Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba, South African Singer and Activist

This is International Women’s Day, a day set aside to reflect on, and honor, women’s long struggle for equality. Its website, a hub for information about IWD events taking place around the world, explains the founding impulse: “The day has been celebrated since 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.” The site’s motto: “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights”— Gloria Steinem.

For us at Women’s Voices for Change, every day is international women’s day. We care about the oppression that women suffer around the world. We are awed by all the brave activists who dare to confront the cultures that cripple their lives. We rejoice when persistence and pluck bring even a slight easing of the bonds. And we are enriched by learning about the lives of talented, far-seeing women from other nations.


This past year, we’ve followed the stories of . . .

Miriam Makeba—a documentary about the singer and activist from South Africa

• 91-year-old Brazilian actress and singer Bibí Ferreira, arguably “the single most important theater actor in Brazil”

• The launching of a new magazine to tell global women’s stories. Valerie will feature “female writers, bloggers, and photographers who will share stories of  ‘inspiring women and feature economic, social and political issues impacting lives of women across the globe.’”

• The campaign to educate girls in Pakistan—­a galvanizing slide show put together by the Hoshyar Foundation, a secular U.S.-based nonprofit.

• The world’s largest women’s university—Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University—which happens to be in Saudia Arabia.

• An American doctor who works with local African surgeons to repair women’s pelvic disorders in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

• A tribute to Edna Adan, “the Muslim Mother Teresa,” who founded the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland.  “It was upon retiring as World Health Organization Adviser for Maternal and Child Health that she decided to take action about the desperate conditions that women in her country have endured. She traded in her many pairs of $800 shoes for one pair of rubber sandals and invested all her assets to build the institution that operates today in one of the neighborhoods in Hargeisa that was devastated by the civil war with Somalia.”

•  The passage of Saudi Arabia’s first law criminalizing domestic violence at home and in the workplace

• The scourge of obstetric fistula—the shattering result of obstructed childbirth that is endemic to developing countries where women get too little medical care—as seen through the eyes of an American surgeon

• New Delhi’s first all-female taxi service, “Women on Wheels,” whose owner, Meenu Vadera, is “solving multiple problems simultaneously: she’s providing jobs for resource-poor women and helping women feel safer.”

• A milestone for Saudi Arabian women: The first Saudia Arabian woman to reach the top of Mount Everest

• The documentary Girl Rising.  “One girl with courage is a revolution,” affirms the trailer, and the documentary proceeds to follow the stories of “nine fiercely brave girls from nine countries—India, Nepal, Egypt, Peru, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone”

• Shabana Basij-Rasikh—who will never forget the day when her father told her joyfully, “The Taliban have left and you can go to a real school now”—dares to educate Afghan girls 

• The No. 1 killer of girls 15 to 19 globally is . . . pregnancy and childbirth

• ‘While in some parts of India, many expectant parents still say they’d prefer bearing sons, members of the Piplantri village, in the western state of Rajasthan, are breaking this trend by celebrating the birth of each baby girl in a way that benefits everyone. For every female child that’s born, the community gathers to plant 111 fruit trees in her honor in the village common.’

• How substituting cash payments for food ration cards has benefited women in India.

• Woman to Woman in Morocco: Beyond the Hijab.

• Women in Saudia Arabia are not allowed to drive, but the government is now allowing Saudi Arabian women “to ride motorbikes and bicycles in certain parks and recreational areas.”  They must be accompanied by a male relative or guardian and must be dressed in the full Islamic head-to-toe abaya.

• And today we bring you some moderately heartening news from Equality Now, the nonprofit that has, for more than 20 years been working to change laws and traditions around the world that repress women. Its Equality Action Network issues occasional, carefully researched “Action Alerts” that spark its 35,000 volunteers and organizations in 160 countries to put pressure—through letter-writing campaigns and petitions—on high officials of the nations where the abuse is going on.

Equality Now’s network, along with diplomats from Western countries and other activist organizations, has fiercely contested a bill before the Afghan parliament that would have made it impossible for family members to testify against each other in cases of domestic violence, child abuse, and forced marriage. “That,” explained The Guardian, “would halt prosecution in most cases of violence against women.”  In mid-February, President Hamid Karzai sent this part of the bill, Article 26, back for revision. So far, then, so good. And so it goes in the fight for women’s rights: There is, occasionally, a semi-step forward. And advocacy has a lot to do with it.


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