16 Stories That Will Expand Your Mind On International Women’s Day

From the women displaced by Colombia's drug war to the "Avon ladies" who sell contraception door-to-door in Pakistan, these are some of the women we're praising today.

For International Women's Day, we wanted to recognize a whole bunch of women — the ordinary women taking up extraordinary fights for their rights, and the women who tell their stories.

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This isn't a comprehensive list of all the great stories by women last year, or all the great stories about women's issues. But it's a great selection shared with us over the past couple of weeks, and we're happy to share it with you.

These are stories about women fighting through challenges to earn an income for their families, rebuild their lives after violence, and care for their minds and bodies. Some of these will make you laugh and some might make you cry, but they're all beautiful portraits of the kinds of fights that are going on all over the world every day.

1. Meet the warriors of Colombia's City of Women.

John Vizcaino / Reuters

On the downtrodden side of Cartagena, one of the country's most popular tourist attractions, women displaced by Colombia's drug war tried to rebuild their lives. They got a boost from Patricia Guerrero, an activist lawyer who opened their eyes to a new way of thinking. "I studied law, and immediately understood the discrimination in the justice system," Guerrero told reporter Erica Hellerstein. "I was thinking…Why is the whole world controlling our lives?" One of the women in Guerrero's project told Hellerstein, "it was the first time that I heard that I had rights as a women and as a displaced person."

2. In India, women commit suicide at a rate higher than any other group of people in the country.

Stringer / AFP / Getty Images

Nilanjana Bhowmick explains how exploitation meets gender discrimination, and the insurmountable pressure it puts on India's women.

3. After a typhoon in the Philippines, many women were left with nothing — and some turned to the sex trade to put food on their table.

Chris Mcgrath / Getty Images

Aurora Almendral dove deeply into that story, uncovering "how women [were] selling their bodies to rebuild what the typhoon destroyed" in an audio story for KCRW and GroundTruth.

4. A self-defense academy in Amman is helping women fight back against abuse.

Khalil Mazraawi / AFP / Getty Images

It's the first of its kind in Jordan, and founder Lina Khalifeh told reporter Elspeth Dehnert that she wants it to ignite a movement. "I have to empower all women in the world,” Khalifeh said. "I want to see an army of women everywhere."

5. In Cambodia, surrogacy rights — if those are rights? — are a hot debate.

Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP / Getty Images

There's a temporary ban on foreign surrogacy, which comes two years after Thailand moved to ban the same thing. Supporters say surrogacy bans protect women from exploitation, but critics say they can deny poor women income. Cambodia is staring down a battle after an illegal surrogacy ring was discovered last November — and the country's authoritarian president recently told women to act like the ban is a law even though the government hasn't made the measure permanent.

It's a story Kuch Naren covered for the Cambodia Daily, where she's a veteran reporter — and one of few women to cover politics and hard news in a developing country.

6. Women in Brazil are turning the tables on the internet and abuse.

Mario Tama / Getty Images

We're pretty familiar with stories about how dudes use the internet to harass women. But in Brazil, women are using the internet to fight back against physical abuse. The app Mete a Colher is putting some power back in women's hands, and helping them find paths to support and protection, journalist Beth McLoughlin writes.

7. These female Ecuadorian street vendors hustle up bread for their families — in the markets of Istanbul.

Chris Mcgrath / Getty Images

They spend a small fortune to get to Turkey, but the journey pays off, journalist Lorena Rios writes, "once they have each saved enough money to bring home about three hundred meters of Turkish fabric," which will cost about $1,200. Back home, in the indigenous community of Otavalo, they use the material to make traditional skirts Rios says are in high demand.

(By the way, this isn't a photo of a woman from Otavalo. It's just the only photo of a female vendor in Istanbul that we could find on the wires. Seriously.)

8. These Syrian women carried lifetimes of loss with them when they fled their homes.

Umit Bektas / Reuters

It's never easy to be a refugee, but that's getting even harder with things like the new US refugee ban. Lauren Bohn met four women who fled Syria and are trying to settle into their new towns and new lives, but are haunted by loss. (Bohn is also the co-founder of Foreign Policy Interrupted, which pushes to get more female experts heard in foreign policy and national security conversations.)

9. Remember that momentary victory for activists at Standing Rock? That was powered in part by women.

Stephen Yang / Reuters

Reporter Jessica Holland spent time with some of them, and photographer Annabelle Marcovici took stunning photographs.

10. In South Africa, it's so expensive to buy tampons that most poor women can't.

Stefan Heunis / AFP / Getty Images

Journalist Pontsho Pilane is on the case. She's made it her job to cover her country's tampon tax, and other structural barriers to hygiene, along with other women's health issues. Not sure what the big deal about being able to afford a pad or a tampon is? Read Pilane's profile of what one 13-year-old girl went through at home and at school just to be able to live like a normal human that one week of the month.

11. If you're a Spanish speaker, you can spend hours with (e)stereotipas, a Latin American pop feminism collective.

View this video on YouTube


That's how the group describes themselves. They produce short videos for Facebook, in addition to social media campaigns — maybe you've seen #MachoDeLaSemana, or, basically, the bro of the week? — and they get lots of love from their listeners (at least judging by the email we got about them). This is their IWD2017 video, about the women's strike happening today.

12. Unsure how to help empower girls? Teach them how to code — even in a place as challenged as Afghanistan.

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Larisa Epatko visited Code to Inspire, a project started by an Afghan professor named Fereshteh Forough (pictured). Her students at Herat University mentor 50 girls and women, from ages 14–25, and help them develop apps for Android and Apple iPhones.

13. If you're, you know, short on supplies, India's super-popular condom showroom has you covered.

Sajjad Hussain / AFP / Getty Images

Access to contraceptives and respectful, egalitarian conversations between partners about safe sex are basic feminist principles. So a condom showroom can give empowered women a boost.

“Our customers are college girls and boys, housewives, people above 50,” Nitesh Kerkar, the manager of the showroom, told reporter Chryselle D’Silva Dias. So make sure you time your visit just right. You don't want to run into your mom.

14. The "Avon ladies" of Pakistan sell contraception door-to-door.

Arif Ali / AFP / Getty Images

The headline of Sabrina Toppa's article is so good we basically copied it. The team of sellers is called Marvi, an English-language acronym with regional roots: Marvi was "once a popular emblem of female independence in Sindhi folklore," Toppa writes, referring to the southeastern province of Pakistan where the women work.

15. Chantawipa Apisuk is Thailand's loudest sex-positive NGO worker.

Pip Usher

One of the biggest debates in global feminism is about whether women can truly and freely choose to engage in sex work. In a country beset by human trafficking, Apisuk has been arguing as much for 30 years — but not everybody's on her side. Pip Usher tells the story of the museum she uses to fight stereotypes.

16. Cervical selfies.

Shannon Mehaffey

We won't say much more, except that they save lives (and also inspired this terrific painting by Shannon Mehaffey). Shoshana Kordova explains everything.

H/T Binder of International Reporters.


Chantawipa Apisuk founded This is Us, a museum that fights stereotypes about sex work. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Apisuk's work.



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