Though they rarely made the news in 2016, these women overcame incredible odds and stood up for their beliefs in the face of adversity. Some of them even gave their lives in pursuit of their goals.
Though women make up nearly half of the world’s population, they often face challenges due solely to their gender. For much of the past thousand years, many governments and institutions throughout the world have worked to suppress and dominate the feminine. Even though much has changed for women in the past hundred years, many places in the world continue to treat women as second-class citizens. This past year in particular, many women have stood up to confront these and other important issues to ensure a better world for current and future generations. These twenty woman faced situations of discrimination and adversity to further their noble goals, some of whom were even killed for their activism.
1. Berta Cáceres: Fighting for Conservation and Indigenous Rights
Berta Cáceres, co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras, was murdered by gunmen in her own home in March 2016 for fighting against environmental exploitation and social justice issues in Central America. She was killed just one week after receiving death threats for opposing a hydroelectric project that would have harmed the environment and deprived the poor of their land and water. Despite the threats Cáceres fought on and paid the ultimate price in her fight to protect the voiceless of Honduras.
2. Balkissa Chaibou: Ending Forced Child Marriage
Balkissa Chaibou dreamed of being a doctor before she learned that she had been promised as a bride to a male cousin at the age of 12. Niger, where Chaibou lives, has the highest rate of child marriage in the world. Chaibou decided to fight against the forced marriage and employed the help of an NGO to free her from the pact. Facing threats from her family, Chaibou was forced to seek refuge in a women’s shelter because she wanted to have her own life and pursue her dreams. Now, at age 19, she travels around Niger teaching other girls that they too have the right to say “no” to forced marriage.
3. North America’s Indigenous Women: Standing Up Against Dakota Access
Many indigenous women played prominent roles in the resistance against the Dakota Access pipeline. Many of these women as well as scores of other protestors were arrested and brutalized for trying to protect their land and the drinking water of millions. Tara Houska, national campaign director for Honor the Earth and a former adviser to Bernie Sanders, was a prominent female indigenous activist present at the Standing Rock protests. She was arrested in mid-November by North Dakota police for trespassing, strip-searched, and kept in a dog kennel for over six hours. Winona LaDuke, who is the executive director of Honor the Earth, was also a prominent female activist present at the protests.
4. Tess Asplund: Taking a Stand Against Neo-Nazis
Tess Asplund “acted on impulse” when she stood alone in defiance of a Neo-Nazi march in Borlänge, Sweden. The march of over 300 uniformed Neo-Nazis belonging to the Nordic Resistance Movement came amid a reported surge in far-right activities in Scandinavia. After making her iconic lone stand against the group, Asplund joined a sizeable counter-protest. Little did she know that her brave act had been photographed, an image set to become an icon of the resistance against the far-right’s rise in Scandinavia.
5. Reshma Qureshi: Giving Strength to Women Scarred by Violence
Reshma Qureshi of India was disfigured in an acid attack just two years ago. Though most women who pass through such an ordeal often take their own lives or hide from public view, Qureshi made the bold decision to walk on the catwalk during this year’s New York fashion week. Appearing on the runway for designer Archana Kochhar, Qureshi hoped that her modeling debut would send a powerful message to other survivors of acid attacks: “Why should we not enjoy our lives? What happened to us is not our fault and we’ve done nothing wrong and so we should also move forward in life.”