Information and stories on social activism.

Period Poverty in Kenya
For many young girls in Kenya, properly managing a menstrual cycle with adequate sanitary products is a luxury. Roughly one million Kenyan girls miss out on education each month because they are unable to afford menstrual products. Girls and women are unable to work or participate in education for days at a time, placing them at a disadvantage in comparison to their male peers. Some girls even resort to sharing menstrual products in a desperate attempt to find a solution to period poverty in Kenya. Though access to menstrual products is a multi-faceted issue in Kenya, activists are making it possible for girls to properly manage their periods and continue with life as usual.

Period Poverty in Kenya

Research shows that 65% of Kenyan women and girls are unable to afford basic sanitary pads. As a consequence, girls often rely on the men in their lives for period products and some girls engage in transactional sex in order to secure sanitary products, perpetuating a patriarchal cycle of reliance and exploitation.

Milcah Hadida

Menstrual hygiene ambassador Milcah Hadida is combating period poverty in an innovative way. Hadida collects sanitary products from donors and delivers the products to vulnerable girls in Kenya via bicycle. Through her efforts, she has reached 2,300 girls in just five months.

For her mobilization against period poverty in Kenya’s Tana River County, Hadida recently received the prestigious Florence Nightingale Medal. This award “recognizes exemplary service in the areas of public health and nursing education.” In addition to delivering period products to girls in rural Kenya, she has also called on the health administration of the county to develop policies to address period poverty.

Megan White Mukuria

Megan White Mukuria is the founder of ZanaAfrica, a social enterprise founded in 2007 with its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. ZanaAfrica combats period poverty through a hybrid model of feminine products and education. ZanaAfrica manufactures and distributes high-quality, low-cost menstrual products through the Kenyan marketplace. The enterprise couples the distribution of sanitary products with sexual and reproductive health education.

Through this combination, Mukuria and her team build a safe ecosystem where girls can navigate their adolescence in a safe and healthy manner. They also frame the period products through an aspirational lens, “creating safe spaces to learn about health and reclaim dignity.” Since 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has supported ZanaAfrica with several grants. Between 2013 and 2018, ZanaAfrica impacted almost 50,000 girls in Kenya.

Emmie Erondanga

Emmie Erondanga is the director of Miss Koch Kenya (MKK) women’s advocacy NGO, founded in 2001 with the aim of addressing the vulnerability of young girls in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi, Kenya. MKK intervenes against socio-economic issues that contribute to the disempowerment of young women in Kenya and provides free pads to girls in slums, when possible.

MKK’s work has been increasingly relevant with the impacts of COVID-19 as thousands of girls struggle to access sanitary products in lockdown. Because government pads are only accessible at school, Erondanga’s mobilization has helped fill gaps in the Kenyan government-funded sanitary towel program. Erondanga has been instrumental in advocating for reproductive health education in Kenya, aiming to reduce the stigma around periods and puberty.

When girls and women have adequate access to menstrual products, they are able to continue with their school and work endeavors. Overall, a world without period poverty means girls and women can contribute to economic growth in a more significant way, thus reducing global poverty.

– Alysha Mohamed
Photo: Flickr

The ActivistToday’s youth continue to make headlines by showing their passion for global activism. The increase in mass action against global injustices amplifies awareness of some of the world’s most pressing matters. The top five areas of concern for Gen Z youth are mental health, disease and famine, environmental issues, unemployment and education. According to a survey done in 2020, 20% of Gen Z youth often “donate or volunteer time to a cause.” The increased interest in global activism has captured the attention of major television networks, including CBS. The network plans to bring activism to primetime in fall 2021 with its new competition series, “The Activist.”

The Premise

The new show will center around six enthusiastic activists who will be split into three teams. A high-profile public figure will lead each team. The teams will compete to improve one of three critical global issues: education, health or the environment. The teams will receive judgment on how well they successfully campaign for their causes. The objective of each team is to establish influential movements that will publicize their message, spur action and propel the teams to the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy. From there, the activists must gain funding and support from world leaders. During the season finale, the team with the most support will be crowned the winner. Some of the world’s most noteworthy musicians will also perform at the finale. The series is produced by Global Citizen, a “movement of engaged citizens who are using their collective voice to end extreme poverty by 2030.”

