Five Women Pressing For Progress Worldwide

For International Women’s Day 2018, the Washington Post highlighted the efforts of five women activists — from the U.K. to India — who are dedicating their lives, if not risking them, to help advance the rights and political power of women. It is a worthy and inspiring read, with the account of 75-year-old Canan Arin of Turkey especially standing out in my mind:

“Every day, it is getting worse and worse and worse,” she said. “I come from a generation that believed women and men are equal before the law. But I realized that we are not equal, that we have never been equal.”

Arin founded one of Turkey’s first women’s shelters, the Purple Roof Women’s Foundation, in 1990. And she has also helped reform parts of the Turkish penal code, which she said took “a feudal approach to women.”

Her advocacy has also put her in the crosshairs, and prosecutors have charged her with slander against Turkish officials, as well as the prophet Muhammad. But she remains undeterred.

When asked how long she would continue her work, she responded: “Until I die.”

With courage and gumption like that, shared by millions of women around the world, I have a lot of hope for the future.

International Women’s Day

The earliest Women’s Day commemoration took place on February 28, 1909, in New York City. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America, which was a rising force in U.S. politics, and was intended to honor a strike the year before by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, one of the largest labor movements in the country and one of the first with primarily female membership.

In 1910, an International Women’s Conference was held in Copenhagen, Denmark with 100 women from 17 countries in attendance. They discussed various social and political issues affecting women and society as a whole — from suffrage to public education — and agreed on holding more rallies and demonstrations across the world to bring attention to women’s universal rights.

The following year, on March 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day was held, involving over a million people across Europe. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, one of the most patriarchal and authoritarian countries at the time, saw 300 such rallies alone. Among other issues, women demanded that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office and for the end to sex discrimination in the workplace.

The breakout moment for IWD was March 8, 1917 in the capital of the Russian Empire, Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg). Women textile workers spontaneously managed to take over the whole city in demand for “Bread and Peace” – an end to the First World War (which Russia was badly losing), an end to food shortages, and an end to czarism. Seven days later, Emperor of Russia Nicholas II abdicated and the provisional government that followed granted women the right to vote.

IWD was predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations, where it has since taken on a broader political and social context.

The Best Countries to be a Working Woman

According to The Economist’s latest “Glass Ceiling Index” — which draws on data from a variety of sources, such as the OECD, European Union, and the International Labor Organization — the following are the best (and worst) developed countries to be a working woman, as determined by several weighted indicators ranging from educational attainment to paid maternity leave. Continue reading

The Countries With the Most Women Legislators

Happy International Women’s Day everyone! As the world celebrates the achievements and continued struggles of 51 percent of the population, let’s take a moment to review how much progress women have made in attaining political representation, as determined by their level of participation in national legislatures.

According to a World Bank study cited by Vox, as of 2015 only two countries had legislatures that were majority women: Rwanda (64 percent) and Bolivia (53 percent). Runners up were a mixed bag that included Cuba (49 percent), Seychelles (44 percent), Sweden (44 percent), and Senegal (43 percent). 2016-03-08 19-26-17

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The Unknown Chinese Woman Who Helped Find a Treatment for Malaria

Among the three scientists awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for work against parasites was Tu Youyou, an octogenarian pharmacologist whose work led to the development of the most effective treatment against malaria. But despite her invaluable role in saving millions of lives from this public health scourge, her contributions remained largely unknown, even in her own homeland. recounts the amazing story that led up to her breakthrough discovery.

In 1967, Chairman Mao Zedong set up a secret mission (“Project 523”) to find a cure for malaria. Hundreds of communist soldiers, fighting in the mosquito-infested jungles of Vietnam, were falling ill from malaria, and the disease was also killing thousands in southern China.

After Chinese scientists were initially unable to use synthetic chemicals to treat the mosquito-borne disease, Chairman Mao’s government turned to traditional medicine. Tu, a researcher at the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing, had studied both Chinese and Western medicine, according to a New Scientist profile, and was hand-plucked to search for an herbal cure.

By the time I started my search [in 1969] over 240,000 compounds had been screened in the US and China without any positive results,” she told the magazine. But, she added: “The work was the top priority, so I was certainly willing to sacrifice my personal life.”

Tu’s dedication included first testing the promising treatment on herself, to ensure that it was safe. Once it was proven to have no side effects, she organized clinical trials for people with malaria, all of whom were incredibly cured of the disease within no more than a day. Continue reading

Mary Edwards Walker — Only Female Medal of Honor Recipient

Mary Edwards Walker (1832 – 1919) was an American feminist, abolitionist, and surgeon who became the only woman, and one of only eight civilians, to receive the Medal of Honor.

