Women have been fighting for the most fundamental human issues for hundreds of years. In the 21 years of my life, I have lived through the work of many inspiring and successful female activists. Here are a few who I feel have really made a dent on the face of the earth in regards to change and awareness of basic human rights.
Nanfu Wang & Free Speech Enemies of the State
Nanfu Wang is a film maker and advocate who created the enlightening documentary, Hooligan Sparrow. Which followed Chinese sexual violence activist Ye Haiyan (a.k.a Hooligan Sparrow) and her colleagues to a province in Southern China to protest the case of six elementary school girls who were sexually abused by their principal. Marked as enemies of the state, the activists are under constant government surveillance and face interrogation, harassment, and imprisonment. Sparrow gained notoriety due to her dedicated advocacy work for sex workers’ rights, and girls’ and women’s rights using the power and reach of social media. Nanfu Wang found herself a target along with Sparrow and the other activists, fearing for her safety as she filmed her documentary. Wang had her camera’s destroyed, memories cards wiped, was followed by plain-clothes secret police, attacked by angry mobs, and interrogated by national security officers.
Wang had to use hidden cameras and smuggle her footage out of the country. Since the filming of Hooligan Sparrow some of the activists and their families have been imprisoned and prevented from leaving the country. One activist who appeared in her film is currently near death on a hunger strike in prison. Wang had no idea how ruthless the Chinese government were in regards to crushing their perceived enemies, until the filming of Hooligan Sparrow. Her film and advocacy has shed light and exposed the unjust treatment of women and free speech in China and the choking grip the government has on its people.
Asieh Amini & The Honour Killings
In Iran women are regularly stoned to death for partaking in sex outside of marriage, even if they have been raped. Asieh Amini has fought tiredly against these honour killings in Iran. She first learned of this practice when reporting for a regional newspaper on the case of a 16 year old girl called Leyla who had a mental age of 8. Layla was raped repeatedly by family members and was going to be stoned to death for the act. Amini was horrified of this unjust sentence for the innocent girl so she jumped in and pressured the judge to release the girl. The girl was subsequently killed, and Amin’s newspaper did not dare print her story. Amini found herself, her actions, e-mails and phone calls being monitored by the authorities, and in 2007 she was arrested and imprisoned. After being released from prison, she fled the country in 2009. Since then she has dedicated her life to advocating and fighting this horrific practice, even when authorities and people in power have heavily threatened her. By raising awareness throughout the country and the world, Amini has saved the lives of many women. Amini now lives in Norway as the threats against her in Iran were too intesne. She continues her powerful advocacy from her new home.
Sonita Alizadeh & Child Marriage
Sonita Alizadeh was born in Afghanistan and grew up in Tehran as her and her family had to flee due to afghan war. In Tehran she listening to and fell very found of rap music with the likes of Eminem and Iranian rapper Yas. Sonita released “Brides for Sale,” a video in which she raps about daughters being sold into marriage by their families after almost being sold herself.
According to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission as many as 80% of Afghan marriages are forced. 57% of girls are child brides and marry most commonly at the ages of 15 and 16. When Sonita was 16 her parents tried to sell her off into marriage for the price of $9000, so they could pay for her brothers wife. Before her mother could finalise the deal Sonita filmed and shared her rap song “Brides for Sale” expressing her opinions on the forced marriage and successful escaping her fate.
Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami a filmmaker created a documentary on Sonita and paid Sonita’s mother $2000 to give the girl more time before marriage. This allowed Sonita to create that music video, which allowed her to successful escape the marriage that was planned for her. The film by Rokhsareh called Sonita won awards in the Sundance Film festival. Sonita drew attention to the unjust treatment of women in Afghanistan and the absurdity of arranged marriage. She is a modern day example of how our digital culture has allowed for powerful advocacy of current human rights issues.