By Hanna Nussair
“Rape is being used as a weapon of war in Ukraine.”
“Girls are at an increasing risk of child marriage in Afghanistan.”
“Sudan’s ban on female genital mutilation isn’s enough to protect women and girls.”
Around the globe, we rely on storytellers to amplify the voices of women survivors of violence. Despite the prospect of danger, women advocates, organizers, journalists and researchers continue to bravely take a stand across the world. Without their crucial work, the stories of marginalized women around the world will be lost and many acts of gender-based violence will persist.
Being a woman storyteller is not easy—they face ongoing threats of abuse while speaking out on behalf of other women. Many women storytellers are speaking up on behalf of their own communities, elevating their risk of stigmatization and violence.
We are honoring the powerful women who amplify the stories of survivors, during Women’s History Month and beyond. Take a moment to learn more about a few global advocates who are working towards a more safe and equitable world for women everywhere.
- Isha Sesay, Journalist
Isha Sesay is an award-winning British journalist and author of Sierra Leonean descent. During her career as a journalist and news reporter for CNN, she was an fervent advocate for women and girls survivors of violence. While at CNN, she broke the story of the abduction of 276 girls from their school in Chibok, Nigeria—this work was a prominent force in the #BringBackOurGirls movement. Isha was the only journalist on the ground to accompany 21 of the girls back home after their rescue. She later wrote a book about the abducted girls in Nigeria entitled Beneath the Tamarind Tree.
Currently, Isha is a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) where her key focus is ending gender-based violence against women and girls. She is also the founder and head of W.E (Women Everywhere) Can Lead, an NGO that works to empower, educate, and support adolescent girls in Sierra Leone.
- Vanessa Warri, Researcher and Activist
Vanessa Warri is a Nigerian-American researcher and advocate for the safety of Black transgender women and queer and transgender people of color. For over ten years, she provided direct services and peer education for transgender communities, LGBTQQIA+ youth, and individuals who are incarcerated. She is the first Black trans woman to be accepted into the University of California Los Angeles’s PhD program in Social Welfare. Vanessa’s research at UCLA focuses on social empowerment interventions for Black transgender and gender diverse people.
In addition to her community-based research, Vanessa is an active and outspoken advocate working to bring the lived experiences of Black trans women and trangender women of color to the forefront. Vanessa was profiled by CNN in 2020 as part of their “Voices of the Movement” video series where she spoke about her work, and shared the story of Layleen Polanco, a Afro-Latina transgender woman who died in solitary confinement in Rikers Island jail.
As a board member for the organization Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society (GLITS), Vanessa is currently working alongside her mentor, prominent Black trans advocate Ceyenne Doroshow, to provide safe housing for transgender individuals.
- Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, Journalists
Niloofar Hamedi is an Iranian journalist who works for the popular Iranian reformist newspaper Shargh. Elahe Mohammadi is an Iranian journalist that reports on society and women’s issues for the Iranian newspaper Ham-Mihan. Both women were jailed in their home country for breaking the news on the death of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian young woman arrested by Iran’s morality police for “improperly” wearing her hijab.
Niloofar and Elahe were both active advocates for women and girls in Iran and published numerous pieces relating to women’s rights in their home country prior to their arrests. In late 2022, the government of Iran accused both journalists of being foreign intelligence agents and planning to orchestrate nationwide protests. If they are charged with espionage, they could face the death penalty.
In February of this year, the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression awarded both women with the International Press Freedom Award. They are currently both still imprisoned in Iran awaiting trial.
- Tarana Burke, Writer and Advocate
Tarana Burke is an American business executive and activist who founded the Me Too movement in 2006. Before it was the worldwide initiative we know today, the early roots of the Me Too movement came from Tarana’s experience working with young Black survivors of sexual violence. The campaign was created by Tarana as a way for young women of color to share their experiences with violence. The initiative also aimed to train survivors to work in communities of color. When survivors of sexual violence in Hollywood came forward to share their stories in 2017, the hashtag #MeToo went viral, and Tarana became a global leader in the violence against women space.
In 2017, Tarana was named one of TIME Magazine’s People of the Year. She has since been internationally recognized, and continues to share the stories of women and girl survivors in the US and abroad. In 2021, she published her memoir Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement. She currently serves as the Senior Director of Girls for Gender Equity, a non-profit that provides leadership opportunities of Black girls and young gender-diverse people of color.
- Jill Filipovic and Nichole Sobecki, Journalist and Photographer
Jill Filipovic is an award-winning American journalist and author, and Nichole Sobecki is an American photographer for National Geographic. The pair has teamed up to tell women’s truths across the world—from the US, to Kenya, to Bangladesh, Colombia, Ghana and beyond. Prominent topics of their work include sexual abuse against women and women’s reproductive rights.
In 2019, the pair traveled to Honduras to tell the stories of women survivors forced to flee their home country to receive care after they experience sexual violence. The country has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world and a 95 percent impunity rate for sexual violence and femicide crimes. Their nearly 5,000 word essay and photo spread in POLITICO magazine shares the experiences of survivors between the ages of 12-34 while they heal from rape, domestic violence and unwanted pregnancy.
Until we live in a world free of gender-based violence, there will be women strong enough to be a voice for the voiceless. And as they do, we must continue to support, read and follow their incredible work to hold perpetrators accountable.
Hanna Nussair is the social media consultant for Global Rights for Women.
To continue learning about and supporting unjustly imprisoned women’s rights storytellers in Iran, follow the Center for Human Rights in Iran: @ICRI on Twitter and @CenterforHumanRights on Instagram.