Mary Edwards Walker I

She worked as a teacher to pay her way through Geneva Medical College (now Hobart College), where she graduated as a medical doctor in 1855, the only woman in her class. She married fellow medical school student Albert Miller set up a joint practice in Rome, New York. It failed to take off, largely because female physicians were generally not trusted or respected at that time. Walker briefly attended Bowen Collegiate Institute (later named Lenox College) in 1860, until she was suspended after refusing to quit the all-male school debating society.

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Chart: Gender Equality Around the World

The World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Report determines disparities between men and women in areas like political empowerment, economic opportunity, health, and education. Scores are tallied between zero and one, with one signifying perfect equality (an impossible ranking thus far for even the most progressive countries, though thankfully no country ever ranks at zero). Here is a chart of some of the results courtesy of The Economist.

Out of 142 countries examined in 2014’s index, Iceland topped the list at 0.86, followed by the rest of the Scandinavian countries — Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden — taking the next four highest slots. This is perhaps not too surprising, given that these nations typically perform very well in just about every metric of human development, from poverty to social stability.

But plenty of developing countries have high gender equality as well; Nicaragua, the Philippines, and Rwanda each made it to the top ten despite being among the world’s poorest countries. This challenges the notion that economic and political development are the main factors bettering the lives of women (although such solutions certainly help of course).

Like most social and culture values, a lot of multidimensional influences are at work in determining the treatment and opportunity accorded towards women. Thankfully, many countries seem to be improving in this and other metrics of human development, but we still have a long way to go. What are your thoughts?


Hero of the Week — Maria Bashir

Maria Bashir II Maria Bashir


Maria Bashir is the Chief Prosecutor General of Herat Province Afghanistan (the second largest jurisdiction in the country), the only woman to hold such a position thus far. Her fifteen years of experience as a civil servant has brought her into conflict with criminals, the Taliban, and corrupt policemen. When the Taliban took power in 1996, she was barred from working and instead spent her time illegally educating girls at her home. 

She was called back into service in 2006, focusing on rooting out corruption and eradicating the oppression of women. She has handled hundreds of cases amid death threats and assassination attempts, one of which nearly killed her children; subsequently, she has a retinue of around 20 or so bodyguards while her children are in virtual hiding.

For her courage and tenacity, Bashir has received the 2011 International Women of Courage Award and been recognized among The 2011 Time 100. I recommend reading her interview with the United Nations here; unfortunately, most of the information about her is three or four years old, so I am unaware of her current efforts and predicaments. Thankfully, she seems to still be alive and working as a prosecutor, doing everything she can to better her country and its future .

Needless to say, Maria Bashir is an incredible hero and role model, to say the least. 

Ten Famous Women Who Led Powerful Rebellions

Courtesy of Listverse.

10. Yaa Asantewaa

Yaa Asantewaa, described as the African Joan of Arc, was Queen Mother of the Edweso region, part of the former Asante Kingdom and now modern-day Ghana. Born around 1830, she was the sister of Kwasi Afrane Panin, who became chief of Edweso when Yaa was young. From the nearby Gold Coast, the British led a campaign of control against the Asante Empire, taxing, converting and taking control of large areas of their tribal land, including gold mines.

When the Asante began to resist British rule, the British Governor, Lord Hodgson, demanded that they turn over their Golden Stool, used as a throne and symbol of independence. To enforce his demands, Captain C.H. Armitage was sent to bully the population. Armitage went from village to village, beating children and adults alike in the hopes of obtaining the stool. Eventually, the King of Asante, Nana Osei Agyeman Prempeh I, along with 55 of his chiefs and relatives, were forced into exile.

Shortly after, on March 28, 1900, what was left of the monarchy was assembled and the British Captain demanded the Stool. Yaa, the only woman present, gave a famous speech to the British in which she stated that she refused to pay any more of their taxes. She also offered her undergarments in exchange for the loinclothes of any male Asante chief not willing to fight tyrannical Imperial rule.

This speech caused the Yaa Asantewaa War for Independence to break out on the same day. As the revolution’s leader, Yaa assembled a personal army of more than 4,000 soldiers. For three months, she was able to lay siege to the British fort at Kumasi. After sustaining casualties in the initial fighting, British reinforcements from Nigeria had to be called in to deal with the troublesome Yaa. Through superior technology, scorched land tactics, and financial rewards for traitors, the Queen Mother was arrested on March 3, 1901. She was sent into exile where she eventually died at 90.

