5 Women Changing the World

I never really know what to say for Women’s History Month, but I feel like it’s worth recognizing that women are still making history, every day, around the world, so in honor of Women’s History Month (which is quickly drawing to a close), here are five women who are changing the world:

1. The Gulabi Gang

The Gulabi Gang might not be one person, but they’re definitely making a huge difference where they operate.  Who are they?  They’re a group of women operating in Uttar Pradesh, in Northern India, who work together to protect women from abusive situations, teach self-defense and self-reliance, and take steps towards eliminating child marriage in their region.  Their founder, Sampatpal Devi, taught herself to read and write with the assistance of her brothers, the only members of her family to go to school until one of her uncles agreed to sponsor her education; after watching a man mercilessly beat his wife, and after being beaten herself when she tried to intervene, Devi and a group of other women in her village teamed up to punish the abuser.  In 2006, after numerous requests for similar interventions and self-defense trainings, Devi and her colleagues formed the Gulabi Gang, choosing the pink sari as their uniform.  Today they are active across North India, both on the streets and politically, fighting to end violence against women.

2. Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai has become a relatively common name, with the anti-war, pro-education Pakistani activist having been named the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Malala has been celebrated in the West as an example of the triumph of hope, flourishing in spite of an oppressive government, having grown up in a region where the Taliban has often barred young women from attending school.  Though she is best known for her work surrounding girls’ education, it’s worth noting that Malala has also been an outspoken proponent of positive peace more generally-~-that is to say, fighting poverty, not the poor, and putting an end to techniques like drone strikes, which inspire fear and lead to less stability in the Middle East.  She and her father also co-founded The Malala Fund, which works to help young women in the developing world, including girls in Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, girls kidnapped or under threat by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and adolescent girls learning technology skills in Kenya.

3. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi

In 2012, after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi started a hastag-~-and a movement-~-that went viral following the 2014 death of Michael Brown: #BlackLivesMatter.  All three identify as queer Black women, organizing to massively change a system that has repeatedly, in various ways, made it clear that in this country, their lives are not protected, and their work deserves recognition and respect (as does the work done by Darnell L Moore).  As the statistics on their site point out, the average life expectancy for a Black trans woman in the United States is only 35 years; and every 28 hours in the United States, there is an extrajudicial killing of a Black man, woman or child.  Their efforts have at times been co-opted by other groups and other movements, and it’s important to remember where this came from, and also that it’s not just a hashtag, and it’s not just about one incident: #BlackLivesMatter is about challenging a system that has for too long deprived too many people of their basic human rights.

4. Ruth Bader Ginsberg

To be honest, when people mention the Notorious RBG, I fangirl a little: Ruth Bader Ginsberg has been on the bench for so long that she has played an important role in some key SCOTUS decisions, and moreover, she has begun to call out our courts for the role they have played in upholding or facilitating injustices in this country.  When asked how many women she thought would be included in her ideal makeup of the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg answered “Nine”.

Image result for ruth bader ginsburg

In addition to serving, for three years, as the only woman on the Supreme Court (in the period between Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement and the confirmation of Justice Sonya Sotomayor), Ruth Bader Ginsberg has played a role in decisions dealing with everything from equal protection to contraceptive access, and was one of the major dissenting opinions in Bush v Gore, Gonzales v Carhartand Burwell v Hobby Lobby.  She has been an outspoken proponent of reproductive rights and women’s involvement in government, and her retirement will be a sad day for the judiciary.

5. Dr. Hawa Abdi

Dr. Hawa Abdi Diblaawe, or “Mama Hawa” as she is known in Somalia, was Somalia’s first female gynecologist, and is a major advocate for women’s health in Eastern Africa today.  In 1983, she founded the Rural Health Development Organization, which operated as a one-room clinic offering free obstetric services to women, and which later evolved into a 400-bed hospital.  In 2007, the organization changed its name to the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation, and gradually expanded to serve as a relief camp which, during the 2011 drought, housed approximately 90,000 people.  Though the compound has been forced to suspend service twice due to violent threats, today it is operating fully, run by Dr. Abdi and her two ob/gyn daughters, Deqo Adan and Amina Adan.  The facility now includes a hospital as well as a school and a nutrition center, and runs programs to inculcate its own self-sustenance, as the organization offers its services free of charge.

Women around the world are making a difference in their hometowns and their home countries.  I had to select women (and groups of women) whose work has received recognition, but it’s worth remembering that the smallest things can sometimes make a huge difference, and that every one of us has the capacity to change our world, even if it is just in a small way.  There is no way to know what might trigger something bigger, or what might make it possible for someone else to take that next step towards achieving something great.

Happy Women’s History Month.


~ by Randi Saunders on March 22, 2015.

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