Our top 5 most inspirational women | ActionAid UK

Our top 5 most inspirational women

We hear shocking stories almost every day about horrific things that happen to women and girls across the world - from female genital mutilation to violent rape, such as the tragic case of Jyoti Singh in India. But in every country we work in there are incredibly brave women fighting to end violence against women and stand up for gender equality. This International Women's Day, we want to celebrate them.

An ActionAid women's group in West Bengal, with over 200 members, who come together to fight for their rights within their community
An ActionAid women's group in West Bengal, with over 200 members, who come together to learn about their rights

Did you know that one in three women will suffer from some form of violence in their lifetime? One in three – that stat still shocks me.

Consider some more facts just for a moment:

  • In many countries a girl is more likely to be raped than go to school.
  • In some parts of the world a woman’s first sexual experience is rape.
  • Every year 60 million girls are assaulted on their way to school.

International Women’s Day, on Sunday 8th March, is a time for reflection, a time for solidarity, and a time for celebration, so I wanted to focus on five women who have truly inspired me this year, some of whom speak out despite receiving daily death threats. I’d hope to be that brave if I were in their shoes.

Najiba is training women on their rights in Afghanistan

“In Afghanistan women aren’t viewed as human beings or equal partners”, says 32-year-old Najiba, who became one of the first female paralegals in Afghanistan with the help of ActionAid training.

Najiba, women's rights paralegal, Afghanistan

She works to combat the rising tide of violence against women in Afghanistan by educating them on their rights. The work she does all too often means she receives death threats, but she won’t give up.

Kyi Mar is helping women in Myanmar to become leaders

I met 22-year-old Kyi Mar in Myanmar last year when I was visiting ActionAid projects with actor Hugh Dennis, who sponsors a child in Kyi Mar’s village. Kyi Mar is part of the Fellows programme, which was set up to inspire a generation of young leaders and to help women have a voice in their community.

Kyi Mar, 22, an Actionaid Fellow in the village of Kan Ka Lay, Dry Zone, Myanmar

Despite men in the community objecting to women’s involvement, including Kyi Mar’s father, she is now empowered as a woman to stand up for what women want and make sure that their opinions are included in the decision-making process of their district. She also works with other Fellows to run after school clubs for children which help make them aware of their rights from a young age.

Christal is tackling Ebola in Liberia 

Ebola has dominated the headlines all over the world. ActionAid has been there from the very beginning of the crisis helping people on the ground by providing survivor kits and teaching people how to protect themselves from the virus. Christal had been living in the UK for over 12 years, but returned to her home country of Liberia to work with ActionAid in August 2014, as she felt she had to do something to help.

Christal Da-Thong at an Ebola Treatment Unit, Liberia

In order to make sure people’s stories were heard, she put her life at risk every day. She saw friends and colleagues die around her, without even being able to say goodbye. But she stayed there for months, helping with our emergency response, and then helping people rebuild their lives.

The Kunther Women’s Group are ending early forced child marriage in India

Thanks to the Kunther Women’s Group that is supported by ActionAid, the age of girls getting married in Karnatakar, India has risen from the average age of 15 or 16 to 22. This group of women in the community now check the age of every girl to prevent early child marriage. 

Kunther Co-operative Women’s Group, Kunther, India

Early child marriage is linked to girls dropping out of school, denying children their right to an education, so it is really important to stop this practice happening in order to give young girls more choice over their own futures.

Sadia is stamping out female genital mutilation in Somaliland

Sadia is ActionAid’s Country Director in Somaliland, where 97 per cent of girls are genitally mutilated. Sadia’s proudest achievement is saving her seven-year-old sister, eleven years her junior, from female genital mutilation (FGM) — an excruciatingly painful procedure most widely practiced in Africa, which cuts young girls’ clitorises and causes long term physical damage and psychological trauma.

Sadia, ActionAid Somaliland Director

Following this, Sadia’s work has seen ActionAid set up 53 women’s groups across Somaliland, which educate communities about the alternatives to FGM and step in to help girls escape.

All these women play a huge part in helping us get closer to gender equality. 

Last year alone we helped…

  • 100,000 women gain access to land so they can grow enough food for their families
  • 230,000 girls finish primary school in places where they often miss out
  • 6,600 women build the resilience of their communities, in places prone to conflict and natural disaster
  • 35,000 women to earn their own incomes, so they can support themselves
  • 180,000 women stand up to violence and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation.

We want to see a world where women have equal say over their lives and the running of their communities. Where women are equally respected in society. Where women hurt by men see their perpetrators punished. Where women are not raped and blamed for it.

A world where women are not raped, at all.

We are working towards a world of gender equality.