Malala Yousafzai once said, “There is a moment when you have to choose – whether to be silent or whether to stand up.” The female heroes of the human rights movement have relentlessly fought for equality and basic human rights. Their efforts have led to small victories, but their fight is far from over. Scroll down below to find out more about the stories of today’s wonder women. Here are 10 incredible women fighting for human rights:
10. Emma Watson
Among the young women fighting for humans rights today, Watson takes a forefront. Feminism used to be such a confusing term. Famous personalities have criticized the movement with absurd interpretations of its definition. The public perceived feminism as a movement that aimed to become more powerful than the patriarchy or a movement that intended to hate the patriarchy. In short, feminism was about going to war with men. These absurd notions of feminism thankfully stopped, when Emma Watson or the real-life Hermione Granger, gave a game-changing speech on gender equality. The equal rights activist defined feminism as “the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” To achieve this equality, she invited men to be a part of feminism and to join the HeForShe campaign.
Despite her awe-inspiring speech, Emma Watson received threats from the opposition. One website threatened to release her naked photos on the Internet. She replied, “If they were trying to put me off, it did the opposite.”
9. Sima Samar
There are girls banned from riding bicycles. There are girls banned from staying out late. Time passes and these girls turn into women. They are forbidden from getting an education. They are forced into prostitution. This is the reality in Afghanistan; a conservative country where the future seems bleak. In the midst of all these problems, is a woman named Simi Samar– Afghanistan’s beacon of hope.
Sima Samar is an educator for women, a fighter for human rights, a doctor for the poor and among the among the women fighting for human rights. She founded the Shuhada Organization, which focused on giving education and healthcare to women. The organization now operates 15 clinics, 3 hospitals and more than a hundred schools. She also created the first-ever Ministry of Women’s Affairs in the Interim Administration of Afghanistan and she has worked as a chair in the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission.
To continue her fight for equality, she puts her own life at risk every single day. Her ideas have been met with so much opposition, that she is provided with an armored car and four bodyguards. But for Samar, she doesn’t mind. Her fight for equality and human rights is a greater concern.
8. Lyudmila Alexeyava
At 85, Lyudmila Alexeyava may look like a fragile old lady, but in reality she ranks among women fighting for human rights. This human rights legend has a daunting track record. In a New Year’s Eve protest, Alexeyava dressed as a Snow Maiden and was arrested together with other protesters. When officials realized that they had arrested the ‘real’ Lyudmila Alexeyeva they hurriedly apologized and let her go. But it was too late. Photos of the 82 year old activist being detained went viral. The following day Russian leaders were criticized by the President of the European Parliament, JeryBuzek and the United Nations Security Council for imprisoning an old lady in New Year’s Eve. Such is the legendary status of Alexeyava, that she is considered void of persecution and given airtime on Russian television.
What makes this woman a force to be reckoned with? In 1976 Alexeyeva co-founded the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG), which monitored human rights violations in the Soviet Era. In the 60s, she engaged in dissident and ‘samazit’ deeds, which include the secret distribution and publication of literature forbidden by the government. After being forced into exile, she settled in the United States and continued irritating Russian authorities by working for the Voice of America, Radio Liberty and writing her famous book ‘Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights.’ After she was granted access back to Russia, she remained an unstoppable force in the fight for human rights.
7. Queen Rania
Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan became Queen at the age of 29, when Prince Abdullah Bin Al-Hussein II ascended the throne in 1999. But if you think that Queen Rania is just another rich monarch with a pretty face, then think again. Rania is among the several women fighting for human rights. She made use of her title for advocating women and children’s rights. She is the head of Jordan’s Human Rights Commission, the Family Safety Council and a member of the UNICEF Global Leadership Initiative, where she works to change the unjust laws and practices in the Middle East. Her efforts are aimed at finding a balance between human rights and cultural traditions. Queen Rania also loves promoting IT, which she believes will be the key in increasing quality education and access to diverse opportunities.
We must all be pretty astounded because Rania’s achievements pale in comparison to whatever we have achieved in life. Promoting human rights and technology are only one part of her list of achievements. Queen Rania was also a board member of the World Economic Forum in 2002 and she has also created The Queen Rania Center for Entrepreneurship. She firmly believes that supporting small businesses, income-generating projects and providing small loans for the poor will help her citizens break economic barriers. Her tasks are daunting, but all these efforts are just the beginning for Queen Rania.
6. Obiageli Ezekwesili
Last 2014, extremists under Boko Haram raided a girls’ dorm and kidnapped 200 school girls. This horrifying event defined the #BringBackOurGirls campaign which took social media by storm. Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, and Emma Watson among many others—tweeted with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls to show their collective outrage.
How it all began? Obiageli Ezekwesili besides being among the women fighting for human rights, she is a former Nigerian Minister of Education, and former World Bank Vice President for Africa, contacted government agencies, TV stations and politicians to help get the girls back. Her efforts were shunned. Infuriated by the indifference of the media and the government, she co-founded the Bring Back Our Girls movement together with three other Nigerian women. She began the campaign by leading a protest in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. A Twitter hashtag of the movement’s name eventually went viral on Twitter with Ezekwesili leading the online movement.
5. Tawakkol Karman
The World Economic Forum has labeled Yemen as the worst place to be a woman. Yemeni women are pressured to stay at home, to have no job and to avoid an education. Young girls get married starting from the age of 8 and receive unequal rights to divorce, inheritance and custody. Women are not the only victims. The human rights issue in Yemen faces multiple challenges. Journalists are assaulted, children become soldiers, and young offenders face the death penalty. In these dark times, the “mother of the revolution” has consistently fought for the rights of every human being in Yemen. Her name is Tawakkol Karman and she ranks among women fighting for human rights.
