Women’s Leadership Challenge would like to pay homage to women around the world who are putting their own lives at risk in efforts to advocate women’s rights. Women who have put their life on the line for other women. (Taken from The Daily Beast website)
At 19 years old, Noorjahan Akbar’s impassioned activism seems beyond her years. She has spearheaded efforts in her native Afghanistan ranging from a program called Voices for Hope, which teaches Afghan orphans creative writing, to rallying young people to campaign for Hamid Karzai’s challenger in the 2009 presidential election in an effort to change “politics as usual.” But Akbar’s most recent initiative is her most ambitious. In April 2011, Akbar cofounded Young Women for Change, dedicated to working for gender equality in Afghanistan. Just a few months after launching, YWC staged a march against street harassment in Kabul, a rare form of protest in the country.
As Bahrain’s most prolific blogger, Zainab al-Khawaja has many reasons to be angry. In December she was arrested at an antigovernment protest, gaining fame as pictures of her being dragged across the ground spread around the Internet. Al-Khawaja’s father is Bahrain’s most well-known political dissident; along with her husband and three other male relatives, he has been imprisoned since after the start of Bahrain’s Arab Spring in February 2011. Her arrest and the imprisonment of her family members haven’t deterred the blogger, who swears to continue protesting and tweeting until there is democracy in her country.
Tunisian journalist Sihem Bensedrine spent 20 years exposing human-rights violations under the repressive regime of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali at great risk to herself and her family. In the late ’90s she founded an independent news website and started two organizations: one monitoring Tunisia’s human-rights conditions and the other promoting freedom of speech. Despite multiple beatings and a two-month imprisonment in 2001, Bensedrine didn’t waver in her devotion to raising awareness. In 2009, with her safety in jeopardy, she fled the country. Bensedrine returned when Ben Ali was overthrown in January 2011 to take the lead of the Arab Working Group for Media Monitoring.
A 32-year-old Cincinnati native, Jessica Buchanan is an educator, activist, and missionary who fell in love with Africa and its people while serving as a teacher in Nairobi. She returned in 2007, working first as a teacher and then with the Danish Demining Group, an organization that works to clean up land mines. It was with that group that she traveled to Somalia in 2010, serving as a regional education adviser. And it was there, after leading a workshop on defusing mines, that Buchanan and fellow aid worker Poul Hagen Thisted were kidnapped by Somali bandits, who held the pair hostage for the next four months. They were freed in January after a daring early-morning raid by Navy SEALs.
The veteran war correspondent, born on Long Island and educated at Yale, died Feb. 22 in Syria during the shelling of the city of Homs. The 55-year-old is remembered fondly by those who knew her over her long and storied career. After graduating from college, Colvin went to work as a crime reporter for United Press International, where she rose to the position of Paris bureau chief in 1984. She moved to Britain’s Sunday Times in 1985, remaining there for the rest of her career. She was always on the front lines, losing her left eye while covering the Sri Lanka civil war in 2001, and was filing reports from the beleaguered Syrian city right up until her death.
Mona Eltahawy became a public face of the Egyptian revolution in November 2011 when she refused to be silenced by violence and intimidation. An award-winning columnist covering Arab and Muslim issues, Eltahawy was reporting from the front line of the Cairo protests when she was arrested, beaten, and sexually assaulted by security forces. She walked away from her ordeal with two broken arms and a determination to speak out and fight the forces of oppression. As she tweeted after her arrest, “The whole time I was thinking about the article I would write.” Eltahawy plans to pursue a lawsuit against her assailants and has continued her support for the Arab Spring movement.
Women are still prohibited from serving on the front lines of combat, but in ongoing conflicts they have been stepping up in unprecedented ways. In Afghanistan, a program called the Female Engagement Team has become what one military spokesperson called a “game changer.” So far, 160 female volunteers have accompanied infantrymen into some of the most dangerous parts of the country, engaging Afghan women and acting as key counterinsurgency support. The response from Afghans has been tremendous: both men and women tend to talk more openly to the FET than to male Marines. The project has aided the argument for lifting the ban on women in combat.