9. Corazon Aquino

Corazon “Cory” Aquino was a Filipino woman who, in 1986, led the firstdemocratically elected government of the Philippines since before the Japanese occupation. Born in 1933, she married Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino after graduating from Mount St. Vincent College in New York City. Ninoy Aquino became an outspoken critic of the Philippines dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, who had been in control of the country since 1965. In 1972, Ninoy was arrested by police, imprisoned for eight years and then exiled to the USA. When he was allowed home in 1983, he was assassinated by the government the moment he arrived.

This bloody execution, along with an economy in decline, gave Ferdinand’s opposition a boost. Cory, outraged by her husband’s death, took control of the opposition, despite potentially facing the same fate as him. In 1985, a staged election was held to legitimize Marco’s rule. Reluctant to run at first, Cory ran only after receiving a book of one million signatures expressing support for her campaign.

During one debate, after being verbally attacked for her gender and political inexperience, Cory gave Marco the metaphorical middle finger by agreeing that she had “no experience in cheating, lying to the public, stealing government money, and killing political opponents.”

At the end of the election, in February, 1986, Marco “won” by a landslide. The US Senate and the Catholic Church both accused the dictator of election fraud, and Cory called for peaceful protests, strikes and boycotts. The movement became known as the People Power Revolution—nuns and entire families, including children, took part. In a final attempt to regain control of the population, Marcos ordered the army to fire on the peaceful revolutionaries. The military refused to follow their orders, with many defecting or returning to their bases.

By the end of February, the dictator was forced to flee and Corazon Aquino became President of a democratically elected government.

8. Laskarina Bouboulina

Laskarina Bouboulina was a Greek naval commander and revolutionary captain who fought in the successful Greek War of Independence against the Ottomans. In May, 1771, Laskarina was born during her mother’s visit to a Constantinople prison. The baby girl was the daughter of a Greek naval captain who had been incarcerated and separated from his pregnant wife during a failed coup against the Ottoman Empire .

Upon her father’s death, Laskarina moved with her mother to the island of Spetses. It was here that she married twice, both times into wealthy families. Using the money that she had received from these relationships, she built four ships, including the Agamemnon, one of the largest vessels of the time. Bouboulina became the only female to join the Filiki Etairia, a Greek revolutionary movement planning to oust the Ottomans. On March 13, 1821, 12 days after the group began their War of Independence, Laskarina raised the first revolutionary flag of the conflict over her island home of Spetses.

On April 3, Spetses joined the revolution, followed by the islands of Hydra and Psara. Now commanding eight ships, Laskarina joined the blockade of the Ottoman fortress at Nafplion. She later attacked Monemvasia and Pylos, spending almost her entire vast fortune in only the first two years of the ultimately successful war which saw the creation of a Greek state.

As Greece became fragmented into factions, Laskarina was twice arrested before being exiled to Spetses. She was later shot in a family dispute. There is no doubt, however, that without her ships, money and command, the revolution might not have been successful.

7. Queen Mavia Of Arabia

Mavia was a warrior queen who took on the might of Rome and won. After the death of her husband, al-Hawari, who had no male heir, Mavia became Queen of the Saracens who inhabited southern Palestine and northern Sinai at around A.D. 375. At this time Mavia’s tribe had been all but subjugated by the might of the Eastern Roman Empire.

When Roman Emperor Valens requested that Mavia send him mercenary soldiers to fight the Goths, conflict arose over the terms. Revolt broke out as Mavia sought to prove herself competent by taking on the superpower of Rome. The revolt was so fast and effective that it has been compared to the German Blitzkrieg.

Cities on the borders of Palestine and Arabia quickly came under attack by her forces. Raids followed by massacres were enacted against Phoenicia, Palestine and even places as far away as Egypt. Roman Provinces were laid to waste and the Roman armies hastily dispatched to deal with Mavia were either worn down or forced to flee. At a monastery in Sinai, the Queen’s armies were able to massacre the monks relatively unopposed.

Badly beaten and unable to contain the warrior queen, Emperor Valens was forced to make a peace deal on Mavia’s terms. A local monk of her choice was elected as bishop of the area, giving the tribe far more freedom. Her daughter was also married off to a prominent military official working for Valens, giving Mavia inside access to the Roman administration.

6. Kittur Rani Chennamma

Kittur Rani Chennamma was an Indian queen who battled the British East India Company. She was born in the small village of Kakati in 1778. From a young age, she rode horses and trained at archery and swordplay. At 15, Chennamma was married to Mallasarja Desai, ruler of Kittur, a small Indian principality. Her husband died in 1816 and their only son died shortly after.

Chennamma, now the rightful but unrecognized ruler of Kittur, adopted a son in an attempt to carry on the royal line. However, to seize control of India, the British Government and East India Company enforced the Doctrine of Lapse.

