Today is the first day of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence 2022 campaign and The Pixel Project is kicking things off with our 10th annual list of 16 female role models fighting to end violence against women in their communities. The intent of this list is simple: to highlight the good work of the heroines of the movement to end violence against women wherever they are in the world. The women in this year’s list hail from 16 countries and 6 continents.
Many of these outstanding women have shown that it is possible to transform personal pain that came out of facing gender-based violence, into positive action to stop violence against women, empower themselves and to show other survivors that it is possible to move forward with dignity and happiness. They have refused to let bitterness and pain get the better of them, opting to stand up for themselves and for other women and girls instead.
Others on this list may not have experienced gender-based violence inflicted on themselves but they have stepped up to do what is right: to speak up for women and girls who cannot do it for themselves, sometimes at great personal risk. All this requires immense courage, generosity of spirit and a strong enduring heart.
Without further ado, here in alphabetical order by first name is, our 2022 list of 16 female role models. We hope that these women would be an inspiration to others to get involved with the cause. To that end, we hope you will generously share this list via Facebook and Twitter to give these extraordinary 16 women and their work a moment in the sun.
It’s time to stop violence against women. Together.
Note: Information for all role model profiles is sourced via online research and is based on one or more news sources, articles and/or The Pixel Project’s own interviews with them. The main articles/reports from which these profiles have been sourced can be directly accessed via the hyperlinked titles. Please do click through to learn more about these remarkable women.
Written, researched and compiled by Regina Yau
Inspired to support The Pixel Project’s anti-violence against women work? Make a donation to us today OR buy our Shirley Jackson Award-nominated 1st charity anthology, Giving The Devil His Due. All donations and net proceeds from book and audiobook sales go towards supporting our campaigns, programmes, and initiatives.
Female Role Model 1: Anna Qabale Duba – Kenya
Anna Qabale Duba was subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) at age 12 and escaped forced marriage at age 14. Today, she is a nurse at Marsabit County Referral
Hospital where she endeavours to end both forms of VAW. In 2022, her work gained international recognition when she was awarded the title of “World’s Best Nurse”. Additionally, through her Qabale Duba Foundation, the school she has built in her village not only educates girls but also teaches parents about key sexual and reproductive health issues. Qabale told the BBC: “It’s not easy to talk about these things publicly. Being a woman – and we come from our patriarchal families – it’s not easy to talk about them, but I am really trying my level best.”
Female Role Model 2: Brittany Higgins – Australia
On 15 February 2021, Brittany Higgins, then a Liberal Party junior staffer, told two media outlets – news.com.au and The Project — that she had been raped late at night
on 22 March 2019 in then-Defence Industry Minister Senator Linda Reynolds’ office by a male colleague. In the weeks following the publication of her allegations, three more women came forward to allege that they had been sexually harassed or assaulted by the same man between 2016 and 2020. Ms. Higgins’ courage to go public and the Australian conservative government’s victim-blaming reaction and resistance to investigating cases of rape and sexual assault in Australian politics (including Higgins’ former boss, defence minister Linda Reynolds calling her “a lying cow”) fuelled public anger, leading to thousands marching to protest the sexual abuse and harassment of women in Australia and forcing both Reynolds and the then prime minister Scott Morrison to issue public apologies to Higgins and other staff who had suffered sexual abuse and assault.
Female Role Model 3: Charm Tong – Burma
Charm Tong is a Shan human rights activist who is one of the founders of the now defunct Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), one of the founding member organisations of the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), an umbrella organisation that comprises twelve women’s groups from Burma. SWAN published the 2002 report, License to Rape: The Burmese military regime’s use of sexual violence in the ongoing war in Shan State, which details 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, involving 625 girls and women, committed by Burmese army troops between 1996 and 2001 in Shan State. Tong was awarded multiple accolades for her work on investigating and exposing the Burmese military’s abuses of women in the Shan region. Today, Tong continues to speak up for the atrocity of the use of rape by the Burmese military against ethnic minority women as a strategy of war.
