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:
“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.”
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, 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!
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!
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 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.
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 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 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 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?