This declaration banned native rulers from adopting children if they had none of their own: After —e death of the ruler, their land would become British territory. Not recognizing the adopted child as ruler, the State of Kittur came under the control of the insanely powerful East India Trading Company, under the orders of Mr. Chaplin, commissioner of the region. Rani refused to recognize British rule of her people, and met the British forces as they entered Kittur with an army of her own.

Hundreds of British soldiers were killed in the ensuing battle, along with Mr Thackeray, the British-appointed ruler of Kittur. Eventually, far larger Imperial armies from Mysore and Sholapur surrounded the Queen in her fortress. She held the British off for 12 days, until traitors sabotaged her gunpowder supplies. After her defeat, Kittur Rani Chennamma was kept prisoner until she died in 1829. Although unsuccessful, Chennamma acted as a hero and figurehead during the Freedom Movement.

 5. Leymah Gbowee

Leymah Gbowee, along with the women of Liberia, organized a peaceful movement which succeeded in bringing an end to a Civil War which had killed more than 250,000 people in 14 years. President Charles Taylor came to power after a bloody revolution which took place from 1980 until 1995. Soon after his election, Taylor began to support ethnic killings and embezzlement. This led to further conflict within the country, with the Second Liberian Civil War beginning in 1999, a war characterized by its brutality and the use of child soldiers.

Born in central Liberia in 1972, Leymah quickly became involved in the violence which tore Liberia apart. She trained as a trauma counselor for girls and women raped by militia, also working in the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2002, Leymah organized the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement. They gathered women from many different backgrounds to pray and sing in public, demanding peace. Picketing, fasting and threatening a “sex strike,” the women risked their lives, protesting in the capital, to demand that Charles Taylor do something to end the conflict.

After pressure from the women and international condemnation, the brutal president finally listened and Taylor flew to neutral Ghana for peace talks. The women followed him to Ghana to continue their efforts. Violence ended in 2003, with Taylor forced to resign and imprisoned by The Hague for crimes against humanity. Democratic elections in 2005 saw Ellen Johnson Sirleaf elected by the people as the first female head of state in an African nation.

Leymah Gbowee was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

4. Countess Emilia Plater

Countess Emilia Plater, born to Polish patriots, grew up resenting Russia, which was ruling swathes of Poland and suppressing Polish customs during the 19th century. Born in Wilno on November 13, 1806, Emilia’s parents separated when she was young and her father the Count had little to do with her. She learned to fight from her male cousins, becoming a good fencer. In 1831, news of the Warsaw Insurrection in February, 1830, reached Wilno. Polish patriots in Wilno began planning their own rebellion, not allowing Emilia into their meetings because of her gender.

Plater cut her hair and prepared a uniform for herself so that she could join the revolution. At her own expense, she set out and assembled a force of 500Lithuanian fighters. On March 30, 1831, her army battled a Russian horse patrol. Later, on April 2, she forced an infantry division to retreat.

In her greatest feat, Emilia and her group seized the town of Jeziorosy. Later, she joined forces with Karol Zaluski, a revolutionary leading unit of his own. Along with Konstanty Parczewski’s men, Emilia proved herself at the Battles of Kowno and Szawle, earning the rank of Captain in the field. On December 23, 1831, the Countess of the Revolution passed away after becoming fatally ill during the ultimately unsuccessful uprising.

3. Nanny Of The Maroons

Nanny, featured on the Jamaican $500 bill, was the leader of a group of slaves who revolted against their British oppressors. Queen Nanny was born into slavery sometime during the 1680s, a child of the Gold Coast, which is now Ghana. At some point Nanny, reportedly of royal blood, was able to escape a British colony on Jamaica and lead a group of slaves into the inner mountainous areas of the island. Soon, large communities of ex-slaves, now calling themselves Maroons, had formed. Nanny Town, founded around 1723, was the first and by far the largest of these communities. From this town, Nanny was able to lead raids against plantations in order to liberate the slaves.

However, her revolution quickly captured the attention of the British. A series of campaigns against the troublesome Maroons were launched, and Nanny was forced to lead her people in a guerilla defense operation. To exploit the defensiveness nature of inland Jamaica, Nanny ensured that Maroon settlements were built high into the mountains. Often, they had only a single approach, meaning that attacking British soldiers were easily picked off by small numbers of Maroons, to whom Nanny had taught the art of camouflage.

Nanny Town itself was attacked on a number of occasions, in 1730, 1731, 1732, and several times in 1734. One British attack in 1734 succeeded in capturing the settlement, which forced Nanny and the survivors to flee and found a new camp, from which they proved just as defiant. Some historians suggest that Nanny was trained in the art of catching bullets with her hands. Whilst others, mainly the British, seeking to discredit Nanny, claim she caught bullets with her buttocks and farted them back out.