Relevance to Global Poverty

One of the issues participants in “The Activist” seek to address is education. In 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported that roughly one out of five children do not attend school worldwide. The “upper-secondary out-of-school rate” is highest in low-income countries at almost 60%.

The show will also tackle public health issues. Governments in low-income countries spend an average of $23 per person per year on health. This is extremely low when compared to the staggering rate of $3,860 per person spent by the U.S. government. Furthermore, child mortality rates in low-income nations are more than 10 times higher than in wealthy nations.

Lastly, “The Activist” plans to emphasize environmental issues. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that climate change will cause more than 250,000 deaths by 2030 due to heat stress, malaria and malnutrition. Climate change is especially troubling for low-income countries because of their susceptible geographical locations and their weakened ability to survive damage caused by extreme weather and elevating sea levels.

Inspiring Action

“The Activist” will be a platform to educate viewers on these imperative global issues and motivate the global population to support laws and policies beneficial to improving conditions in developing countries. By showcasing the hard work and commitment of Gen Z activists, others will hopefully be inspired to take action themselves. In all global issues, the commitment and activism of the youth will certainly have a marked impact.

Tiara Tyson
Photo: Flickr

Diamantes Na Cozinha
Joao Diamante, a Brazilian chef who trained in Paris under world-renowned chef Alain Duccard, decided to go back home to Rio de Janeiro, a large city in Brazil. In 2016, he began his social project Diamantes Na Cozinha (Diamonds in the Kitchen) in Rio de Janeiro. This project has received a lot of attention from national and international press due to its unique and philanthropic vision.

Who is Joao Diamante?

Diamante himself benefited from social programs in Bahia, Brazil when he was a teenager. His experiences eventually helped him become a chef overseas. Because of his belief in these youth programs, he decided to fund his own. Diamantes Na Cozinha creates cooking, nutrition and hospitality workshops for young people in vulnerable situations living in favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Favelas are low-income neighborhoods in Brazil.

Diamante himself lost a dear friend due to the violence taking place in the favelas, and he believes that teenagers must receive protection from organized crime and drug addiction. Unfortunately, addiction and crime are all too common in these impoverished populations.

About the Workshops

Kids as young as 16 enroll in the courses through Diamantes Na Cozinha, resulting in them learning skills that can land them a job later on. But, the program is also to help kids find their purpose in life. It distracts them from the harsh realities of living in a favela. Through this, Diamante is not only helping individuals emerge from impoverished situations, but also propelling the Brazilian economy.

Diamante currently teaches various courses. Each course contains up to 25 students who can sign up free of charge. There is a wide variety of courses such as hospitality, high cuisine, food anthropology and cocktail-making. During training, students have the opportunity to serve at catering events. This serves not only as an opportunity for students to receive an evaluation but also as a means for them to start making an income. When training is over, Diamante selects his best students to work a the Na Minha Casa restaurant permanently.

Currently, the Diamantes Na Cozinha headquarters includes an archive with more than 200 volumes, a fully equipped kitchen and a media library. The project has gathered international attention, most notoriously in its feature in the Netflix food show “Feed Phil,” where the host visited Diamantes Na Cozinha and presented the foundation’s story. Through this and many other features, the project has gained momentum and donations from businesses and individuals alike.

“We use Gastronomy as a tool for social and professional transformation,” said Diamante. “We don’t just want good professionals, we want our students to evolve as human beings.”

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

Chakabars ClarkeEntrepreneur Chakabars Clarke runs an uplifting and particularly active Instagram feed based in Ghana. His account @chakabars produces content on pan-Africanism, spirituality and education, millennial humor and vegan lifestyle. His content also includes his own first-hand contributions to improving the lives of under-resourced global communities. Although one million Instagram users follow his posts, Clarke asserts that his mission is not about fame or money, and, the sustainable changes he is making prove so. In an interview with Black Entertainment Television (BET), he maintained that his primary objective in creating a media presence was to achieve social justice. Clarke stated, “My overall goal is to try and create as many economies based on abundance, rather than economies that are based on scarcity.” He says further, “I want to get back to us not just trying to build a large Instagram following or building a big business to make money but, rather, build the future of humans.”

