the women who are going to join the force in the future.”
Female Role Model 13: Salma Belhassine – Tunisia
Salma Belhassine is a Tunisian street harassment activist who led efforts to put together SafeNes, a mobile app that connects victims with NGOs specialising in stopping sexual harassment or to directly contact lawyers to get help. SafeNes provides users with a way to report sexual harassment and to designate a trusted person to track their movements when they’re somewhere unsafe. The app will eventually also provide videos for teaching self-defence, safe-zone maps, and provide information about the legal procedures following a sexual harassment report. Ms Belhassine said: “It would be a better world if women and girls felt safe in public spaces. Women would be more active, more productive.”
Female Role Model 14: Tarana Burke – United States of America
Tarana Burke – a survivor of sexual violence herself and currently the senior director of Girls For Gender Equity – is the founder of the #MeToo movement in 2006 which went viral on social in 2017 thanks to the Harvey Weinstein case – a full decade after she first coined the hashtag. Hailing from the Bronx, New York, Burke is a lifelong activist who began fighting for human rights at the age of 14. Currently, Burke is working through the #MeToo movement to build a global community, both online and offline, to provide help and guidance for survivors of sexual violence. In 2018, Burke was honoured as one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. Speaking to The Guardian, Burke said: “There is inherent strength in agency. And #MeToo, in a lot of ways, is about agency. It’s not about giving up your agency, it’s about claiming it.”
Female Role Model 15: Zainab Fayez – Afghanistan
As the only woman serving as a prosecutor in Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar, Zainab Fayez has resolved 50 cases of Violence against Women, and helped detain 21 male abusers, including police officials, in 2017. She is a graduate of the Sharia faculty of Kabul University and has taken on cases that deal with issues such as child marriage, domestic violence, sexual assault, the denial of inheritance rights, and access to education. The next nearest female prosecutor (Maria Bashir) is based 500 kilometres away in Herat province. Fayez hopes that one day there will be enough female lawyers to join forces in the fight for women’s rights. She told The Guardian: “My aim is to see the next generation of Afghan women empowered. In Kandahar, it is very hard for a woman to work alone in an office, which is predominantly occupied by male staff members and where women as workers are taboo.”
Female Role Model 16: Zaynub Afinnih – France and Sudan
When 16-year-old Zainab Afinnih who was based in Rouen, France, heard the story of a 19-year-old Noura Hussein who was sentenced to death in Sudan for killing her husband who raped her, she started a global petition campaign, ‘Justice for Noura’ calling for the Sudanese government to pardon Hussein. The campaign garnered 700,000 signatures and resulted in Hussein’s sentence being commuted from death to 5 years in prison. Afinnih told CNN: “I don’t know her … I’ve never spoken to her. But she is my sister in humanity. I can’t let her die for defending herself against the man who raped her.”
- Chino – From “Japanese actress accuses director, starts #MeToo group” (AP News)
- Christine Blasey Ford – By United States Senate cameras. Official video by the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, as posted to www.judiciary.senate.gov. (www.judiciary.senate.gov and YouTube.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Elisa Iannacone – From “Wave Of Change: Photographer and Sexual Assault Survivor Shines A Light On Psychological Impacts Of Sexual Abuse” (Chiara Brambilla/Newsweek)
- Jan Logie – By Green Party NZ – Green Party NZ, CC BY-SA 4.0, (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17494690)
- Khadijah Siddiqi – From “Stab victim Khadija Siddiqi: ‘My case is a fight for all Pakistani women” (Shafaq n Kami Studios/The Observer)
- Lucia Annibali – By dati.camera.it, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67610343
- Memory Chazeza Mdyetseni – From “Malawi Woman Resists Early Marriage, Provides Education to Girls” (http://learningenglish.voa.com)
- Mhairi Black – By Chris McAndrew – https://beta.parliament.uk/media/qB5UDv5a, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61317808
- Nice Nailantei Leng’ete – By Diario de Madrid – Diario de Madrid – La mesa sobre Violencia de Género reclama competencias para los Ayuntamientos destinadas a atajar esta lacra, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66077711
- Madhumita Pandey – From “A woman interviewed 100 convicted rapists in India. This is what she learned.” (Madhumita Pandey/The Washington Post)
- Nasreen Sheikh – From Local Women’s Handicrafts Nepal
- Rema Rajeshwari – From WorldFellows.Yale.Edu
- Salma Belhassine – From “From where I stand: “It would be a better world if women felt safe in public spaces”” (Ryan Brown/UN Women)
- Tarana Burke – By Brittany “B.Monét” Fennell – She’s Revolutionary at 01:10, cropped, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71293066
- Zainab Fayez – From “’I want to empower Afghan women’: female prosecutor on a lonely mission” (tolonews.com/The Guardian)
- Zaynub Afinnish – From “The young activist fighting for Sudanese teen on death row” (edition.cnn.com)