Although Nanny and her people faced nearly constant attack and hunger, they remained united and strong against the British under her rule. From 1739–40, the British signed a peace treaty with the Maroons, giving them 500 acres of land to call their own. Nanny, a Jamaican national hero, is credited with preserving the culture and freedom of her people and being a powerful symbol of the resistance to slavery.

2. Toypurina

Toypurina was a Native American medicine woman who opposed Spanish colonization of her tribal lands. In 1771, when the Spanish first appeared, Toypurina was a 10-year-old girl and witnessed first-hand the suffering that her people, the Kizh Nation, faced at the hands of the Spaniards. In one instance, after the colonists had claimed land to build San Gabriel Arcangel Mission, the wife of a local chief was raped by the mission soldiers. When the chief protested, he was killed and his head stuck on a pike as an example.

After the mission’s construction, Toypurina witnessed over 1000 Native Americans lured into its walls. All were bribed or forced to convert to Christianity. These converts were confined to the mission and were often used as forced farm labor.

As Toypurina grew up, she became an influential medicine woman and shaman. In 1785, an indigenous member of the mission, Nicolas Jose, contacted Toypurina. Jose was angry about the mission ban on traditional dancing. Together, they plotted to lead a rebellion against the Spanish. They were joined by Toypurina’s brother, a Kizh Nation chief, and warriors from eight villages she had convinced to join them in arms.

To even have a chance against the muskets and artillery of the Spanish, Toypurina planned to kill the leaders of the Spanish Church with magic, allowing native warriors to easily overwhelm the defending force. Scaling the wall with dozens of warriors on a moonless night, the raiding party rushed into the priests’ rooms. Two figures on the ground laid motionless, as if the shaman’s magic had worked. Suddenly, the bodies rose up—the two dead priests were actually Spanish soldiers in disguise, who let out a yell for reinforcements. In seconds, the Native American rebels were surrounded.

The Spanish had been tipped off about the raid and it turns out magic is not a very effective weapon. Two months later, when the rebel leaders were put on trial, they turned on Toypurina, saying that she was a witch who had controlled them. Toypurina used the trial to tell her people to fight the white men who trespass on their land and despoil their traditions, and not be afraid of “Spanish sticks that spit fire.” Toypurina was sentenced to exile and possibly forced baptism in a Spanish mission, where she spent the rest of her life.

1. Margarita Neri

The Mexican Revolution began on November 20, 1910, and raged well into the 1920s. It was an attempt by revolutionaries to overthrow the ruler and dictator Porfirio Diaz Mori and implement a constitution, which would aim to ensure fairer life for the farming classes. The conflict was bloody, with around 900,000 people losing their lives. Such vast death and destruction meant that both sides were more than willing to involve women and children in combat.

One army of 5,369 revolutionaries inspected by US officials included 1,256 women and 554 children. Whilst the children mostly foraged and cooked, the women were usually armed and fought alongside the men. Despite facing constant inequality and sexism, women were still willing to play a major role in Mori’s eventual downfall. Those female soldiers that the revolutionary side brought into action were called soldaderas.

Perhaps the most famous of all the soldaderas was Margarita Neri, who not only fought in the war, but also acted as a commander. A Dutch-Maya from Quintana Roo, from 1910, she commanded a force of over 1000 which swept through Tabasco and Chiapas, looting, burning and killing. Neri was so effective in her slaughter of anti-revolutionary troops that the Governor of Guerrero hid in a crate and fled the town upon hearing of her approach. Whether Margarita fought for the revolution directly, under Francisco Madero’s command, or whether her unit worked independently remains unclear. However, what is clear as day is that she and her soldiers were a serious threat to the Government, with Neri vowing to decapitate Diaz herself.

Happy 107th Birthday Grace Hopper

Today’s Google Doodle honors Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992), an American computer scientist and Rear Admiral in the US Navy who pioneered computer programming.

Hopper was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, one of the most advanced of its time. She also developed the first compiler, used for translating source code, for a computer programming language. She was the first to conceptualize the idea of distinct programming languages, which contributed to the development of COBOL, one of the first programming languages in modern computers.

She also popularized the term “debugging” for fixing computer glitches, due to an incident in which an actual moth got into a computer and caused it to malfunction, requiring it to be removed (whereupon she remarked they were “debugging” the system).

Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities worldwide during her lifetime. Her remarkable accomplishments and her naval rank earned her the nickname “Amazing Grace.”