5 Successes of Influencer-Activist Chakabars Clarke

  1. Spartanfam. Clarke started Spartanfam after he served four years of active military duty in Iraq. The fitness program aims to promote bodyweight training that gets you fit without the use of expensive equipment. Similar to the content on Clarke’s Instagram account, the site promotes a 100% plant-based lifestyle.
  2. IHeartAfrica. IHeartAfrica is an organization created by Clarke in 2016. Its work is “centered on the promotion of holistic self-sustainable development that creates an environment that is optimal in establishing a thriving community.” IHeartAfrica currently works with schools, orphanages, medical clinics and voluntary organizations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jamaica and Ghana. The organization raises funds that go toward sustainable construction and medical supplies as well as educational, recreational and vocational programs and materials.
  3. Building an Ecovillage. One of Clarke’s projects in progress is the construction of an ecovillage for orphaned children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo living in inadequate conditions in orphanages. On the fundraising page for the ecovillage, Clarke describes how the project was born out of leftover funds raised by IHeartAfrica. He also explains that he bought six acres of land for an ecovillage that will house children from an orphanage and people in the surrounding area.  He states that the orphaned children will eventually inherit the land and the village. Clarke is consistent in his transparency with the allocation of his projects’ funds.
  4. The 2019 Global Good Award. Clarke won BET’s Global Good Award in 2019. The nomination is a recognition of “public figures who use their platform for social responsibility and goodness while demonstrating a commitment to the welfare of the global Black community.” The award is a major achievement for Clarke as it puts him among the ranks of celebrities such as Akon who won the award in 2017.
  5. Fruits n’ Rootz. Clarke started Fruits n’ Rootz with the aim of delivering healthy produce while creating funds for his volunteer projects. The company sources high-quality, sustainably harvested, natural products. Most of the items sold on the online shop are fruits, although, sea mosses and detox teas are also for sale at fruitsnrootz.com. The company also provides nutritional education such as the best fruits for women’s health and the benefits of sea moss. A share of 20% of the company’s profits goes toward IHeartAfrica’s actionable causes.

Clarke’s various contributions and entrepreneurial projects show that he is not just about making a name for himself. Clarke is committed to safeguarding the future of low-income and historically neglected people across the globe. By working to preserve schools and orphanages, build medical centers and improve the lives of people in low-income communities in Africa and elsewhere, Chakabars Clarke proves that being an activist is so much more than just having an online presence.

Eliza Kirk
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in BrazilHuman rights in Brazil are under attack by the country’s own presidential administration. Having campaigned on his famous “anti-human-rights rhetoric,” President Jair Bolsonaro is now turning his words into concrete actions that affect millions of Brazilians. Activists in Brazil are not backing down, relentlessly fighting for the human rights of the Brazilian people.

Human Rights Concerns in Brazil

  • Bolstering of police impunity for use of illegal force
  • Government complicity with torture in detention facilities and the systematic disassembly of government monitoring programs tasked with preventing torture
  • Funding cuts to environmental protection programs, approval of new pesticides for use without proper monitoring of toxicity levels in rural communities, minimization of consequences for illegal logging and ignoring reports of increased deaths of forest defenders
  • Civil and property rights of indigenous people, quilombolas, women and LGBTQI communities
  • Limiting the independence of nongovernmental agencies and restricting access to government information and public records

Despite the wave of policy change threatening human rights in Brazil, there is an equally powerful movement rising to meet it; real people and organizations dedicated to the fight for all humans and their right to exist freely in a peaceful, healthy and safe country.

Damião Braga

At 54 years old, Damião Braga is an experienced activist. He is the leader of Pedra do Sal, a community of African slave descendants in Rio de Janeiro called quilombolas. For 30 years, Braga has been in a judicial struggle over land in a historical part of Rio because he believes it should belong to his people whose ancestors arrived there as slaves.

This land is currently owned by the state and claimed by the Catholic Church, two formidable opponents. Braga says granting quilombolas the property rights is an essential step in making reparations for these descendants of slaves. Because slaves freed in Rio were never given property to live on in the first place, forcing them to settle in the margins of the city that became known as favelas, many believe it is time the government makes amends.

It is not only important for the quilombolas to fight against racism and systematic marginalization but it is also important for them to fight for the right to have a place of their own. Here they can build a future in a land they did not arrive at willingly but now call home.