Female Role Model 4: Cheryl Horn – United States of America
In December 2019, Cheryl Horn’s niece Selena Not Afraid, 16, disappeared without a trace. Overnight, Horn became an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous
women (MMIW) as she worked tirelessly with her family, community, and law enforcement to locate her niece. After Selena’s body was found three weeks later, Horn pushed on with her advocacy work to seek and bring justice to MMIW cases, often acting as spokesperson for her reservation and community and their liaison with non-profit organisations, state officials, and law enforcement working on such cases. Speaking to USA Today who recognised her as one of their Woman of the Year 2022 luminaries, Horn said: “Trying to keep speaking up and staying positive, it can wear on you, it really can […] At the end of the day, I’m the voice – I made that choice. And I have to stick with it. Because justice comes in many forms.”
Female Role Model 5: Lady Mounass – Senegal
Senegalese pop star Lady Mounass became one of the leading voices of Senegal’s movement against the rape and murder of women when she wrote a song about her
2011 rape experience and spoke about it publicly during a talk show interview. Since that interview, she has heard from many rape survivors and become a spokeswoman against sexual violence. Her song has given them a voice and has become the soundtrack to a government campaign that she joined to raise awareness of sexual violence and the legal support available to women. Historically, Senegalese women who have been raped suffer severe stigmatisation by their communities, which silences them from voicing out. Lady Mounass hopes her song will help other women to speak out. “I have a platform as a singer and I feel a sense of responsibility. I felt that I had to say something about this […] I’m calling on men in particular to stop the culture around rape and to stop making it something that women feel they have to keep quiet about.”
Female Role Model 6: Mariam Shaqura – Palestine
Mariam Shaqura is the Director of Women’s Affairs at the Red Crescent Society (RCS) in Palestine where she works to support refugee women at the Jabalya
women’s health centre which is located in the largest refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Created in 1998, the Jabalya Women’s Health Centre is a partner of UN Women in Gaza under the project “Protection of Women and Girls Survivors or at Risk of Violence during COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip”. When violence escalated on the Strip in 2021, ultimately damaging the health centre, Shaqura and her colleagues continued providing medical services – albeit severely disrupted and underfunded – to frontliners and women in the area. In an op-ed for the UN, Shaqura wrote: “The attack did not affect the strong will of our team and the local community. […] Just a few weeks after the ceasefire, we are offering telephone counselling, first psychological aid, dignity kits to meet women’s basic needs as many left their homes without anything. We are also doing group therapy and we continue to provide pre-natal and post-partum services.
Female Role Model 7: Marina Pisklakova-Parker – Russia
In July 1993, Marina Pisklakova-Parker founded the first domestic violence crisis hotline in Russia after witnessing the mother of one of her son’s classmates appear at
school with a severely bruised face due to a beating from her husband. Through her ground-breaking work, Pisklakova-Parker has pushed for just representation of domestic violence victims in Russian courts, trained domestic violence counsellors, and created programmes which provide legal and psychological help for victims and survivors. Today, Pisklakova-Parker’s ANNA (Association No to Violence) organisation has expanded to include a network of more than 40 crisis centres across Russia. Pisklakova-Parker told TIME magazine: “We basically took over everything the state should have been doing.” She has also expanded her focus to assist Russian women and children who are targeted by human trafficking networks.
Female Role Model 8: Masha Efrosinina – Ukraine
One of the most horrifying atrocities to emerge from Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine is the use of rape by Russian troops as a weapon of war. Masha Efrosinina, a high-profile Ukrainian TV presenter and honorary ambassador for the UNFPA, has heard dozens of stories of sexual assault and rape from her two million followers. Now, she is working with the Ukrainian National Police to help rape victims come forward, including appealing using her Instagram account to encourage Ukrainian women to report sexual assaults to the authorities. Thanks to her efforts, calls to the rape and sexual assault hotline set up by the Ministry of Internal Affairs have increased as the prosecutor general of Ukraine begins to investigate Russian war crimes.