In 2000 Masha Gessen became, she says, the first journalist to be blacklisted by then-Russian president Vladimir Putin. Since then she’s been subjected to robberies, threats, and intimidation, including one ominous phone call in which she was told that she would be “sorry.” In Russia such threats are not to be taken lightly: journalist Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated in 2006, on Putin’s birthday, and in 2003 investigative journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin died after being poisoned. But Gessen—whose dual Russian/U.S. citizenship means she could easily leave Moscow for safer shores—refuses to be silenced. In February she published The Man Without a Face, a critical look at Putin’s rise and reign.
In 1974, when Park Geun-hye was 22, her mother, the first lady of South Korea, was assassinated, leaving Park to assume her duties. Five years later, her father, the president, was assassinated too—by his own chief of intelligence. Now a politician in her own right, Park is in her fourth parliamentary term and is widely considered the favorite to be the next president of South Korea.
In 1977, Argentina’s Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo united, dedicating themselves to rescuing the children and grandchildren who were kidnapped during the Dirty War. Though up to 30,000 people “disappeared,” the group has rescued more than 100 of the 500 estimated missing babies who survived and were raised by government supporters. Thanks to its efforts, the international community recognized the quiet genocide and aided in finding remains, thus providing closure for countless families. The group’s efforts also led to the trials and convictions of several former military leaders, including dictator Jorge Rafael Videla.
A lawyer, human-rights activist, and director of China’s first legal-aid organization devoted exclusively to women, Guo Jianmei has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and was the recipient of a 2011 International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. State Department. Now called the Beijing Zhongzhe Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Center, Guo’s nonprofit provides legal counsel for victims of sexual harassment and assault. In conjunction with Women’s Watch–China, the center released a survey late last year showing that 20 percent of Chinese workers have been sexually harassed—the vast majority of them women.
Despite suffering beatings, harassment, and a violent detention by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Parisa Hafezi, Reuters’ Tehran bureau chief, insisted on staying in Iran to report on the protests following the contested 2009 election. For her, any other action was out of the question. Hafezi stood her ground against the threats, insisting on printing the dateline on her bureau’s dispatches to prove it was reporting on the ground, protecting her sources despite government intimidation, and withstanding raids on her home and office. And for these bold actions, she was awarded the International Women’s Media Foundation 2011 Courage in Journalism Award.
A journalist and daughter of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Faezeh Hashemi has long been fighting for gender equality in her country. In 1998 she founded Zan, a newspaper advocating women’s political rights. It was banned a year later, after it leaked a list of activists marked for death by the Iranian government. Hashemi was recently sentenced to jail and banned from political activities for “anti-state propaganda” linked to her involvement in the 2009 Iranian election protests.
After escaping an intended forced marriage by fleeing to the Netherlands, Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali eventually became a representative in the Dutch Parliament and worked to further the integration of non-Western immigrants in the Netherlands. She is a founding member of the AHA Foundation, which aims to protect the rights of women and children with fundamentalist Islamic backgrounds who are subjected to genital mutilation, forced marriage, and honor violence. Ali authored the 2007 memoir Infidel and is a 2012 fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
With her older brother away studying in Kabul and her younger brother too small to carry a weapon, Hokmina was tasked with protecting her family during the Soviet war. So Hokmina’s father—a local politician—masqueraded her as a boy. Years later Hokmina still chooses pants and a black turban—often with an AK-47 strapped to her shoulder—to the burqas worn by most Afghan women. As a provincial council member in Afghanistan’s Tani district, in the eastern province of Khost, Hokmina has risen up the ranks of Afghan politics and has become a champion for local legal rights, working tirelessly for underprivileged women in her region.
When a high court in Egypt ruled that it was illegal for the military to force women to submit to virginity tests, women all over the country had Samira Ibrahim to thank. A 25-year-old marketing manager, Ibrahim was detained on March 9, 2011, at a rally and held for four days. In that time, she says soldiers repeatedly beat her, gave her electric shocks, screamed at her, and forced her to strip for a man in the military. Ibrahim sued because, she says, “I will not give up my rights as a woman or as a human being.”
Daily unrest on the Philippine island of Mindanao—ongoing since the early 1970s—had made business life impossible in the small village of Dano; the women couldn’t sell goods at the market for fear of violence, and the main road between towns had been closed. But in late 2011, Hasna Kandatu and Ainon Kamanza, two members of a U.N.-sponsored sewing collective in the tiny town, decided to employ an ancient tactic to stop a separatist rebellion in their region: they withheld sex from their husbands until they promised to quit fighting. The strategy worked. It took only days for sectarian struggles to quell, and the main road to be reopened.
