Natasha Wynarczyk looks at five inspirational women from round the globe as part of our celebration of International Women's Day
International Women’s Day takes place today, with celebrations, rallies, conferences, government activities and other events celebrating the achievements of women taking place all around the world.
Here we salute five inspirational and brave women who have faced violence and risked their lives to improve women’s rights.
26-year-old Ibrahim is an Egyptian human rights activist. On March 9 2011 she took part in a sit-in at Tahrir Square in Cairo. Samira and other women at the sit-in were beaten, given electric shocks, strip searched, and videotaped by the soldiers. They were also subjected to virginity tests in order to protect soldiers from rape claims, a standard procedure in the country. She risked not only her job in marketing but also her life to sue the military for forcing her into the test – and won. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, she said: ‘I insist on getting my rights and will not leave it, no matter the cost.’
Mai, 43, suffered a horrific gang-rape ordeal on the orders of a tribal council in her home village in the Muzaffagarh district of Pakistan as part of an ‘honour’ revenge against her brother in 2002. Tradition dictates a woman should kill herself in shame following such an attack, however she refused to back down – going to the police to begin a legal battle against the six men suspected of raping her. Although her rapists were never convicted she has become a powerful figure for women’s rights. More recently she opened a girl’s school and women’s crisis centre in Muzaffagarh, even educating her attackers’ children, as she believes ‘only education will stop future generations of men from abusing women.’
Dr Maria Santos Gorrostieta
The former mayor of the Mexican town of Tiquicheo lost her life last November at the hands of the drug cartels who had terrorised her community. Described as a ‘heroine of the 21st century’, Dr Gorrostieta will be remembered for standing up to the drug mafia, publicly denouncing them during her three years in office. She faced three attempts on her life, even showing her injuries at a press conference- a torso covered in bullet holes and the colostomy bag she had to wear following an ambush attack by an armed gang. She told assembled TV crews ‘I wanted to show you my mutilated, humiliated body because I am not ashamed of it. It is testimony that I am a strong and righteous woman.’
The female president of Liberia has been in her position since 2005 and is the first female elected head of state in African history. In 1985 she campaigned against the miliary rule of Samuel Doe but was arrested and almost raped by a soldier in prison, and in 1997 she was charged with treason after challenging Charles Taylor, another powerful man who had taken control of the country. By the time she took power years of civil war had ravaged her country and many women had become victims of sexual violence. She has made important steps to rebuild the nation – investigating corruption and employing women in her cabinet and in the military. She said: ‘I look at those societies where women have been given the opportunity, and those are the societies that succeed.’
Saudi Arabia is one of the worst countries in terms of women’s rights according to Amnesty International who say they face ‘severe discrimination both in law and in practice’ – but one woman is using the advancement of social media to challenge the status quo. Al-Sharif started a women’s right to drive campaign in 2011 (women in the country are banned from driving) after filming a video of her driving and uploading it on YouTube. She was arrested numerous times after the authorities cracked down on her and spent nine days in jail. The New York Times associated the fact the Saudi authorities had targeted her due to the fear of protests caused by the Arab Spring. Al-Sharif continues to campaign for women’s rights, most recently the release of women prisoners from the Dammam women’s prison. She said: ‘Never underestimate the powerful act of the individual. When you combine all these individual acts together, it creates massive power, unstoppable and unbreakable power.’
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