Today is the first day of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence 2023 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 7 continents. Many of these outstanding women have shown that it is possible to transform personal pain they faced surviving gender-based violence into positive action to stop violence against women, empower themselves and show other survivors that it is possible to move forward with dignity and happiness. As survivors, they have chosen to stand up for themselves and for other women and girls.
Others on this list may not have experienced gender-based violence first hand 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 2023 list of 16 female role models. We hope that these women inspire you to get involved with the cause. To that end, we hope you will generously share this list via your social media 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 the activist. 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 the audiobook edition of our 1st charity anthology, Giving The Devil His Due OR buy our 1st poetry collection, Under Her Eye. All donations and net proceeds from book sales go towards supporting our campaigns, programmes, and initiatives.
Female Role Model 1: Akosua Agyepong – Ghana
Akosua Agyepong is the co-founder and executive director of The Pearl Safe Haven, an organisation working to provide a safe place where women and children who have suffered abuse are supported to re-build their lives. After graduating from the University of Ghana, Akosua leveraged her experience in the areas of population, development, and sexual and reproductive health and rights to spearhead direct community outreach design and implementation at the United Nations Population Fund in Ghana. She has advocated for gender and reproductive health-related issues on various national and international platforms, including the G7 Summit and the UN General Assembly. When speaking about VAW to Women Deliver, Agyepong said: “I want a world where girls can live freely without having to work twice as hard, be extra cautious, or be twice as modest and humble just to survive. That is why I do what I do. Simply to make sure girls and women everywhere and anywhere are safe and free.”
Female Role Model 2: Arezoo Najibzadeh – Canada
Arezoo Najibzadeh is the founder of Platform, a Canadian nonprofit organisation dedicated to building leadership capacity among Black, Indigenous, and racialised young women and gender-diverse youth. At the heart of her career is her fight against violence against women in civic leadership, which has received the attention of civic institutions such as the Parliament of Canada and the World Forum for Democracy at the Council of Europe. In an op-ed for The Globe and Mail, she writes: “The time to hashtag #MeToo or to make half-hearted solidarity statements is over. We need to address rape culture and the systems in place that push women and survivors away. That’s how we can build civic spaces that not only welcome women in politics but enable them thrive and lead.”
Female Role Model 3: Asha Devi – India
Asha Devi is the mother of Nirbhaya, the young woman who was gang-raped on a bus in the Indian capital Delhi and died a few days later from her injuries. Over the past decade following her daughter’s death, Asha Devi – who never went to secondary school because the school was too far from her home – became a tireless activist and campaigner for women’s safety, fighting for justice first for her own daughter and then, in her own words, for “all of India’s daughters”. As part of her work, she set up a trust in her daughter’s name to help rape survivors and advise victims of domestic violence. The trust numbers retired judges, lawyers, police officials and activists among its volunteers. In interviews with the press, she explained how Nirbhaya’s death became the turning point in her life: “I kept thinking, what was my daughter’s fault? Why did she have to die so painfully? I saw her hurting and I drew strength from her pain. I promised her I’ll fight for justice for her. I only wanted the men who did this to her to be punished.”
Female Role Model 4: Catherine Sealys – Saint Lucia
Catherine Sealys is the president and one of the founding members of Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia (RYVSLU). Sealys is the voice and passion behind RYVSLU, who not only advocates for women and children but ensures they received the necessary support services and be reintegrated into society as independent, productive individuals. In her interview with The Pixel Project, she said: “We desperately needed to encourage men to actively stand against violence against women while also interrogating how rigid gender roles negatively impact their own lives. Men are not born violent; they are conditioned by society’s image of masculinity. It is time that men question the image and break out of it. We cannot expect women to become empowered without also sensitising and transforming how men behave. They must work hand in hand.”
Female Role Model 5: Corinna Lim – Singapore
Corinna Lim is the executive director of the Association of Women for Research and Action (AWARE). Prior to joining AWARE, she practised law for more than 10 years. She has a master’s degree in public administration (with a focus on social entrepreneurship) from Columbia University and is a Fulbright Scholar. Her work with AWARE started in 1992 when she volunteered at the legal clinic and in 2010 she was appointed the first executive director of AWARE. When asked about whether society can end VAW for good, she said: “Gender-based violence is perpetuated by individuals, but is rooted in long-standing ideas of sexism and inequality. As long as those overarching ideas are allowed to persist, gender-based violence will be perpetuated at all levels of society. For gender-based violence to be truly eliminated, people need to come together and rethink the core elements of how society is shaped.”
