The world of feminism around the globe is alive and well. Female leaders, authors, poets and activists from Mexico to Nigeria are questioning tradition, breaking down barriers and demanding recognition of their rights. Some work with LGBT communities in vulnerable communities, such as Uganda. Others are questioning the status-quo in hard-line states such as Saudi Arabia. So let’s take a moment to acknowledge these brave feminist leaders from around the globe:
1. Wajeha al-Huwaider – Saudi Arabia
I learned life means nothing without freedom. Then I decided to become a real women’s rights activist, in order to free women in my country and to make them feel alive.
Saudi Arabia is known for having one of the most egregious track records on women’s rights in the world. Women are not allowed to drive, often confined to female-only areas in public, and each woman must have a male guardian with her to travel, open a bank account and seek employment. However, Wajeha al-Huwaider is having none of that. The co-founder of The Association for the Protection and Defense of Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia, she’s been a prominent journalist and activist in the country.
In 2006, the government attempted to stop her from participating in any and all activists activities, but she remained at the forefront. She filmed a video of herself driving and petitioned the government to drop the ban on female drivers. However, this all seemed tame in comparison to her next move.
In June of 2011, Wajeha and another Saudi Activist, Fawiza Al-Oyouni, were arrested for trying to help a Canadian woman, trapped in the country, escape to the Canadian embassy. Although the two activists maintain they were simply trying to bring her food after her husband had locked her at home with an empty pantry, Wajeha and Fawiza were still sentenced to 10 months in prison.
2. Rita Thapa – Nepal
What we did and the way we did our work happened because we truly believed that was how things should be done. There were no footsteps to follow. We were redefining the culture of the work space and the way we did our work.
Could you convince all your girlfriends to part with their best jewelry to set up a fund to help women in rural regions stricken by poverty and exploitation? Well in 1995 Rita Thapa, the founder of Tewa (Nepalese for ‘support) did just that. She wanted to create an organization that funded women’s projects in Nepal, promoted peace and stuck up for their rights not only in civil society inclusion, but also in the workplace.
A long time feminist who, with three children, was widowed at an early age, she has long fought bravely against child trafficking, which plagues the region. She focuses on the most vulnerable reaches of Nepalese society including ethnic minorities and Tibetan human rights defenders.
Since founding Tewa, she has gone on to participate in the Global Fund for Women/USA the Urgent Action Fund/USA and works at the South Asia Center for Policy Studies (SACEPS). She speaks at conferences around the globe, and is recognized for helping women in Nepalese society take the steps to become empowered and independent.
3. Sylvia Tamale – Uganda
I think it is the height of paternalism and arrogance for Hon. Bahati and Mr. Langa to stand here and say they are legislating against homosexuals because they love them, they feel sorry for them, they face the risk of cancer, their lives are reduced by 20 years, etc. Homosexuals are not asking for your pity, love, approval or redemption. They only want you to affirm their humanness and their right to exist and be different.
Once called ‘The Worst Woman of the Year” by conservatives in Uganda (which, let’s be honest, already makes her pretty cool), Sylvia Tamale has been a staunch advocate for equal rights for women, and the Ugandan LGBT community. The first female Dean of Law at Uganda’s Makerere University, she has authored a number of books on the subject of masculinity, femininity and African culture.
Her most acclaimed book, “African Sexualities: A Reader,” is a powerful mix of news articles, photos, essays and studies that showcase the myriad of cultures and sexualities alive on the continent. She has given speeches from Zimbabwe to Minnesota, authored a number of studies and worked as a trustee for the Uganda Equal Rights Trust. She held nothing back as she’s lectured everyone from government officials to police officers on how to treat women in the workplace with the respect they deserve.
She is still working in universities around the globe and lecturing at Makerere. A local celebrity in Kampala, Uganda, her courses and speeches often run out of space quickly, and are often accompanied by interested patrons who huddle in the back on crowded steps just to hear her speak.
4. Lydia Cacho – Mexico
I think it’s absurd, I’m telling the truth, I’m a good journalist and I have to flee my country..I don’t scare easily.
An investigative journalist who has taken on the top echelons of Mexican society, Lydia Cacho has been a fearless advocate for women and children. In her work she has faced violence not only from the public, but government and business officials. She’s exposed assaults on women in Mexico for years, and believes she was attacked and raped in retaliation for this while working for a paper in Cancun.
A few years later, her book, “Los Demonios del Eden,” described a pedophile ring within Mexico’s corporate elite. Soon after publication, one of the businessmen implicated and the governor of Puebla were caught on tape planning her rape and assault. Although they did manage to arrest Cacho, she was freed quickly thanks to quick thinking friends who arranged for her bail.
Instead of cowering, Cacho took the governor of Puebla to the Supreme Court of Mexico. Although the court failed to protect her, and the United Nations Human Rights Council urged her to seek asylum in another country, she refused to stop working and prepared to testify against the businessmen she had implicated in her book.
She was nearly killed when, on her way to testify, her tires were tampered with and she almost crashed. However, she is still alive and kicking. She opened up a woman’s shelter in Cancun, the same region where she had reported the pedophile ring, proving that she refuses to back down from anyone in Mexico’s shady underworld.
5. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – Nigeria
His advice to me, and he was shaking his head sadly as he spoke, was that I should never call myself a feminist. Because feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands.
Chimamanda was blasted onto our pop culture consciousness when a sample of her speech, “We Should All be Feminists” was sampled into Beyonce’s song, Flawless. However, this author and activist had been producing feminist work long before then.
Her first book, “Purple Hibiscus,” was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and her second novel, “Half the Yellow Sun,” won the prize in 2007.
Known for blending humor into incredibly serious subject matter, her material often confronts both sides of the gender divide. She wants to reform how she, as a woman alone, is seen in places like Lagos, Nigeria, where often without male accompaniment, they assume she is a prostitute when entering fine hotels and clubs. However, she also describes wanting to rid us of the idea of ‘emasculation’, and teaching men how to experience a range of emotions without any cultural shame being directed towards them.
While her focus is on Africa, and the African gender experience because, as she says, that’s where her heart is, her work is translatable into different cultures and gender identities around the globe.