On International Women’s Day, Five Activists Who Are Inspiring Change Around the World
In 1908, 15,000 women gathered to march through New York City, demanding shorter hours, better pay, and voting rights. More than 100 years later, women across the world are still fighting for their rights, and inspiring change every day.
At the National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change this year, we listened as thousands of those women talked about how they were making changing in their own communities. All of their voices were inspiring, not just individually, but as a collective force.
International Women’s Day reminds us to think about the amazing work that women are doing to inspire change. I want to share just a few stories of women that you might not have heard about.
Fernanda Milan, a Guatemalan transgender rights activist, fled her home country after being attacked by the police. Having been granted asylum in Denmark, she continues her work for transgender rights. In her words: “I have been a transgender person all my life. And I have been fighting against prejudice as long as I remember. I had to flee from Guatemala because I was fighting for human rights. Now I have the chance to live my life as a woman and an activist. Now I want to keep on the fight for a better world, where everybody can be educated, work, create families and live a dignifying life regardless of their gender identity.”
Nachale (Hua) Boonyapisomparn is a Thai transwoman activist. She shared her thoughts on International Women’s Day with us: “I am a woman as I see myself a woman. My parents and everyone around me see me as a woman. I have also experienced what other women experience, sexism and socio-culture struggles, and have never given up to continue my womanhood. I, personally, have learned to define femaleness under the spectrum of being woman; a woman who does not define herself with her biological sex, but her gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, heritage, social class, and spirituality. The international World Women’s day is another day of my 365 days that keep reminding me with my journey of being a woman, a strong woman of color who love herself.”
Ruby Corado came to the U.S. from El Salvador when she was just 16. She faced discrimination, harassment, and violence, but came to realize that her voice could help those members of her community that needed support most. In 2012, she opened Casa Ruby, a community center that provides a wide variety of supportive services, primarily for the Latina trans community.
Amitava Sarkar is a transgender activist from Kolkata, India. In the face of harassment from co-workers, neighbors, and family members, she thought about all of the other women in the world who were living in a morass of discrimination and asked herself, “What about them?” She left her lucrative job and started a project with SAATHII, called Santi Seva, which focuses on meeting trans women’s needs in Bhadrak district. The project is now viewed as a model that SAATHII wants to reproduce in other districts.
LeighAnn van der Merwe was introduced to trans activism by a friend in 2007. Today, she works with a number of NGOs dealing with gender and women’s health, and holds a seat on the UN steering committee for transgender people in the Global South. She told us, “International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the existence and bodies of women of color globally. Even those bodies pushed to the margins, even those bodies that are not typically celebrated. Violence affects LBT women of color in disproportionate ways and we need to call our governments and policymakers on that. The time for action is now.”