Female Role Model 9: Mehriban Zeynalova – Azerbaijan
After Mehriban Zeynalova left her violent husband, she and her children were homeless until she was given a job by a women’s organisation and was able to save enough for an apartment. After she found her footing to rebuild her life, she started “Təmiz Dünya”, an organisation providing shelter for domestic abuse victims which has grown over the past two decades to help 650 women and children annually. Zeynalova has had to move her shelter five times due to funding setbacks. Finally, she borrowed money to buy land and build the first two floors. Then she put out a call for help on the shelter’s Facebook page, inspiring people to donate building materials while she sold her care to pay for construction labour. “Not only did she get herself back on to her feet but she helped others,” says Elnura, Zeynalova’s daughter who is now a legal consultant for the shelter.
Female Role Model 10: Memory Banda – Malawi
After Memory Banda’s younger sister was forced into marriage at the age of 11, she became a fierce advocate for girls, championing a national campaign that culminated
in landmark legislation that outlawed child marriage in Malawi. Through her work with Let Girls Lead and the Girl Empowerment Network of Malawi, Banda collaborates with girl leaders to ensure that village chiefs ban child marriage, end sexual initiation practices which the goal of empowering girls to finish their education and live their lives free from being gender-based violence. In her TED Talk, Banda said: “I know that together, we can transform the legal, the cultural and political framework that denies girls of their rights. I am standing here today and declaring that we can end child marriage in a generation. This is the moment where a girl and a girl, and millions of girls worldwide, will be able to say, “I will marry when I want.”
Female Role Model 11: Rhobi Samwelly – Tanzania
Rhobi Samwelly watched her best friend die from female genital mutilation (FGM) when they were both 11, then nearly died from the procedure herself when she was 13. She went on to finish school and train as a teacher before returning to her community to begin combating FGM. Samwelly established two safe houses where, to date, 1807 girls have been rescued and supported during cutting season. In 2017, she founded Hope for Girls and Women Tanzania which takes a multi-pronged strategy towards eliminating FGM while improving access to reproductive and maternal healthcare for women and girls. Samwelly said, “I grew up in a small village where girls were seen as commodities to exchange for cattle, I was cut and forced to marry against my will. I want to inspire girls to stand up for their rights to education, not to be cut, and to marry who they choose.
Female Role Model 12: Rita Chaikin – Israel
Rita Chaikin was working at the Rape Crisis Center in Kiryat Shmona, Israel, when she was asked to utilise her fluency in Russian to counsel incarcerated Russian
women who were human trafficking victims. This experience galvanised her to specialise in combating human trafficking worldwide. She became the Anti-Trafficking Project Coordinator for Isha L’Isha-Haifa Feminist Center through which her pioneering programs have fostered collaborations between government and law officials, and non-governmental organisations in identifying, assisting, and protecting victims; prosecuting traffickers; and educating the public. In 2006, Vital Voices awarded her a human rights award for her tireless anti-trafficking work. Ms Chaikin said: “I encountered so many Russian women in Israel who had been deceived and victimised. At that time no one was defending their rights or taking the problem seriously. Now people are beginning to realise that we were dealing with a phenomenon, not merely a collection of isolated cases.”
Female Role Model 13: Sohini Chakraborty – India
Sohini Chakraborty is the founder and director of Kolkata Sanved, a programme she pioneered that utilises dance movement therapy (DMT) as a method of recovery,
rehabilitation and self-expression for mainstreaming survivors of trafficking and violence. Called the Sampoornata model, the DMT that Chakraborty developed over 15 years uses dance and movement to help participants take agency over their bodies and emotions, voice their opinions, and access their rights. Today, Kolkata Sanved is a non-profit which has expanded its original mission of empowering survivors of gender-based violence to include supporting at-risk children and youth. Chakraborty is an Ashoka Fellow and under her leadership, Kolkata Sanved received the 2009 Beyond Sport Award for best health project.
