It will not come as a surprise to most women that in 2013, men still dominate the world of politics and decision-making.
For many women it seems that, despite advances in equality, they still have to work twice as hard to have their voices heard, and realizing effective change in society is more than an uphill battle. Following the 2012 elections, spectators cheered that more women than ever before had won positions in the U.S senate. But the number of female senators is still only 20 out of 100. According to the WCF foundation, only 6 out of 50 states have a female governor.
While figures differ from country to country, women globally are taken less seriously and given less responsibility in the workplace, meaning that they have to work harder than their male counterparts to promote their ideas and see their dreams become reality. Keeping all this in mind, and with International Women’s Day right around the corner, it is important to point out the achievements of those women who are fighting to change the world and appear to be succeeding.
Here are five awesome women who are putting their politics into practice:
1. Lubna Hussein
Hussein is one of Sudan’s most visible and outspoken female activists, and given the circumstances she is working in, she deserves an award for bravery. Ms Hussein was first thrown into the spotlight in 2009 when she was prosecuted by the Sudanese government for wearing trousers.
Criminal law in Sudan is based on Islamic law that prohibits “indecent dress.” Women in trousers fall into this category and can be punished by up to 40 lashes and a fine. Hussein was arrested along with 12 other women for "trouser wearing," but as a press officer for the United Nations she was offered immunity from prosecution. Instead, Hussein decided to use her case to make a statement on behalf of women across the country. She resigned from her position so that she could face the charges.
"Whip me if you dare," Hussein said to the judges, claiming that the trial was her opportunity to defend the women of Sudan from a law that has little to do with Islam and everything to do with the mistreatment of women. According to Foreign Policy magazine, Hussein’s decision to face trial has sparked a new social movement for women’s equality in her country.
2. Jasvinder Sanghera
Sanghera is another woman who is working to improve the lives of women in her country. Sanghera is the co-founder of Karma Nirvana, a community based project that sets up safe houses across the United Kingdom to house South Asian women who have flown from forced marriages. After growing up in England, Sanghera chose to run away from home instead of facing the prospects of her own forced marriage.
She has since written two novels outlining her experience and the experiences of women like her. Sanghera and Karma Nirvana are now well known in the U.K for offering advice to victims of both forced marriages and honour crimes. According to Sanghera, the organization deals with over 300 phone calls a month on their hot line alone. Sanghera’s work is effectively challenging the tradition of forced marriages, still popular among the U.K’s large South Asian population. Recently, the organization has begun putting pressure on the British government to outlaw this practice in the U.K, a step that could change the lives of many young women in the near future.
3. Jessica Valenti
Valenti is an American blogger and feminist writer whose voice has been impossible to suppress over the last decade. At age 26, she founded feminist blog Feministing. The blog quickly became one of the most useful sources of online feminist discourse. Today, it is one of the most frequented online communities promoting women’s equality and encouraging both online and offline activism. Feministing has given many young women the opportunity to read and discuss different issues affecting their lives, and as an article in the Guardian claimed in 2011, it has “dragged feminism into the 21stcentury.”
After Feministing took off, Valenti went on to write three books about women’s issues, Full Frontal Feminism in 2007, He’s a Stud; She’s a Slut in 2008, and The Purity Myth in 2009. Through her work, Valenti has managed to raise public awareness about important issues that young women face but generally don’t discuss openly. This awesome woman can take credit for ushering in a new generation of healthy young feminists who are able and willing to discuss topics such as rape and sexual empowerment.
4. Franny Armstrong
Armstrong is a British environmental activist and documentary filmmaker whose films have helped bring social justice and environmental issues into the public spotlight. In 1997, Armstrong began shooting a documentary film entitled McLibel, telling the tale of McDonald’s libel trial. Because the trial was the longest court case in all of English history, and the director was relatively new to the industry, the documentary film was shot over ten years with no budget and a voluntary crew.
Lucky for Armstrong, the film was a huge success and even made it into the British film institute’s series "Ten Documentaries that Changed the World." Since then she has gone on to make three more documentary films, Drowned Out (2002), Baked Alaska (2002), and The Age of Stupid (2009). Aside from her filmmaking career, Armstrong pioneered the environmental campaign 10:10, which proposed cutting carbon emissions by 10% by 2010. Given the success of her film career and her popularity, Armstrong’s campaign garnered instant support. Institutions and businesses across the world pledged to cut their carbon emissions immediately, and even in 2013 the 10:10 campaign is still going strong. Armstrong’s work and films have undoubtedly helped raise support for policies that fight the destruction of the planet, and she doesn’t seem to be stopping there.
5. Margaret Chan
This 66-year-old powerhouse has been named the most powerful person in public health care by Forbes magazine. Fighting for the health of women and men everywhere, Dr. Chan has made people her priority. First appointed director of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2006, she has advocated for universal health coverage ever since.
In 2010 she spearheaded WHO’s Health Systems Financing: the Path to Universal Coverage, which gave more than 60 countries the opportunity to receive advice and technical assistance in order to make the switch to a universal health care system. Her goals are far from mainstream, especially during the current economic climate, but Chan has never strayed from her goal. Not only has she combated swine flu, Sars and bird flu during her time as WHO director, but she has also spread awareness about improvements in pre-natal health care, malaria and HIV and Aids care.
Over the years Chan has demonstrated that she will not make decisions based on politics, and will use her own judgement to determine her approach to promoting health worldwide. This attitude has gained her the respect of her colleagues, and has made her one of the most efficient figures in health care reform worldwide.
It is often said that the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who often do. These five women have had the guts and the determination to fight for a cause they believe in, and are succeeding in changing the world in the process. They are an inspiration to people everywhere and proof that we really can make the world a better place, as long as we are crazy enough to believe it.