One of the three Nobel Peace Prizes awarded in 2011 went to Tawakkol Karman, known in Yemen as the “Mother of the Revolution.” The 33-year-old journalist and mother of three helped spark Yemen’s pro-democracy uprising as one of the organizers of last January’s “Day of Rage” in the capital, Sanaa. Despite an arrest and death threats directed at her family, the face of Yemen’s Arab Spring camped out in protester-occupied “Change Square” and demanded President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down. On her first return to Yemen since receiving the prize, Karman swore she’d press on until the former president, and all those involved in killing demonstrators, are put on trial.
The only girl in her family allowed to go to school, Fawzia Koofi has emerged as one of Afghanistan’s leading women’s-rights activists. After seven years in Parliament, Koofi’s title as first female deputy speaker is unprecedented in the conservative, male-dominated country. Her progressive views and fearless nature have made her a target for attack. Despite the dangers, she’s decided to run for president in 2014, a move that she knows will infuriate the Taliban. Undeterred, she told The Daily Beast, “For as long as I am alive, I will not rest in my desire to lead my people out of an abyss of corruption and poverty.”
A victim of sexual violence herself, Dr. Sunitha Krishnan has personally rescued around 2,000 women from servitude in India’s brothels, and her organization has freed thousands more. She cofounded Prajwala, a NGO that educates children of survivors in 18 transitional centers, runs shelters for hundreds of victims, and partners with corporations to provide them with training and jobs. Dr. Krishnan has paid a price for providing services and shelter to exploited women: she can no longer hear out of her right ear as a result of more than a dozen brutal beatings from traffickers.
CBS war correspondent Lara Logan long reported the news before she became part of it. A native of South Africa, Logan has repeatedly put herself in the line of fire, fearlessly reporting from the front lines of Afghanistan and Iraq. Her closest brush with death, though, came not on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq but in the heart of revolutionary Cairo, where she was beaten and sexually assaulted while covering the resignation of Hosni Mubarak. Her story highlighted the added peril that female reporters can face when covering war zones.
On Jan. 18, 2011, 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz uploaded a short video to YouTube and Facebook in which she announced, “Whoever says women shouldn’t go to protests because they will get beaten, let him have some honor and manhood and come with me on Jan. 25.” The video went viral, and she is now called the “leader of the revolution” by many in Egypt. Mahfouz has since won numerous awards for kicking off the “youth revolution” in the Middle East that buttressed the freedoms won during the Arab Spring.
Chinese human-rights advocate Mao Hengfeng has been subjected to the most brutal treatment at the hands of her own country. Because of her refusal to abort her second pregnancy, in accordance with China’s laws on family size, Mao was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and, later, into custody at Shanghai Prison. Since her battle with her own government began, Mao has become an advocate for reproductive rights in China, as well as a vocal supporter at the trial of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel laureate. For her advocacy work she has been arrested, detained, and tortured numerous times.
With foreign journalists banned from Tunisia, and the national media controlled by the government, Lina Ben Mhenni, the author of the blog A Tunisian Girl, gave voice to the uprising in her country. Ben Mhenni’s dispatches from the massacres at Regueb and Kasserine ensured that the world knew just how dangerous the situation had become. But her most significant act of bravery didn’t involve battle zones or bloodshed: Ben Mhenni didn’t hide behind a pseudonym for her online activism when former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was still in power—which meant being followed by police, having her blog censored, and living under constant surveillance.
In Uganda, homosexuality is illegal—punishable with prison sentences of up to 14 years. As founder and executive director of Freedom and Roam Uganda—one of the country’s few LGBT-rights organizations—Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera isn’t just thumbing her nose at the possibility of jail, but also in the face of death threats. Her name was among those published on a “gay list,” under the heading “Hang Them.” Her colleague, David Kato, was also on that list, and was murdered three months later. As a result, Nabagesera moves from one house to another, afraid to stay too long in one place. Yet despite it all, she perseveres on behalf of gays and lesbians in Uganda with tremendous courage and strength.
A voice of courage in a lawless setting, self-taught Congolese radio journalist Chouchou Namegabe uses her microphone to raise awareness about the hundreds of thousands of women and children who have been raped and tortured as a tactic of war. In 2003, she founded the South Kivu Women’s Media Association, which trains female journalists and champions women’s rights. Airing the testimonies of rape survivors remains controversial, and Namegabe and her fellow journalists live under constant threat.