The Guardians of the Forest

This group, formally established in 2013, is made up of around 120 indigenous activists in the Araribóia Indigenous Reserve. Located in the Brazilian state of Maranhão, this reserve is one of the regions most at risk of illegal logging. Emboldened by the relaxing of consequences for illegal loggers by the Bolsonaro administration, violence is increasing and the local people are taking matters into their own hands.

At first, most of the group’s work entailed destroying the camps of illegal loggers, using guerilla tactics to make them feel unwelcome. The Guardians are now working to set up an NGO and website in order to raise awareness and donations to help fund a more organized resistance.

It is indeed dangerous work. In 2019, the Indigenous Missionary Council released a report saying that violence against the indigenous peoples of the Amazon went up 23% from 2017 to 2018, making for a total of 135 people murdered in 2018 alone. Thus, the Guardians take this work very seriously. Most of them are Guajajara, the indigenous people of the area, therefore, they see it as a sacred duty to protect the land they have lived on for centuries. “We will continue to confront the wrongs committed by the Brazilian system of justice against the lives of Brazilians.”

Marielle Franco

Born to a very poor family who immigrated to Rio, Franco grew up in the favela Maré. Because she was exposed to the injustice of police brutality at a young age, Franco’s experiences fuelled her political career.

In 2016, she became a councilwoman for the Socialism and Liberty Party, officially enlisting in the fight for human rights in Brazil. She worked hard in this position to improve the situations of women and people living in favelas.

The councilwoman proposed 16 bills but only two were approved while she was alive. Another five would pass after her death, a small comfort to those who saw her as a leader.

In March of 2018, a now-charged man shot the 38-year-old Rio councilwoman in an alleged assassination. Now, after her death, her life is celebrated by supporters wearing shirts that read, “Fight like Marielle” and her name is the inspiration and strength people need to keep fighting for their rights.

Inspiring Activism in Brazil

The danger of these and thousands of other activists fighting for human rights in Brazil is tangible and constant. Thus, the courage to continue this work even in the face of such great risk shows the world their commitment to stand up against an authoritarian government.

Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Pakistan
A lot of progress has occurred to achieve women’s rights in Pakistan. However, gender inequality still remains a prominent issue. According to the World Economic Forum, the Global Gender Index Report ranks Pakistan second to last in domestic violence.

Fortunately, the government has taken significant action. In December 2020, Pakistan instilled a new anti-rape law to speed up convictions and toughen sentences. According to White Ribbon Pakistan, an estimated 4,734 women faced sexual violence between 2004 and 2016. Furthermore, there were over 15,000 cases of registered honor crimes and more than 1,800 cases of domestic violence. However, conviction rates remain low. Only 2.5% of all cases result in convictions. The new law requires sex offenders to be nationally registered. Additionally, the courts will protect the identity of victims.

Domestic Abuse

Pakistan ranks as the sixth most dangerous country for women in regards to domestic violence. Patriarchal and cultural norms greatly impact women’s rights in Pakistan.

Honor killings and violence within the home are prevalent. Recently, social media model and activist Qandeel Baloch’s brother strangled her to death. According to her brother, she had ruined the family’s image and honor. Fortunately, Pakistan has made progress to prevent violence within the household. For instance, the court denied Baloch’s parents’ wishes and convicted Baloch’s brother of murder. Additionally, more than 1,000 domestic violence cases appeared in court in June 2019.

Furthermore, Ms. Quandeel wrote, “I wonder how long it will take us to recognize that we shouldn’t let ourselves off the hook, that our social structure is rotten and works against people like #Qandeel who wish to make something of themselves on their own terms.” The death of Qandeel Baloch generated a movement for gender equality in Pakistan.

The Good News

The good news is that Pakistani women are fighting back. Since 2018, women have demanded economic and environmental justice, reproductive rights and better access to public spaces. On International Women’s Day, thousands took to the streets to demonstrate their commitment to bettering women’s rights in Pakistan. However, conservative groups criticized the movement and labeled it as a “western campaign.”

One of the main slogans of the march was “mera jism, meri marzi” (my body, my choice). Many said it was a promiscuous demand that did not empower women. Yet, women continue to defend their objectives, raise awareness against sexual harassment and gender-based violence and promote bodily autonomy.

Additionally, women began riding bikes in order to accentuate their presence in public spaces. Girls at Dhabas organized a bike ride to promote certification in all public events and fight against restrictions that prohibit women. One cyclist said, “We have an advantage with this lockdown and corona and all. The cycling has become really common among the girls in Islamabad.”