Female Role Model 6: Jenni Tuominen – Finland
Jenni Tuominen is the Managing Director of MONIKA (Multicultural Women’s Association, Finland), a nationwide multicultural women’s non-government organisation that promotes the equality and inclusion of immigrant women in Finland and prevents violence against women. Touminen has worked for over two decades to prevent violence and discrimination against women, with a focus on migrant women. She has experience in establishing and organising low threshold and crisis services for women, including victims of human trafficking and honour-related violence. In her interview with The Pixel Project. Tuominen said: “We need to invest in improving the equality of women and increasing the social participation of women around the world. Through these improvements, we can move towards eliminating violence against women. Lately there has been a global backlash to women’s rights, but it won’t stop us — it will empower us to keep taking action.”
Female Role Model 7: Maanda Ngoitiko – Tanzania
Maanda Ngoitiko is a Maasai woman and grassroots leader who has been instrumental in increasing the agency of tens of thousands of indigenous pastoralist and agro-pastoralist women and girls to know and exercise their rights. She is a recipient of the Paul K. Feyerabend Prize, a nominee for The Guardian International Development Achievement Award, an African Visionary Fellow and a Grassroots Champion of Segal Family Foundation. In her interview with The Pixel Project, Ngoitiko, who is a co-founder of the Pastoral Women’s Council said: “When my own sister was forced out of school to get married, I took her place. I went to school with 28 male students and only 1 other girl. Sadly, she was also beaten and forced into early marriage. I realised that this was totally my life prospects and decided – even at such a young age – that, as a community, we needed to change. This is what inspired me to dedicate my life to defend our rights as women, and subsequently to co-found Pastoral Women’s Council.”
Female Role Model 8: Mia Landsem – Norway
Mia Landsem is a lecturer, author, and ethical hacker who focuses on online knowledge and the importance of consent online. Her activism against digital-image-based sexual abuse of women and girls began when her ex spread an intimate photo of her online. She eventually became known as the “data detective” who revealed the source of the spread of intimate photos of handball player Norwegian Nora Mørk in 2017. As part of her work, she users her hacking skills to collect user names, IP addresses, URLs and the metadata from the images themselves – which can include when and where the photograph was taken, and on what device – and turns the evidence over to the police to spur them into action. Most evenings, Landsem goes through an avalanche of emails from women and girls asking for her help and says she never charges victims for her assistance. “No one should have to pay for this,” she told The Guardian.
Female Role Model 9: Nadia Al-Ahdal – Yemen
Nadia Al-Ahdal is a Yemeni activist who came to prominence for escaping two different child marriage pacts her parents had made for her when she was just aged 10. In 2013, she posted a YouTube video condemning the practice of child marriage and her experience of being forced into marriage contracts. The video quickly went viral and shone the spotlight on Yemen’s cultural practice of child marriage. Today, she is the founder of the Nada Foundation through which she continues to fight against child marriage. In 2022 she won the Arab Woman Award for her activism and advocacy. She said in an interview: “I have a lot of work to do. Girls need me to save their lives so that’s my focus. I don’t want to be a housewife now or in the future. I want to be a change-maker.”
Female Role Model 10: Naja Lyberth – Greenland
In the 1960s and 70s, thousands of young Inuit girls in Greenland were fitted with an intrauterine device (IUD) without their permission, resulting in many of them being unable to conceive and bear children later on in life. One of the first Inuit women affected by the Greenland government’s policy of forced contraception of indigenous girls was Naja Lyberth, who was just 13 years old in the 1970s. Now aged 60, she has become an advocate for women like her. Lyberth told the BBC: “I can remember the doctors [in] white coats, and maybe there was a nurse. I saw the metal things [stirrups] where you should spread your legs. It was very frightening. The equipment the doctors used was so big for my child body – it was like having knives inside me.” When she set up a Facebook group to allow women to share their common experiences and help each other cope with the trauma, more than 70 women joined to share harrowing stories of the pain and shame they experienced.
Female Role Model 11: Panmela Castro – Brazil
Panmela Castro is a trained artist educated at the University of Rio de Janeiro who tags her graffiti art with the nom de guerre “Anarkia Boladona”. She turned professional in 2005 and, partly in response to the horrific Maria da Penha domestic violence and attempted femicide case of 2006, she began collaborating with organisation Com Causa (“With Cause”), using her graffiti art to campaign for women’s rights and publicising the Maria da Penha law. “My graffiti is talking about justice, violence, women’s advocacy,” Castro said. Her art has given her a platform to launch her organisation Rede Nami, which educates communities about domestic violence through workshops for mixed groups of teenagers and women. Under Rede Nami, Castro also created the AfroGrafiteiras programme, which has educated over 180 Afro-Brazilian women about black feminism, gender and their own rights while training them as street artists.
