Activists play the extremely important role of creating and cultivating change in society, sometimes defying strict cultural norms or putting themselves in danger. As the largest organization of feminist grassroots activists in the United States, NOW is dedicated to taking initiative in promoting feminist ideals, leading societal change, and eliminating all forms of discrimination. This International Women’s Day, March 8, NOW recognizes and applauds the achievements of our fellow feminist activists both at home and abroad. The theme of International Women’s Day 2019, Balance for Better, reflects the importance of creating a more balanced, gender-equal world. Together, we can do that.
Here are stories of feminist activists making change in their communities this past year:
Activists Push for International Treaty to End Violence Against Women and Girls
A Seattle-based nonprofit, Every Woman Treaty, has launched a global campaign across 128 countries for an international treaty to end violence against women and girls. These activists want nations to adopt laws punishing domestic violence, and to train police, judges, nurses, doctors and other professionals about such violence. They also call for countries to provide education on preventing violence against women and girls, and to provide hotlines, shelters, legal advice, treatment and other services for survivors. Their goal is to have the treaty introduced at the 2020 World Health Assembly, the first step in getting all 193 UN nations to ratify it.
Nadia Murad Channels Her Traumatic Experiences to Advocate for Women and Refugees
In 2018, both recipients of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize were recognized for their work with women and girls. One winner, Dr. Denis Mukwege, is a gynecologist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who treats rape survivors. The other winner Nadia Murad, has used her personal journey as a survivor of sexual slavery and sexual violence to become a human rights advocate for women and refugees worldwide. A member of the Yazidi minority in Iraq, Nadia was kidnapped by ISIS in 2014 and was subject to repeated sexual and physical abuse. Following her escape, she has shared her story countless times, using her voice to speak for women across the globe who have been sexually violated. “More than anything else, I said, I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine,” says Nadia. As part of her platform, Nadia continues to advocate for the classification of rape and sexual violence as war crimes.
Indian Women Show Power of Solidarity for Gender Equality
In the southern Indian state of Kerala, women of menstruating age have been historically banned from entering the sacred Sabarimala temple, despite a September 2018 Indian Supreme Court case in their favor. In response, 3.5 million and 5 million Indian women formed a human wall 385 miles long to increase awareness on gender equality. The very successfully event required coordination of over 176 social and political organizations, and shows the power women have, especially when we work together to make change.
Years of Abortion-Rights Activism in Ireland Pays Off
In the developed world, Ireland has historically had some of the most restrictive and most punitive abortion and contraception laws. The Eighth Amendment in the Irish Constitution defines the rights of a pregnant mother as equal to a fetus, making any abortion legislation impossible. Activists have been fighting for decades for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, and in May 2018, their efforts paid off. Irish voters overwhelmingly voted for the repeal, and though there is still a statutory ban on abortion in the country, important progress is evident. None of this would have been accomplished without the dedication throughout the years of activists, who fought for a woman’s right to make decisions about her own health.
Afghan Women Demand for Their Voice to be Heard
As ongoing peace talks between the United States and the Taliban take place, Afghan women remind leaders that their voice must be heard. Though the current Afghan Constitution protects rights for women, activists are worried. The Taliban was famous for its cruelty towards women when it was in power, and women’s status could change very quickly if there is a Taliban return to power. Thousands of women have met to create province-by-province statements, and have continued to call for the voice of women to be considered in any peace negotiations.
Saudi Women’s Rights Activists Lift Driving Ban, but are Suppressed Nonetheless
Last year, women’s rights activists finally accomplished what they had been advocating for years; a lift on the driving ban for women. Despite the successful activism, in the months following the decision, eleven Saudi women’s rights activists who helped to lift the ban were arrested, then held in prison as a smear campaign branded them as traitors. They have been tortured, and are subject to repeated sexual harassment and assault. In early March, the Saudi government refused to pardon them, and is seeking to charged them with broad charges to “undermine state will.” These women have risked everything to bring women some equality in one of the most restrictive states for women in the world.