15 Acts Of Women's Activism That Are Changing The World

These women haven't won Nobel Prizes or hit the speaking circuit. But they're pushing boundaries, changing norms, saving lives, and speaking up -- even where bad news dominates the headlines.

1. The Afghan Women's Network pushes strong and smart for women's rights

2. The Speed Sisters break boundaries, even where informal borders hem them in

Speed Sisters / Via speedsisters.tv

Palestine's first all-women racing team proves women can literally run circles around men. Because of Israel's limitations on movement, the Speed Sisters compete on makeshift tracks inside the West Bank — on Arafat’s former helicopter pad in Bethlehem, in the vegetable markets of Jenin, and next to a prison near Ramallah, to name but a few of their race sites as listed on their web page. And they win: In 2011, Noor Daoud became the first Palestinian to win first place in an Israeli race.

3. Marguerite Barankitse, a survivor of genocide in Burundi, saves 20,000 children

View this video on YouTube


In 1993, at the height of a genocide in Burundi, Marguerite Barankitse tried to talk sense into the killers in her village. They decided to punish her by tying her, naked, to a chair and making her watch the slaughter of her neighbors in a church. Far from embittering her, the experience devoted Barankitse to peace, and when she escaped, she also sheltered and cared for 25 orphans. Since then, Barankitse and her organization, Maison Shalom ("House of Peace"), have cared for more than 20,000 orphans and vulnerable children. Barankitse also runs a hospital, schools, and a microfinance program.

4. Mummy Yuli gives Indonesia's aging trans population a cozy home

5. 160 girls overpower the impunity of Kenya's police force

View this video on YouTube

In Meru, a province of eastern Kenya, police were ignoring girls' rape reports. (In at least one case, the officer receiving the report raped the girl again.) Kenya's long had laws on the books against rape, but poor reporting and investigations by the police made it difficult to prosecute alleged rapists. Until last May, when 160 girls in Meru won a civil suit. A Kenyan court ruled that police negligence "contributed to the development of a culture of tolerance for pervasive sexual violence against girl children and impunity.”

6. Mariam Kirollos helps Egyptian women fight sexual assault in street protests

Global Uprisings / Via vimeo.com

At major moments of Egyptian uprising in the last three years, women have been vulnerable. Many activists in Tahrir Square have been sexually assaulted, and Mariam Kirollos wanted to do something about it. She co-founded Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSH), which patrols the streets during protests to help protect women and connects them with follow-up care in the event of an attack.

7. A Ugandan group goes rogue for maternal health

8. Manal al-Sharif dared to drive in Saudi Arabia

View this video on YouTube

YouTube / Via ted.com

Women driving in Saudi Arabia isn't technically illegal, but it might as well be. When

Manal al-Sharif took the wheel in 2011, and she filmed her drives and put them on YouTube. She was put in jail. Her brother was detained twice by the police for giving her his keys, and her young son got punched in the face by his classmates. The imam in her father's mosque called women drivers "prostitutes" in a sermon. "It wasn't a punishment for taking the wheel and driving a few miles," she said in an inspiring TED talk last year. "It was a punishment for daring to challenge the society's rules."

9. Tostan upends norms on female genital cutting and child marriage

View this video on YouTube

Tostan / Via youtube.com

This Senegalese organization helps communities prepare for days of public declaration against traditional practices that harm women and girls. Both female genital cutting and child marriage are controversial human rights issues because the practices are deeply embedded in local traditions, but Tostan three-year Community Empowerment Programs prepare leaders and ordinary villagers alike to make major changes. Just last June, 30 communities in Mali, despite reeling from a coup the year before, and 92 communites in Guinea made public declarations against cutting and child marriage.

10. All-women de-mining teams help clear Laos of 2 million tons of unexploded bombs

11. Congolese women fight for rights -- with radios

12. The BuSSy [Look!] project changes how Egyptians talk about sex

View this video on YouTube


In 2006, a group of Egyptian female students at the American University of Cairo (AUC) began collecting the everyday stories of Egyptian women and turned them into a performance that some have dubbed "the Vagina Monologues of Egypt." The BuSSy project, named after the Arabic female vernacular for Look!, became independent of AUC in 2010 and has since morphed into an annual performance intended to challenge the boundaries of gender discussions in Egypt. BuSSy performances push beyond prevailing censorship and the absence of any kind of sexual health education to present stories on abortion, masturbation, love, and sexual assault. The shows also include both male and female actors -- a new precedent for how Egyptians talk about sex.

13. The women of Kayonza, Rwanda, build opportunity -- a half-million bricks at a time

14. Norma Andrade seeks answers, and justice, in Juarez

15. Funeka Soldaat and Free Gender are forces for justice for South African lesbians

Skip to footer