There is no force equal to a woman determined to rise
The #MeToo social media moment spread across the globe, with women from Europe, America, Israel, Australia, India and China participating. Thousands of women also took the stand to not participate; they called out men to disclose their actions instead of women having to disclose their trauma. Many of us are tired and angry that we must continuously bare the responsibility to educate, expose and police men’s violence and silence. There are millions of courageous women who did not participate, could not participate; who fight sexual harassment and violence every day of their lives.
Fear is contagious but courage is viral.
In solidarity here are 10 incredible women and girls who show up for us, now and in time past. Without these women’s efforts and sacrifices, we would not be living the privileges that so many of us do now. There is still much to do. I hope these sisters give you fire, and the reaction to act offline, in your homes, communities, neighbourhoods and boardrooms – where ever you can take action – and men I am also talking to you. We can not do this without you.
1. Tarana Burke
Hope and inspiration are only sustained by work
Ten years ago activist Tarana Burke created the Me Too campaign after listening to a 13-year-old girl who had been sexually abused. Tarana decided to take action into her own hands and created Just Be Inc., a nonprofit organisation that supports survivors of sexual harassment and assault. Tarana has given her life to working on the frontline of ending sexual violence, long before the hashtag. Women of colour rightly raised that the efforts of Tarana have not received support over the years from prominent white feminists. Tarana’s work did not start and nor can it end with a hashtag.
2. Mary Louise Smith
Mary, born in 1937, is an African-American civil rights activist. On 21st October 1955, at the young age of 18, she refused to give up her seat on the segregated bus system in Montgomery, Alabama. Mary is one of several women who was arrested, prior to Rosa Parks that year. Like Claudette Colvin, another sister who refused to move with racism, Mary was rejected to be the face of the famous lawsuit against segregated buses. This was partly because she was so young and partly because her father was an alcoholic: Rosa Parks would be the incredible woman history would remember. Let’s make some space in our memory for Mary.
3. Sonita Alizadeh
In my country a good girl should be silent, don’t talk about her future, and listen to her family even if they say you have to marry him or him or him. A good girl is like a dog, who they play with. But I am a singer and I want a shiny future.
Alizadeh is a rapper and activist, working against the practice of selling child brides in Afghanistan. After escaping an arranged marriage at 16, Alizadeh wrote “Brides for Sale,” put it on YouTube and woke up the next morning to the world waking up and wanting to hear more. Through her music, Alizadeh lifts the voices of young women like herself, who are threatened with being sold into marriage by their families. She is now studying at university in the US on a full scholarship and has starred in a winning documentary about her life at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2016.
4. Stella Young
No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. Never.
Stella Young was a leading disability activist. When she died we lost one the wittiest, sharpest and fiercest voices in the disability rights movement. Stella has shared her own personal stories, with a raw openness and humour to force us to check our assumptions about disability and how we treat those different to us. Stella was fighting for a world where disability can become nothing out of the ordinary. Stella’s voice and writing are here to stay. Check out her articles on Autostraddle and the life-changing, viral TedTalk “I am not your inspiration”.
5. Sylvia Rivera
Our armies are rising and we are getting stronger
Sylvia Rivera was born in New York City in 1951; she was of Venezuelan and Puerto Rican descent, a gay liberation, transgender activist and drag queen. A veteran of the 1961 Stonewall uprising, Sylvia’s story from birth is not short of hardships, but her incredible spirit rose above it all. Sylvia is most remembered as being best friends to Marsha P. Jonson, another woman who lead the 1969 Stonewall uprising. She is also known for her ferocious speech, at the 1973 Gay Liberation Rally, where she called out activists who failed to support transgender rights…
I have been thrown in jail! I have lost my job! I have lost my apartment for gay liberation, and you all treat me this way?.
Still to this day transgender women are 1.8 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than cis women (someone whose sense of personal identity and gender is the same as their birth sex). There is so much more of Sylvia and Marsha P’s work left to do.
6. Nanfu Wang
The government controls the media…activists are depicted as mentally ill. When I was making “Hooligan Sparrow,” I met with a lot of lawyers. The lawyers told me that an alarming percentage of the people at mental hospitals in China are actually dissidents.
Nanfu works to document and expose sexual violence in China. Filming in a country where activists are often detained and imprisoned, Nanfu made history with her film Hooligan Sparrow. Hooligan Sparrow follows the lives of activist Ye Haiyan and fellow protesters, as they seek justice following the suspected rape and government cover-up, of six elementary school girls in Hainan province. Nanfu would film these women through a secret camera hidden in her glasses, as a precaution against the secret police who had her under surveillance. Nanfu remained undeterred and resolute to expose the truth and recognise the women who risk their lives fighting for a better China.
7. Berta Caceres
I cannot freely walk on my territory or swim in the sacred river and I am separated from my children because of the threats. But I refuse to go into exile. I am a human rights fighter and I will not give up this fight
Environmental activism is a dangerous work. In 2015 alone, 185 environmental activists were murdered. In 2010, Berta would campaign against the Agua Zarca dam, which was to be built on the Gualcarque River, the spiritual home of the Lenca, an indigenous community. The river was also a vital source of water and food to the communities that live on its banks. Over a period of five years, Berta would stop the dam from being built. At the end of those five years, Berta would become one of the 185 people to be murdered that year; shot in her home. Climate change and environmental destruction are one of the most important issues facing our world and Berta gave her life trying to save it. Berta’s work has inspired a new generation of environmental activists to take her place. There is now a Honduran saying – “Berta no murió, se multiplico”: “Berta didn’t die, she multiplied.”
8. Ella Jo Baker
Ella is arguably one of the greatest community organisers in history. For a while, Ella remained an unsung warrior of racial and economic justice, despite building some of the most influential organizations of the civil rights movement: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The successes of the civil rights movement and the ripples of change that has followed would not have been made possible without the dedication of Ella. Her desire to train others to fight for themselves and bring others with them has ensured that the efforts of those that came before us can live on. This is recognised by the nickname given to Ella; “Fundi” – a Swahili word meaning “a person who teaches a craft to the next generation”.
9. Laxmi Agarwal
I am not a victim. I am a survivor. The man who attacked me will cover his face, I won’t.
Laxmi is an Indian campaigner, acid attack survivor and speaks for the rights of acid attack victims. She was attacked in 2005, at age 15, by a 32-year-old man who would not take her no for an answer. Laxmi has courageously advocated against acid attacks, gathering 27,000 signatures for a petition to curb acid sales, and taking the cause to the Indian Supreme Court. Her petition led the Supreme Court to order the central and state governments to regulate the sale of acid, and the Parliament to make prosecutions of acid attacks easier to pursue. She is the director of Chhanv Foundation, an NGO dedicated to helping survivors of acid attacks in India. Laxmi received a 2014 International Women of Courage award by US First Lady Michelle Obama.
10. Mari Copeny
Hi new followers. I’m Mari and I’m ten years old, my plan is to change the world.
Flint, Michigan has been without clean tap water for three years. This was after lead seeped into the public water supply, making it unsafe to consume. It became a crisis large enough to make it a federal state of emergency. The community of Flint was forced to stop using their taps and stand in lines for bottled water. Mari grew tired of waiting for people to pay attention. She organized bottled water drives and handed out free water in Flint. Mari went online and got communities to donate hundreds of backpacks for Flint children whose parents had to choose between paying for school supplies or expensive water filters for their showers. Mari did not leave it there: she wrote to the President, Barack Obama, to do something about the crisis. Obama would invite Mari to the White House. Mari is ten years old. Let me repeat, Mari is ten years old and is changing the world. We can all be like Mari.