Female Role Model 12: Professor Betsy Stanko, OBE – United Kingdom
Professor Betsy Stanko’s research has been described as feminist criminology, combining criminology and women’s studies to explore the impact of gender in the areas of law, crime and policing, In 1996, she received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Criminology and was giving two keynote speeches a week on the costs and causes of domestic violence. She served as Director of the ESRC Violence Research Programme 1997–2002. Following the Sarah Everard case, she began leading – and is still the driving force behind – Operation Soteria Bluestone – an unprecedented investigation into why the police have been failing so badly to tackle sexual violence against women in the UK. After over a decade of battling to get the police to take rape culture, sexism, and misogyny among their ranks seriously, Professor Stanko said of Operation Soteria in an interview with The Guardian: “I mean, it’s Groundhog Day. But this time the wedge is going in so deep they’re not going to be able to pull it out. […] I really feel like this is the best go I’ll ever have at changing things.”
Female Role Model 13: Rand Jarallah – Palestine
Rand Jarallah has served in the United Nations Population Fund where she worked on a series of campaigns and videos (“Reversing the Trend” and “#7DaysofMakeup”), which used cosmetics to kickstart discussions about gender-based violence. Jarallah went on to develop an online women’s rights campaign called Randistic, a campaign featuring photographs, makeup tutorials and videos utilising striking makeup looks to explore issues that affect women, including violence against women. In an interview with CulturaColectiva, she said: “Growing up as a woman in a world that bombards you with messages of a patriarchal nature, where women are constantly objectified […] I used to use so many tools to cover up my insecurities – one of which was makeup. It took me a while to overcome these insecurities and challenge this culture, and today I use makeup to bring awareness to the issues I’m passionate about instead.”
Female Role Model 14: Sanjida Islam Choya – Bangladesh
Sanjida Islam Choya became an activist fighting against child marriage in Bangladesh because she saw how her mother’s early marriage at age 15 cut short her education and resulted in her constantly falling ill. Starting in 2015, she and 6 classmates stopped around 50 child marriages through their organisation Ghasforing with the help of the local police and local counsel authority. As a result of her activism, she has received threats and her parents have pressured her to give up her work. Last year, she was included in the BBC’s 100 Women 2022 list for her activism. She said: “I don’t want to live a life with an uncertain future like my mother, I want to be self-dependent. If you are not economically self-dependent, you cannot be socially self-dependent, and to be that you will have to study and get a good job.”
Female Role Model 15: Tillie Black Bear – United States of America
The late Tillie Black Bear was a domestic abuse survivor who devoted four decades of her life to preventing violence against Native women and girls. In an interview with Smithsonian magazine, Suzanne Blue Star Boy, a prominent Native activist from the Yankton Sioux Tribe who worked beside Black Bear for years, said: “Before Tillie, no one was focusing on Native women in a national way. She took in the national movement that was happening to raise awareness around domestic violence and refocused it on Indian Country.” Black Bear, who died in 2014, also helped establish the playbook for anti-domestic violence organisations and today she is widely regarded and respected as the grandmother of the US’ battered women’s movement.
Female Role Model 16: Wu Rongrong – China
Wu Rongrong is a Chinese feminist and a women’s rights activist. She is a member of China’s “Feminist Five” or the “Gang of Five” who were arrested between 6-8 March 2015, in advance of the launch of a national campaign against sexual harassment on public transport to coincide with the celebration of International Women’s Day 2015. She established the Weizhiming Women’s Center in Hangzhou in 2014 and is its executive director. In an interview with China Change about why she became a women’s human rights activist, Wu said: “All of my female friends encountered harassment when looking for full-time or part-time work. As eighteen- or nineteen-year-old girls, all we could think of was buying a fruit knife for self-defense. […] As a child, I grew up in an extremely patriarchal environment where girls were regarded worthless. Too many times, I witnessed promising young girls from our village forced to abandon their studies and go to work to support their brothers’ educations.”
- Akosua Agyepong – From https://www.thepearlsafehaven.org/
- Arezoo Najibzadeh – From https://www.arezoonz.ca/
- Asha Devi – From “A letter to Asha Devi, mother of ‘Nirbhaya’” (The Asian Age/ Biplab Banerjee)
- Catherine Sealys – Courtesy of Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia
- Corinna Lim – Courtesy of AWARE Singapore
- Jenni Tuominen – Courtesy of MONIKA
- Maanda Ngoitiko – Courtesy of Pastoral Women’s Council
- Mia Landsem – From https://mialandsem.no/
- Nadia Al-Ahdal – From https://nadaalahdal.com/
- Naja Lyberth – From “Inuit Greenlanders demand answers over Danish birth control scandal” (BBC)
- Panmela Castro – From “Panmela Castro: Brazil’s graffiti queen, delivering justice through the nozzle of a paint can” (CNN/Panmela Castro Art Projects)
- Professor Betsy Stanko – From “‘I know where the bodies are buried’: one woman’s mission to change how the police investigate rape” (The Guardian/ Martin Godwin)
- Rand Jarallah – From wd016.org
- Sanjida Islam Choya – From “BBC’s 100 Women: Story of the grasshoppers girl” (Dhaka Tribune)
- Tillie Black Bear – From https://www.niwrc.org/
- Wu Rongrong – From https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/wu-rongrong