“A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.”
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge.” This theme could not be more apt considering the past year of challenges faced on a global scale. International Women’s Day is a global day to celebrate and acknowledge the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is also a day that calls for action. Action to raise awareness of women’s equality and lobby for increased gender equality on a global scale.
In honour of this day, we would like to elevate and celebrate the achievements of eight women who have challenged the status-quo and whose accomplishments and voices are helping to create a more inclusive world.
Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate, USA
She rose to fame January 20, 2021 when she delivered her original poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s Innauguration in Washington, D.C. Gorman is listed in Time magazine’s TIME100NEXT, a list that highlights 100 emerging leaders shaping the future.
“There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Cleo Kambugu, Transgender Activist, Uganda
She is helping to raise awareness and advocate for the equality of sexual and gender minorities through her work at UHAI EASHRI, an indigenous activist fund supporting sexual and gender minorities and human rights throughout Africa.
“International Women’s Day should also be about marginalised genders. They are not anywhere in the conversation. True empowerment of women is simply allowing women to be, in all their diversity. Creating a space that allows women to be who they are will unleash their full potential.”
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Environmental Activist, Chad
An expert in the adaptation of indigenous peoples to climate change, she founded the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT). She actively promotes the inclusion of indigenous people, their traditions and knowledge in the protection of the environment and global movement to combat climate change.
“The women are the producer of the food, but also they are the ones who are passing all the education of traditional knowledge… We need to make woman in the same level of decision-making and respect and protection, and then we can see the equity and balance in the society will come back naturally.”
Naomi Osaka, Tennis Player, Japan
Still on a high from her win at the Australian Open in February 2021, she will represent Japan at the Tokyo Olympics. Osaka is a Girl Gone International at heart, born to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, but raised largely in the US. An advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, she wore seven different face masks for each round of the 2020 U.S. Open. Each mask featured the name of a Black person who was killed in an act of police brutality and racial injustice. When asked what message she was trying to send with these masks, she replied:
“Well, what was the message that you got was more the question. I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”
Patrice Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, Co-Founders of Black Lives Matter (BLM), USA
BLM was co-founded by Cullors, Garza and Tometi in 2013 following the acquittal of the policeman who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Throughout 2020, BLM encouraged important discourse regarding racism and prejudice and successfully achieved developments in police reform, the removal of racist signs, symbols and statues and increased international solidarity for Black lives around the globe.
“Our movement will be where it needs to be when our call is in the mouths of every individual, nationally and globally. ‘Black lives matter.’” – Patrisse Cullors
Dr. Swati Mohan, Aerospace Engineer, Indian-American
She immigrated to the USA as a child who grew up loving Star Trek. This inspired her studies at Cornell University in mechanical and aerospace engineering and later degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Mohan played a key role in the successful landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars and was the voice we heard announcing “Touchdown confirmed!”
“Seeing the beautiful depictions of the new regions of the universe [in Star Trek] that they were exploring. I remember thinking ‘I want to do that. I want to find new and beautiful places in the universe.’ The vastness of space holds so much knowledge that we have only begun to learn.”
How will you Choose to Challenge?
To create a more inclusive world requires that we challenge not only systemic inequality, but also our own biases. The women highlighted above have not only challenged existing systemic structures, but also practiced self-reflection. Changes in society, culture and systems will not happen overnight, they will happen one person at a time.
Start with yourself — how will you choose to challenge? Be prepared to be uncomfortable, ask questions and be one of those people who holds yourself accountable and chooses to challenge not only systemic biases, but our internal biases. Through education and self-reflection, we can learn from our mistakes, take action and improve.
By Tina Jones
Tina Jones @tina.j0nes is an academic researcher by day and cat lady by night. As Editor-in-Chief at Girl Gone International, she is devoted to documenting stories from womxn around the world and elevating the voices and creative energies of GGIs everywhere.