10 women around the world and the words that empower them


Women’s History Month is an opportunity to learn about and focus on women around the world who have worked to make a difference through their advocacy and leadership. Whether promoting action on climate change, greater access to education, misogynistic and anti-LGBTQ violence, and other important issues, the words of these women will inspire you.

Malala Yousafzai | Gul Makai

Malala Yousafzai, who often goes by her first name only, is a Pakistani women’s advocate and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner. She has been recognized globally for her work to improve access to education for women. When the Taliban took control of her home district of Swat, women began to face more and more restrictions in their daily life.

At the age of 11, Malala began to write a blog covering daily life for people under the Taliban for the BBC. The name of the blog was Gul Makai, which means ‘cornflower’ in Pashto. The name is a reference to the heroine of a Pashtun folktale who meets and falls in love with a boy from a rival tribe at school. Rather than sparking a conflict, Gul Makai uses passages from the Qur’an to teach her elders that fighting is not the answer and the two marry. This tale is an apt reference for a young girl who wants to pursue peace and an education.

Greta Thunberg | Skolstrejk

Greta Thunberg is a Swedish environmental activist who began the Skolstrejk för klimatet (‘school strike for climate’) movement in 2018 outside the Swedish Parliament. Thunberg is a militant and vocal advocate for climate policy, and her protests sparked an international youth movement. Thunberg encouraged young people to leave school and publicly protest to bring attention to the need for urgent action to address the environmental crisis, which is where the name Skolstrejk, Swedish for ‘school strike’, comes from.

Quannah Chasinghorse | land protector

Native American and First Nations peoples around the world work to stop environmental destruction of land caused by development of projects such as oil and gas pipelines or agriculture. The term for these activists is land protector, a reference to their work defending lands to which they have a claim. One notable land protector is Quannah Chasinghorse, a Hän Gwich’in-Oglala Lakota model from Fairbanks, Alaska, a city located on unceded traditional territories of the Tanana Dene peoples. Chasinghorse uses her platform as a high fashion model, posing in shoots for Vogue, Calvin Klein, and others, to draw attention to her work protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

Amina Doherty | artivist

Amina Doherty is a Nigerian-Antiguan feminist and co-founder of the nonprofit Black Feminist Fund, which gives grants to Black women-led nonprofits and activist movements around the world with a focus on violence prevention, land and water rights, and leadership. Doherty describes herself as an artivist, a blend of artist and activist, a reference to the way she seeks to use art as a way to bring people together and create social change.

Arussi Unda | bruja

Mexican feminist activist Arussi Unda is the spokewoman of the collective Las Brujas del Mar, or ‘Witches of the Sea’ in English. The organization seeks to draw attention to the challenges of domestic violence, rape, and murder women face in Mexico. Unda was one of many women who organized a ‘Day Without Women’, a general strike to drive home the important role of women in Mexican society. The word bruja means ‘witch’ in Spanish. The figure of the bruja or witch has been used as a symbol of feminism because of their feminine power and transgressive nature since at least the 1970s. As a practice, brujería, or witchcraft, dates back thousands of years in Latin America.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim | pastoralist

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is a Mbororo Chadian who uses geography and collective science to promote environmental activism and awareness. One of her key projects was to work with indigenous pastoral people to create 3-D maps to aid resource allocation during dry seasons. Pastoralist cultures, like that of the Mbororo people, are particularly threatened by man-made climate change and the disruptions it creates in the seasonal cycles. Pastoralist means ‘a grazier or land-holder raising sheep, cattle, etc, on a large scale’.

Iman Le Caire | iman (faith)

Iman Le Caire is an Egyptian dancer, choreographer, and trans activist. She was a dancer at the Cairo Opera House before being forced to flee due to LGBTQ discrimination. Today, she works to help other trans people flee dangerous countries through her nonprofit TransAsylias. Her name, iman, means ‘faith’ in Arabic. Her life is a testament to the faith and dedication she has shown in overcoming adversity and helping others.

Elif Shafak | exile

Elif Shafak is a British-Turkish novelist, feminist, and LGBTQ activist. She was forced to leave Turkey after being investigated and tried multiple times there for writing about controversial topics, such as child abuse and the Armenian genocide. A major theme in her writings, such as the popular novel Three Daughters of Eve, is exile, “expulsion from one’s native land by authoritative decree.”

President Tsai Ing-wen | consensus

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan is the first female president of Taiwan. She was first elected in 2016 and won re-election in 2020. President Ing-wen is notable for her policies to support the poor and LGBTQ people. One word associated with President Ing-wen is consensus, meaning ‘general agreement or concord; harmony’, because she works to bring the people of Taiwan together. In 2012, she was quoted in the Taipei Times as saying “… [P]eople in Taiwan have to get together and form a consensus of their own …”

Anita Sarkeesian | inclusivity

Anita Sarkeesian is a Canadian-American feminist media critic of Armenian-Iraqi descent. She is best known for her work to improve the representation of women in video games and video game culture more broadly. A word she is associated with is inclusivity, ‘the fact or policy of not excluding members or participants on the grounds of gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, etc’, because of her work to make video games and other media more inclusive.

These are just a handful of the women working in our day and age to improve their communities, create art, and make the world a better place. You can learn more about women throughout history who advocated for women’s rights and other important issues here.

– dictionary.com

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