With the new administration continuing to test its power, protests and marches continue to fill the streets of the United States. As many of you know, I attended the Women’s March on Denver two weeks ago and have been watching the news quite closely ever since. After the Women’s March, the feeds of my social media accounts were flooded with videos of speeches made during those marches from some very brave, strong and angry women who will not take any of this lying down.
I was so inspired by these women that I decided to feature women activists on this week’s Badass Women. Before doing the research for this column, I hadn’t heard of any of these women, despite the impactful and important work they are doing. And while celebrities are lending their status and support to the overarching cause of preserving democracy, it is also important to recognize the front-line work being done behind the scenes — the work we never see or hear about. I hope the amazingly strong, motivated women listed below inspire you as much as they have me.
1. Malika Saada Saar
In my former job as a crime reporter, I attended several trainings regarding sexual violence and human trafficking. It was unbelievable to hear how easy it is for traffickers to steal a young person away from their safe, comfortable life, make them feel unworthy, and use them as if they were nothing more than objects. Malika Saada Saar founded the the Human Rights Project for Girls, or Rights4Girls, whose mission is to end sex trafficking and gender-based violence in the United States. Saar was instrumental in shutting down websites and portions of websites that featured sex ads, often leading to the trafficking of children for sex. As a human rights lawyer, she advocated for many women and won millions in federal funding for the treatment for victims, as well as preventative work for at-risk families.
Overall, Saar and her organization are working to improve the lives of women and girls in a society were domestic violence, human trafficking and assault seem to be a growing presence. Her work is some of the most important to be done in today’s world, when the people must stand up for the changes they want to see.
2. Wagatwe Wanjuki
Wagatwe Wanjuki is a powerhouse activist who has taken the media by storm. Wanjuki’s journey began during her years at Tufts University when she attempted to gain help from the school in dealing with her rapist, a fellow student. But when the school refused, Wanjuki set out on a mission to hold the university accountable for its students’ safety. This was in 2008. Now, Wanjuki is a sought-after writer, speaker and expert on sexual assault, rape culture and gender-based violence. In July 2016, she co-founded Survivors Eradicating Rape Culture, an anti-rape organization designed to give survivors the chance to tell their stories and be heard, while also using them to educate about sexual violence and bring about change. The organization’s goal is to completely eradicate gender-based violence by taking a proactive approach to the problem.
Campus-based sexual violence has recently come into the spotlight over the years, as colleges are now being called upon to better handle the situation and victims of sexual violence when they are reported. Wanjuki was very much a pioneer for this movement and her work continues to grace mainstream media in the pursuit of awareness and education.
3. Asieh Amini
Asieh Amini grew up in a relatively conservative home in Iran, attended school and began working as a journalist in some of the most prominent papers in the country. But everything changed when she heard the story of a young girl who was hanged for “acts incompatible with chastity.” Amini began researching the life of this young girl and learned that at the age of 9, the girl had been raped by a neighbor who paid her for her silence. But he kept coming back and brought other men as well. Eventually the Iranian Police arrested and lashed her multiple times before she was sentenced to death. Stories of the honor killings of young girls whose indecency came from abuse and rape continued to find Amini and she became an activist for the young girls who faced prison and the death penalty through the shirking of outdated laws.
Amini later started a campaign called Stop Stoning Forever, in which they joined with other feminists in Iran and abroad to continue educating the public about the ongoing use of antiquated laws and punishments. When papers refused to publish their findings, they would send them to international human rights groups, which would wield power over the Iranian government. Amini went from a conservative poet and journalist to an international, highly-effective activist. There is so much more to talk about in Amini’s incredible work. For a more complete version of her story, see this article in the New Yorker.
4. Melina Laboucan-Massimo
For many activists, and women’s rights activists in particular, much of the work being done seeks to give a voice to the voiceless. In Melina Laboucan-Massimo’s case, her voiceless subjects are literally lost. Laboucan-Massimo is a Canadian member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation who has been an active voice indigenous rights for the past decade. Loubucan-Massimo works with Greenpeace to protect the lands and waters of First Nation tribes through her writing and multimedia work.
However, through her work with the Canadian government in preserving indigenous rights, she also encountered another issue. Over 4,000 indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered over the past three decades in Canada, reports AJ+. Laboucan-Massimo’s sister was one of them, who’s death remains unsolved today. Laboucan-Massimo recently began to advocate for this oversight by the government and the targeting of and lack of resources for indigenous families overall. On the AJ+ Facebook page, Laboucan-Massimo talks about the current situation and the need for more help and support from the Canadian government.
5. Sonita Alizadeh
When Sonita Alizadeh was 10 years old living in Afghanistan, her parents tried to sell her as a bride. But when the proposal fell through, her family fled to Iran to escape the Taliban. In Iran, Alizadeh discovered rap music, which inspired her to write her own songs. When she entered one into a U.S. competition about getting Afghan people to vote, she won. Then, when she was 16, Alizadeh’s mother attempted to sell her as a bride again. But she refused. Alizadeh went on to record and film a music video entitled “Daughters for Sale,” which became a hit among Afghan women and gained international attention for the issue of child brides in the Middle East.
Today, Alizadeh is studying music and continues to write songs that have been described as “fiercely feminist,” and deal with the issues and barriers women face around the world. A docu-drama about her life, titled Sonita, was created in 2015 and showed for the first time at the International Documentary Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
What women activists inspire you? How has activism become crucial in today’s society around the world? What can we do to change our world for the better? Let’s talk.