How women with chutzpah help to change the world | ActionAid UK

Kiran Gupta

Project Information Manager

Will the US make history and vote for its first woman president? At ActionAid women's leadership is at the core of our approach and our organisation. As a young girl growing up in the US, ActionAid project manager Kiran Gupta admired Hillary Clinton, and continues to be inspired by women leaders the world over. 

Group of women in Nepal helping with reconstruction following the earthquakes in April 2015
The reconstruction plan in Sindapalchok, Nepal after the 2015 earthquakes was led and driven by women in rural communities.

Leaders wear Alice bands

I spent my childhood in the US, and I remember watching Bill Clinton win the presidential election in 1992. What I remember most about Hillary during that time was how the American press mocked her penchant for wearing Alice bands and criticised her for having professional ambitions. In short, she had chutzpah and no one liked it.

Twenty-four years later, she’s running for president. It’s Trump vs Clinton and it’s gripping. She’s the first woman to be nominated by a major American political party and like her or not, it’s a watershed moment for women in politics.

At ActionAid, women’s leadership is at the core of what we do. We promote feminist leadership and champion change driven by women in their communities. 

Glass ceiling-shatterer she may prove to be, but Hillary Clinton is not alone. All around the world women are stepping up into leadership roles, and we're lucky enough to work with many of them.

Women leaders we love ....

Yolette Etienne: Country Director of ActionAid Haiti

Yolette is leading our emergency response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew, which struck in early October 2016.

focus group in the village of Jacquet in Jeremie, Grand Anse. Hurricane Matthew

In the worst affected areas of Haiti, 90% of homes have been destroyed and the contamination of drinking water means cholera is a deadly threat. Under Yolette’s leadership we are taking action to help people. So far we’ve given food, water, hygiene kits and soap to over 16,000 people in the worst hit areas.

Yolette is one of many women on the frontline of our response in Haiti.

The leadership of women like Yolette in times of crisis is vital if we are to further women’s rights in countries like Haiti.

We think emergency work should prioritise women’s leadership because we believe it’s more effective and transformative that way. By having a say in what and how support is given during emergencies, women can change the things that make them unequal and vulnerable in the first place.

The leadership of women like Yolette in times of crisis is vital if we are to further women’s rights in countries like Haiti.

Krishni Tharu: founder and President of KMJS, ActionAid’s partner in Nepal

‘Leader’ really doesn’t do Krishni justice. At the age of six, she started working as a ‘bonded’ labourer - cleaning the house and looking after the children of her landlord who often beat her. She couldn’t go to school and had just one set of clothes. Because she worked to pay off an old debt, she earned just 30 rupees (23p) a year.

Krishni Tharu, who heads up one of ActionAid’s partners in Nepal

At 15, Krishni enrolled in a literacy course but was only able to attend for nine days because her landlord fined her for leaving the house.

Yet from those few classes, she equipped herself with the tools to teach herself to read and write, practising by writing on the floor.

The rebels took her to a lake and told her they would tie her inside a bag with rope and throw her in if she didn’t stop her work. Krishni refused.

During the Maoist revolution which ended in 2005, Krishni was kidnapped by the rebels for campaigning for the land rights of Kamaiya women (former bonded labourers who have not been supported to build new lives since the practice was outlawed).

The rebels took her to a lake and told her they would tie her inside a bag with rope and throw her in if she didn’t stop her work. Krishni refused.

They eventually let her go but not before she told them that even if they killed her, there were more women out there who would keep up the fight.

Since then, ActionAid has supported Krishni to set up Kamaiya Mahila Jagaran Samaj (KMJS – or the Kamaiya Women’s Empowerment Society), who have been an ActionAid partner for over ten years. With Krishni as president and with ActionAid’s support, KMJS campaign for access to decent work and pay, education and healthcare for some of the most vulnerable women in Bardiya district in Nepal.

Krishni told us: “Women in the communities call me ‘mother’ and say it is because of me that they are alive.”

A female president? If Krishni can do it, who can’t? Share this blog to show your support for women leaders around the world.

Photos: Jo Harrison/ActionAid; Dylan Roberts/FreeSociety/ActionAid; NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati/ActionAid.