Various organizations are spreading awareness of domestic violence. Additionally, the government continues to implement new laws to protect women. Although women’s rights in Pakistan are lacking in many ways, the government and organizations continue to strive for gender equality.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

7 Organizations that Fight for Gender Equality
In order to alleviate global poverty, it is imperative to fight for gender equality. The President of the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development said, “When you invest in a man, you invest in an individual. When you invest in a woman, you invest in a community.” Women all over the world continue to struggle for equality in the workplace. Additionally, women often bear the burden of completing domestic responsibilities and unpaid labor.

Poverty Among Women

Poverty affects women especially. Women do not have the same opportunities as men in receiving a quality education, work and owning property. Thus, their ability to be productive citizens often has severe limits. Many young girls learn to prioritize domestic responsibilities over education. Consequently, women are often illiterate and unable to find employment. This hinders the fight for gender equality and the economic development of a country as well. Moreover, global poverty will prevail until the world achieves gender equality.

Fortunately, many organizations fight for gender equality within their respective countries. Here are seven organizations that strive to empower women and alleviate poverty.

7 Organizations that Fight for Gender Equality

  1. The Korea Women’s Associations United: This is an umbrella organization that aims to achieve gender equality, democracy and peaceful reunification in the Korean peninsula by facilitating solidarity and collectivism. It played an important role in establishing the “basic framework for government policies on women, including the creation of the Ministry of Gender Equality and the adoption of a [gender-responsive] budget.”
  2. The Akshara Foundation: This Foundation works to improve access to education and enhance social consciousness in India by providing scholarships and capacity-building workshops to disadvantaged young women. Its main objective is to break the cycle of gender equality and poverty. Additionally, its Youth for Change program teaches young men and women the importance of gender equality for all.
  3. The Women for Peace & Gender Equality Initiative: This organization fights for gender equality by empowering young women in Nigeria via a uniform platform of advocacy. The platform resolves social issues and eradicates inequalities at grass root levels for policy-level changes. Furthermore, it provides skill and leadership training for adolescent boys and girls. Additionally, the Women for Peace & Gender Equality Initiative conducts research on gender-based violence.
  4. The Foundation for Studies and Research on Women: This Argentina-based Foundation has developed programs, projects and other activities concerning political participation, leadership, teenage pregnancy, violence against women and comprehensive sex education. The Foundation for Studies and Research on Women partners with local municipalities, universities and other NGOs to promote and teach its research through its extensive programs.
  5. The Pratthanadee Foundation: This Foundation provides mentoring and career guidance in Thailand. It successfully reaches over 3,000 undereducated and economically underprivileged women and girls in central Bangkok and rural Ubon Ratchathani each year. The Pratthanadee Foundation aims to build confidence in young women from low-income regions across Thailand. Additionally, the organization recently launched a new program to teach young women how to create and act upon their future aspirations.
  6. The Network of Young People for Gender Equality: This Portuguese nonprofit fights for gender equality and promotes women’s rights through informational activities, education, lobbying and research. Furthermore, this organization falls under the Support, Advanced Learning and Training Opportunities for Youth (SALTO-YOUTH). It is also a part of the European Commission’s Training Strategy.
  7. Voices Against Violence: This organization is an informal learning program for boys and girls in Australia. The United Nations and the World Association of Girls Guides and Girl Scouts developed this program. Additionally, the initiative works to help young people understand violence, abuse and relationships. Voices Against Violence works in Australia under Girl Guides Australia to empower young women to be confident and responsible community members.

Looking Ahead

These seven organizations strive to empower women, fight for gender equality and improve the economic development of countries. Providing girls and women with tools to succeed will improve work productivity and decrease education gaps and gender-based violence.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

Private Sector BusinessesThe U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be met by 2030, are 17 goals aimed at increasing environmental and socially sustainable solutions to poverty, inequality and injustice, among other things. The goals are both ambitious and achievable but funding gaps hamper the progress of these goals. Through conscious investments toward SDGs, private sector businesses could close this gap. The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres calls on business leaders to use their positions of power, finance and influence to help meet the SDGs, to the benefit of the entire globe.

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the U.N. created 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. The overarching aim of the SDGs is, “peace and prosperity for people and the planet.”