Female Role Model 14: Stella Creasy – United Kingdom
Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow in London, is one of the United Kingdom’s most outspoken politicians working to end violence against women. In 2018, she successfully put forward an amendment to the “upskirting” bill, to help ensure misogyny would be considered as an aggravating factor in the offence. While her efforts to make misogyny a hate crime in England and Wales was recently rejected by ministers, she continues to push on with her work for women’s rights. In a recent interview, she spoke frankly about being threatened with gang rape while at Cambridge in the mid-1990s because she dared to run for student council and how it still affects her decades later. During the interview, she addressed women who have undergone the same trauma, including women in parliament: “You will find allies, you will find those of us prepared to stand with you because we know what it’s like, we know how hard it is and we know the impact it can have on you.”
Female Role Model 15: Dr Summaiya Syed – Pakistan
In Pakistan, over 14,000 women have reportedly been raped in the last four years but fewer than three percent of rapists in those cases were convicted. Dr Summaiya Syed battles against this gender-based atrocity in her unique capacity as a medico-legal officer (MLO) for 23 years in Karachi. As an MLO, she is tasked with determining the circumstances under which someone had lost their life or been injured and to present her findings. Using her expertise, she provides as much verifiable evidence in rape cases as possible, saying: “With all the additional information, I’m giving the police and prosecution evidence to build a case, to corroborate what the victim tells them.” In 2020, Dr Summaiya became the first woman to hold the post of Additional Police Surgeon, Karachi, at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC). She said: “I was posted here by some people who thought I could bring about a change in the system. […] My colleagues and I wanted to make this hospital the face of medico-legal standards in the country.”
Female Role Model 16: Yuan Feng – China
Veteran Chinese women’s human rights campaigner Yuan Feng is the co-founder of Equality, an NGO based in Beijing, which focuses on women’s rights, gender equality, working to end domestic violence and helping survivors of gender-based violence. From 2000 to 2014, she was also a founding member, once acting Director and then Chairperson of the Anti-Domestic Violence Network. In her op-ed for UN Women about tackling domestic violence in China, she writes about the unique difficulties that victims in China face when attempting to flee their abuser: “If a woman with a child has faced domestic violence and needs to move away from her home, she needs shelter and the child needs education. But our school system is household-registration centred. If your household is registered in one place, it’s hard to transfer to another region for school. But sometimes the people affected by domestic violence need to move temporarily or even permanently. So different ministries and different sectors need to work together to fight domestic violence.”
- Anna Qabale Duba – From www.asterguardians.com
- Brittany Higgins – From Twitter (https://twitter.com/britthiggins)
- Charm Tong – From The Bangkok Post
- Cheryl Horn – From “Outstanding Indigenous Woman: Meet Cheryl Horn, advocate for families of MMIW victims” (Great Falls Tribune/Cheryl Horn)
- Lady Mounass – From “The Senegalese pop star who dared to sing about rape” (BBC/Lady Mounass)
- Mariam Shaqura – From “From where I stand: Supporting refugee women amidst violence in Gaza” (UN Women/Mariam Shaqura)
- Marina Pisklakova-Parker – From https://www.vitalvoices.org/honoree/marina-pisklakova-parker/
- Masha Efrosinina – From Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/mashaefrosinina/)
- Mehriban Zeynalova – From ‘They gave me a chance’: refuge where abused Azerbaijani women find hope’ (The Guardian/ Ismayil Fataliyev)
- Memory Banda – From Wikipedia (By Oslo Freedom Forum, Photographer: Reka Nyari – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61598413)
- Rhobi Samwelly – From Twitter (https://twitter.com/rhobi15)
- Rita Chaikin – From VitalVoices.org
- Sohini Chakraborty – From Kolkata Sanved
- Stella Creasy – From Wikipedia (By Richard Townshend – https://members-api.parliament.uk/api/Members/4088/Portrait?cropType=ThreeFourGallery: https://members.parliament.uk/member/4088/portrait, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86630960)
- Dr Summaiya Syed – From “‘Not a quitter’: The Karachi doctor taking rapists to court” (Al Jazeera/Sanam Maher)
- Yuan Feng – From “In the words of Yuan Feng: “Different sectors need to work together to fight domestic violence” (UN Women/Ryan Brown)