Mexican drug cartels have threatened her life and killed her colleagues, but this journalist refuses to quit exposing their activities. As general director of Tijuana-based Zeta magazine, Adela Navarro Bello fearlessly criticizes the Mexican government’s handling of the drug war and corruption in that country. In 2011 she was awarded the Courage in Journalism honor by the International Women’s Media Foundation.
A young Somali journalist based in Kenya, Fatuma Noor’s investigative stories earned her the Features Writer of the Year award in 2010 by Radio Africa Limited. Growing up in a Somali family in Kenya, Noor was taught that it was wrong for a woman to raise an opinion in front of men—women in her country still cannot travel for work without being accompanied by a relative. Despite these obstacles, Noor fearlessly reports on gender injustice in her country.
The Gulabi Gang, a.k.a. India’s Pink Brigade, is a powerful collective of women fighting injustices like abuse and political corruption in one of India’s poorest states. Its members sheathed in vibrant pink saris, the group first gained fame in 2006 by physically attacking abusers of women; it has since grown to more than 20,000 strong, including a new chapter in Paris. Some of the women have been elected to public office, but many would rather remain outside the system, avoiding the violence than can result from speaking out.
Ai-jen Poo is the tireless advocate for women whose work goes mostly uncelebrated and unseen: the immigrant domestic workers in homes, schools, and businesses across the U.S. A founder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, she lobbied for a domestic laborer’s bill of rights to give the mostly female workforce freedoms they were largely excluded from before. She committed herself to the cause after being enslaved for 16 years in a home caring for children with no pay.
Pakistan’s new ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman, has spent her entire career pushing for human rights and free speech in one of the world’s most conservative countries—first as an award-winning journalist, then in politics as Central Information secretary in the National Assembly. During her time in Parliament, Rehman worked closely with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto to author bills that battled honor killings and domestic violence and ensured freedom of the press. Her success came with dangers: in 2010, her work to abolish the death penalty for blasphemy made her a target of religious extremists. Rehman was forced to go into self-imposed house arrest.
Sharmila, called the “Iron Lady of Manipur,” has been refusing food for 12 years; her fast is often called the longest hunger strike in history. She is protesting the Indian military’s brutality against civilians.
Released in 2010 from a house arrest that totaled 15 years, Aung San Suu Kyi is an international emblem of power through peace. A political heavyweight and peace activist who speaks of the “corruptibility of fear,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner was held against her will by the military junta ruling Burma, but she refused to abandon her home and fellow activists. In 2011, she was awarded the Wallenberg Medal for her humanitarian efforts.
After Salmaan Taseer, the outspoken governor of the Punjab region of Pakistan, was assassinated by his own guard in January 2011, his daughter emerged to carry on his quest for a progressive and secular Pakistan. Shehrbano Taseer, a journalist for NewsweekPakistan, has been braving death threats. Despite the danger, Taseer is determined to eliminate the country’s strict blasphemy laws, which are often invoked to execute religious minorities.
When Razan Zaitouneh heard Syrian state television describe her as a foreign agent, she knew it was time to flee her country. The 34-year-old lawyer and cofounder of two Syrian human-rights groups had spent months reporting on police and military brutality against protesters during the country’s Arab Spring uprising and passing it along to international media. Zaitouneh has been in hiding since March 2011; still, her efforts to broadcast the plight of Syria’s opposition were recognized globally when she received the prestigious Anna Politkovskaya Award last October.
Using her blog to write about the disappearance of her husband, human-rights activist Hu Jia, Zeng Jinyan became a one-woman force against the Chinese government in 2006. In response, she was placed under house arrest and her blog was blocked in China. The watchful eye and constant harassment of authorities didn’t deter her activism, and Zeng continued to maintain her blog while Hu was sent to three years of “re-education through labor” in 2007. Then, one day before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Zeng and her baby daughter disappeared. She has since been released, and continues to tell her story. Arianna Huffington called Chinese blogger and activist Zeng Jinyan “Tiananmen 2.0.”
She spent 11 years behind bars in Burma because of her role in pro-democracy student uprisings. Once released, she continued to campaign for the cause.