The goals principally involve less discrimination worldwide, eliminating poverty, giving more individuals more economic and educational success, increased justice, prioritizing the environment, improving global health and more.

The SDGs are meant for everyone to tackle, from the average person to national governments and major corporations such as private sector businesses.

The Need for SDG Funding

Reaching all 17 SDGs by 2030 will cost between $5-7 trillion per year, according to the United Nations. Although in 2016, development assistance funds hit a high of $142.6 billion, there is still a need for a much greater infusion of funds and a significant need for the support of private sector businesses.

The lack of available funds from the public sector, specifically, is the main reason why there has not been more progress toward the SDGs. Public sector sources of funding are predominantly national governments and government organizations.

Referencing this lack of funding, Guterres lamented the lack of progress made toward the SDGs and urged business leaders in the private sector to step up. “We need business leaders to use their enormous influence to push for inclusive growth and opportunities,” states Guterres. “No one business can afford to ignore this effort and there is no global goal that cannot benefit from private sector investment.”

Businesses Leading Change Through SDGs

Because there is an apparent need for more corporations to invest in SDGs, it is important to recognize those businesses fighting poverty through a commitment to achieving the SDGs.

The U.N. and 30 leaders of multinational companies created the Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance in September 2019. They immediately began supporting initiatives for clean energy in Latin America, Africa and Asia, among other goals.

The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative drafted the Principles for Responsible Banking to serve as guidelines for banks to commit themselves to the SDGs. Worldwide, more than 200 banks have committed to these principles. This figure represents more than one-third of the global banking industry. The signatory banks must report on their achievements, goals and growth regarding the principles. They must also accomplish all principle requirements within a set timeline. This ensures tangible strides toward actualizing the SDGs.

The company, PepsiCo, is also making good strides with the SDGs. It is committed to multiple projects in agreement with specific SDGs. The company established a “Green Bond” worth $1 billion in 2019 to do so.

A notable project is the company’s aspiration to restore 100% of the water it uses for manufacturing to areas that are “high water risk.” It aims to do this by water reuse and recycling initiatives, supplying smallholder farmworkers with “water-saving technologies” and sustainable agricultural techniques. PepsiCo cites SDG 6, “Clean Water and Sanitation,” SDG 15, “Life on Land” and SDG 12, “Responsible Consumption and Production,” as aligning with this particular objective.

The Contribution of Foundations

Private sector businesses fighting poverty go beyond business transactions and profitable decisions. Many companies commit to progressing the SDGs by supporting foundations. Top contributing foundations include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund and Gothic Corporation. Total global funding for the SDGs from foundations is upwards of $216 billion.

All these examples of private sector businesses committing to the SDGs prove it is a worthwhile endeavor that needs support on a broad scale. In the words of Guterres, “Corporate leadership can make all the difference to creating a future of peace, stability and prosperity on a healthy planet.”

Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

International Women of Courage AwardThe United States Secretary of State presents the International Women of Courage Award to women who have “demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.” Now running for its 15th year, since its beginning in 2007, more than 155 women have received this award in more than 75 countries.

The International Women of Courage Award

The Secretary of State and First Lady of the United States host a gala ceremony on or around International Women’s Day (March 8), to present the award. The recipients then travel across the U.S. to participate in specially designed International Visitor Leadership Programs (IVLP) experiences. American Women for International Understanding (AWIU) hosts a celebratory dinner for the awardees. AWIU also awards grants so the women can continue their work in their home countries. The 2021 events were virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fatima Natasha Khalil

Born an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, Fatima Natasha Khalil lived her whole life bravely. In an interview with the New York Times, her sister Lima describes how the midwife walked out halfway through Khalil’s birth. The midwife was furious that the family of refugees could not pay her full fee and so Khalil’s mother had to cut the umbilical cord herself.

Khalil was an excellent student growing up and graduated from the American University of Central Asia with a double major in human rights studies and anthropology in 2019. After graduating she applied for a job at the Afghan Independent Commission of Human Rights (AIHRC) in Kabul, Afghanistan. Khalil’s boss, Shaharzad Akbar explained the difficulty of the line of work. Akbar was reforming the entire organization to rid it of corruption and thus recenter its focus. Additionally, Akbar told Khalil that she might not receive a salary for many months. Khalil gladly accepted the job as donor coordinator for the AIHRC.