Tawakkol Karman’s reputation is daunting. She founded the organization Women Journalists without Chains (WJWC). The organization aimed to promote the rights of media workers and to expose situations of severe injustice. But perhaps her greatest achievement is gaining the title “iron woman” and “mother of the revolution” for leading the Yemeni uprising. In the nine months of the revolution, her voice has lead thousands of youth protesters in the fight for change. Her activism led to her arrest, which further fueled resentment and gave way to even larger protests. The widespread uprising paved the way for her Nobel Peace Prize last 2011. But with the threat of the Houthi rebels still ongoing, the fight for Yemen is far from over.
4. Shirin Ebadi
Shirin Ebadi is an activist for human rights in Iran– a country with a reputation for resisting change and mandating conservativism. Her fight began in 1979. Ebadi, who was the first female judge, was demoted as a clerk in court. The reason? She was a woman. Instead of being deterred, the injustice sparked a fire inside her that lead her to become of the women fighting for human rights in Iran. The loss of her judiciary position inspired her to fight against severe injustice. As a lawyer, she defended the most defenseless citizens such as women and political revolutionaries. She also took the lead in changing the Iranian family law in aspects such as divorce, inheritance and child custody. Her efforts to create change came at the cost of her own freedom. She spent three weeks in jail. To make matters worse, she was banned from exercising her profession for five years.
Despite all these challenges, she has also faced major victories. In 2003, she became the first ever Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She is now using her platform to ignite local and international awareness on human rights.
3. Leymah Gbowee
In her 2012 Ted Talk, Leymah Gbowee tells the story of the women of Liberia. One teenager was raped every day in exchange for a scholarship. Another woman wished to be educated so she sold soft drinks, water and anything she could think of. Instead of using the money for herself, the woman gave it to her sisters to use for their own education. Others stories are her own failures. A mother begged Gbowee to take her daughter with her, but Gbowee couldn’t. Another is the tale of an orphaned child called “Pig” who begged Gbowee to take her, but again Gbowee couldn’t. Her reason? She was a single mother with four children. She was dirt poor, had no money and lived with her parents. Her last story is her very own. Her son wanted a doughnut because he was every hungry, but again she could not do anything. She was dirt poor, had no money and lived with her parents. She failed again. She was angry, mad and frustrated. This led her to create a movement that would change the history of Liberia.
The Liberian Mass Action for Peace is a movement of thousands of Christian and Muslim women, who are tired of hearing the painful stories of Liberia. Led by Gbowee, these women executed a sit-in at a fish market. They informed their ruthless President Taylor that they would not move until he agreed to a meeting. The pressure was intense. When Gbowee met the President face to face, she said, “We are tired! We are tired of our children being killed! We are tired of being raped!” Her call for peace ended in victory. Taylor resigned and Gbowee paved the way for Ellen Johnson’s path as Liberia’s first female President. Gbowee now ranks among the top women fighting for human rights and leads the Liberia Reconciliation Initiative and the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa. Thanks to the success of her movement, Liberia is becoming a brighter place for women and children. Gbowee is among the women fighting for human rights.
2. Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the leader of Burma’s National League for Democracy. Her heroic efforts began in 1988 when thousands of people joined massive rallies against the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSSP) regime. In these dark times, Aung San Suu Kyi the daughter of Aung San (Father of the Nation of Modern day Myanmar), followed her father’s footsteps by fighting for a better Burma. She bravely spoke out in a gigantic protest in Rangoon, which increased the public clamor for democracy. The military government responded by killing or detaining the leaders of the protests. Despite more violent encounters, such as soldiers trapping her in her car for days and paid thugs assaulting her supporters — Aung San Suu Kyi continued her cause.
In 2012, she was elected as a part of the Lower House of the Burmese Parliament. Her goals for Burma remain firm: to achieve democracy, to return to real elections, to release political prisoners and to end government’s use of force and fear.
1. Malala Yousafzai
It isn’t surprising that Malala topped our list of women fighting for human rights. Malala was born in 1997, to a family that believed in the importance of service and learning. In fact, one of her greatest inspirations may be her very own father– Ziauddin Yousafzai. He was a school director who believed in teaching young girls, as well as a community leader and an activist. Malala and her father’s stance on education would later be tested in 2007– when the Taliban began to dominate in her home region.
Malala witnessed inhumane practices under the Taliban rule. The group publicly executed murderers or adulterers, amputated people convicted of theft and banned television, music and film. What finally compelled Malala and her father to act was the group’s policy of banning young women from getting an education. Despite the threat of a public killing, Ziauddin continued educating young girls. Malala together with her schoolmates would go to school, wearing dull clothes to hide their femininity. Her bravery did not end there. Malala wrote about the Taliban’s atrocities on her BBC blog. Her ‘voice’ became so popular that the Pakistani military fought against the Taliban forces in her hometown– the Swat Valley.
These series of events inspired Malala to speak up even more. She appeared in an international documentary film, chaired an assembly hosted by UNICEF and gave inspiring messages to the public. Her actions did not remain unnoticed. On October 9th 2012, 14 year old Malala was shot in the left side of her head for suggesting that girls should get an education. News of her attempted assassination spread around the world. Her story led to her 2014 Nobel Peace Prize victory.
10 Wonder Women Fighting for Human Rights
- Malala Yousafzai
- Aung San Suu Kyi
- Leymah Gbowee
- Shirin Ebadi
- Tawakkol Karman
- Obiageli Ezekwesili
- Queen Rania
- Lyudmila Alexeyeva
- Sima Samar
- Emma Watson
Written by: Monique Danao