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10 Incredible Women Smashing The Patriarchy You Might Not Know Of (But Must!)

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The 8th of March is International Women’s Day, an annual celebration for women’s bravery, achievements, strength, and love in all aspects. Of course, the history of women’s courage and victory doesn’t need a specific day to celebrate it – we’re supposed to be celebrating and appreciating it every day of the year, but let’s take today as an opportunity to honor the efforts of 10 brave women, who may not be the most famous, but are certainly making a huge difference in so many lives:

Nawal El Saadawi

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There is no scientific evidence in biology or physiology and anatomy proves that women are less than men in terms of mind or body or psychology. The low status of the woman was imposed by society for economic and social reasons in favor of the man, and for the survival and the continuation of the patriarchal family, where the father owns the wife and children as a piece of land.

Born in 1931, Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian feminist writer, activist, psychiatrist, physician and the founder of Arab Women’s Solidarity Association. She wrote 47 books on the different kinds of oppression women face, especially the oppression men practice in the name of religion. Because of her book ‘Sex and Women’ – in which she criticized female genital mutilation (FGM) – Nawal lost her job as a director general of public health for the Egyptian ministry of health in 1972. In 1981, she was charged for crimes against the state because of her outspoken political views and was put in jail for three month. During this period, she wrote ‘Memoirs from the Women’s Prison’ on a roll of toilet paper using a smuggled eye pencil. El Saadawi spent 60 years of her life fighting FGM, and she’s still fighting against it. She teaches in so many universities in the world, and yet she’s prevented from teaching in her home country. To this she responds by saying: “They are afraid. So that is the next thing. I will work towards teaching in Egypt.

Raheel Raza

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The Pakistan-born Canadian Muslim, Raheel Raza is a public speaker, consultant for interfaith and intercultural diversity, documentary filmmaker, freelance journalist, author of ‘Their Jihad… Not My Jihad,’ and president of the Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow. A couple of years ago, Raza worked on ‘Honor Diaries‘, a film about “honour violence,” in partnership with eight other female activists; Zainab Khan, Juliana Taimoorazy, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, Raquel Sarasawti, Fahima Hashim, Nazie Eftekhari, Jasvinder Sanghera, and Manda Zand Ervin. Growing up in a culture were women were supposed to “be seen not heard,” Raza started to write at a young age, and became an advocate for gender equality and women’s rights. As she believes that “there is unity in diversity” Raza received many awards for her efforts in building bridges of understanding between the East and West.

Aya Hegazy

Aya Hegazy, a 29-year-old Egyptian-American woman, is the co-founder of Belady Foundation, After finishing her studies in the US, she returned to Egypt and, with the support of her husband, decided to use their wedding money to open an NGO for street children. Their slogan is: “Looking at our children on the street in a different way.” She used to go to Egypt’s main squares and tell street children that they have a place to stay if they promise that they will learn and develop themselves. But, in May 2014, Hegazy, her husband and six volunteers were charged with human trafficking, abduction, inciting homosexuality, and sexual abuse for pornography, among other accusations. And – this is not a joke – after spending over 600 days in prison, her trial was postponed for the fifth time because the court wasn’t able to turn on a laptop!

Razan Ghazzawi

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Named an “iconic blogger and leading activist” by the Telegraph, Razan Ghazzawi is an award winning 32-year-old Syrian blogger and an anti-regime activist from Damascus.  and detained twice by the Assad regime, Ghazzawi works on human rights not only in her home country, but throughout the Arab world. “I was not fearless,” she said, responding to the attention she got after being arrested. “I am not fearless. I wrote in English because they [the regime] don’t read English. Those who are fearless are those who write in Arabic.” Ghazzawi felt there were other activists who deserved the attention more, but today we recognize and celebrate her efforts!

Manal Al-Sharif

If you haven’t heard, women are forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia. Yes, this isn’t a joke either! But Manal Al-Sharif, a Saudi woman, dared to drive. In 2011, in order to encourage women to drive, she filmed herself behind the wheels of a car and shared the video on YouTube as a part of a women’s right to drive campaign under the slogan “Teach Me How To Drive So I Can Protect Myself.” She was arrested many times, and was released under the conditions of not driving again and not speaking to media, but Al-Sharif continued to lead protest drives and filled cases against her country’s traffic laws. Despite of the death threats Manal receives, she says “The harsher the attacks, the better I am doing.” She was among Time Magazine’s ‘100 most influential’ people in 2012.

Sunitha Krishnan

SunithaKrishnanJI1Society makes me feel cheap. I chose not to feel like a victim. I am a survivor. I speak about it with a lot of pride, because I’m proud of what I’ve become today.

Sunitha Krishnan is a 44-year-old Indian rape survivor who co-founded Prajwala, an institution that aims to rehabilitate trafficked women. Being a victim of a gang-rape by eight men, she had to deal with all the fear and pain herself, but she never gave up. Instead, she decided to fight. In an inspirational speech, Krishnan said that her rapists are the one that should be ashamed, not her.

Sanaa Seif

22-year-old Egyptian activist, Sanaa Seif works on defending detainees. Sanaa is the daughter of the late human rights lawyer and activist Ahmed Seif Al Islam (who died while she was in prison), and Laila Soueif, a university professor and a human rights activist. She’s also sister of Mona Seif, a human rights lawyer, and Alaa Abd El-Fattah, a human rights activist. Sanaa started her journey while she was 16 in 2011, in the protests that were organized to demand the rights of Khaled Said, a young Egyptian man who was beaten to death by policemen in Alexandria. In 2014, Sanaa was arrested and charged with breaking the protest law. She was sentenced to 3 years in prison, but she spent only 15 months before she was released by a presidential pardon.

Taffan Ako Taha

A photo posted by Taffan Ako Taha (@tafftaha) on

Taffan Ako Taha is a 22-year-old Kurdish activist, whose family escaped to Sweden when she was two years old because of the conflict between the Kurds and the regime in Iraq. After finishing high school, she traveled back to her country to work on defending women’s rights and religious tolerance. She’s also working on increasing the awareness of FGM’s dangers and effects on girls, by giving lectures in schools. Taha is an ambassador for One Young World, a forum that gathers the brightest young leaders from around the world under the age of 30. Taha currently is exerting her efforts on helping refugees escape the Islamic State (ISIS).

Zainab Al Khawaja

Zainab Al Khawaja is a Bahraini pro-democracy and human rights defender. In 2012, her father (and co-founder of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights) Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja given a life sentence in prison because of his human rights activism. Zainab was also given a five year sentence, for the crimes of ripping a picture of the Bahraini King Hammad, and insulting a public official while visiting her father in prison. Zainab Al-Khwaja was making a huge impact on thousands of human rights activists not only in Bahrain, but all over the world. She is among those women who have been imprisoned with their children. Social media users and activists have launched a Thunderclap campaign to support Al-Khawaja and her one-year-old child.

Zainab Salbi

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Zainab Salbi is a 46-year-old Iraqi-American activist, author, humanitarian, social entrepreneur, and media commentator who has spent 20 years helping in war and conflict zones. Salbi was a victim of martial rape, but this didn’t break her. At the age of 23 she found the Women for Women International, a humanitarian and development organization which has helped nearly 49,000 women survivors worldwide, in 8 conflict areas. In 2010, Salbi was nominated by former US president Clinton as one of the 21st century most influential heroes. She was also named in the top 100 list of Most Influential Women by the Guardian in 2011, and by Fast Company in 2012.

These women believed that to be empowered is to take the lead over your own life and take steps towards what you believe in. So sisters, don’t you think that it’s time we took inspiration from them?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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