The 2020 Explosion

On June 27, 2020, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded under the car that Khalil and AIHRC driver, Jawid Folad, were traveling in.

“You took one of my sisters,” reads Lima’s Twitter profile. “I have one more and four brothers. You can’t cultivate hate in my heart if you even take all of us.”

While no person or group has come forward to claim responsibility for the explosion, similar incidents claim dozens of lives every day in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan.

Assassinated Afghan Women Honored

The Department of State awarded the International Women of Courage Award to a group of phenomenal women from around the globe. It also included an honorary award for seven women leaders and activists from Afghanistan who were assassinated for their commitment to bettering the lives of their communities. Khalil was one of the women honored because of her courage, bravery and dedication.

The International Women of Courage Award recipients have performed extraordinary work in their fields. From police officers to lawyers and nurses, these women are changing the world, starting with their communities.

Holly Dorman
Photo: Flickr

Zendaya, One of the 5 Influential Young Female CelebritiesHistorical events have underlined the importance people have made when advocating for change. This is especially true with celebrities who have such big platforms to speak up for those unable to. Moreover, female celebrities’ fight for social justice is setting the stage for what has not been said in the past. Here are five mega-influential young female celebrities that have been at the forefront of social justice and activism causes.

Greta Thunberg

Ever since she first skipped school to protest in front of the Swedish Parliament Building, Greta Thunberg continuously inspires an international movement to fight climate change. At just 15 years old, she missed lessons every Friday to go on strike. Greta urged young people around the world to join her cause and strive “to make similar demands in their own countries.”

By December 2018, more than 20,000 students around the world joined her movement. She would continue to embark on other strikes around the world, choosing to travel by train to limit her carbon impact. In September 2019, the U.N. Climate Conference hosted her stop in New York where she spoke on issues regarding climate change and how world leaders needed to do more. Greta has received a multitude of support and was even named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019.

Millie Bobby Brown

Brown is best known for her role as Eleven in Netflix’s hit show “Stranger Things,” and appears in the new film “Enola Holmes.” In 2018, UNICEF announced the 14-year-old as the youngest-ever Goodwill Ambassador, highlighting her passions regarding social justice issues.

Earlier that year, TIME magazine featured her as one of TIME’s 100 most influential people, making her the youngest person on the list. Her platform gives her the chance to inspire change and lead by example for the younger generation.

Amandla Stenberg

Amandla Stenberg’s activism has been a prominent influence on her acting decisions, coupled with her early rise to fame at age 12. She first appeared as Rue in the hit film “The Hunger Games,” and has also been active on her social media platforms.

Amandla has spoken out about cultural appropriation with a school project Tumblr video, “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows.” She also frequently advocates for human rights, female empowerment and LGBTQ visibility. She received the 2019 Human Rights Campaign Visibility Award and was named TIME’s “Next Generation Leader.”

Yara Shahidi

Starring in ABC’s comedy “Black-ish” and its spinoff “Grown-ish,” Yara Shahidi quickly gained momentum with her stellar performances. She also received prime recognition in the film adaptation of the novel “The Sun is Also a Star.” While accumulating a large social platform, Yara uses her voice to advocate for social change, including feminism and STEM awareness.

In high school, she started her own club that partnered with the Young Women’s Leadership Network, “which provides online mentorship with the goal of ending poverty through education.” Her enrollment to Harvard in 2018, with the goal of double majoring in sociology and African-American studies, garnered Michelle Obama’s support who praised Yara for her social justice advocacy efforts.

Zendaya

Zendaya, a prominent actress who stars on HBO’s hit show “Euphoria,” was recently recognized for her work in the fashion world regarding cultural representation. When working with Tommy Hilfiger to launch Tommy X Zendaya in 2019, Zendaya made it her mission to include more diversity and representation. Zendaya pointed out that, “Everyone needs to be seen and like they are a part of the fashion world. It is much more diverse now, but there can still be more in terms of different shapes, sizes and cultures.”

Whether through film or advocacy, these influential young female celebrities are making the most out of their fame by speaking out against the many injustices that plague society. Their platforms allow them to voice concerns and advocate for the less fortunate. These women may be young, but their voices are anything but small. Watch out for their names, because it goes to show that we will be hearing a lot more from them in years to come.

Natalie Whitmeyer
Photo: Flickr