The Sisterhood: 7 Inspiring Activists Working for Women Worldwide

Working to Improve Women’s Lives

When it comes to maternal health, reproductive rights and women’s rights in general – these seven women are inspiring change around the world. Whether their efforts are here at home raising awareness or in the villages of Senegal risking their lives to end female genital cutting – these women have fearlessly and relentlessly  transformed and empowered the lives of countless women and girls throughout the world.  In partnership with Women Deliver and the Women Deliver 100 Most Inspiring People Delivering For Girls and Women, the Million Moms Challenge is proud to salute the following activists for their tireless work to improve the lives of women while securing a better life for the next generation of women and mothers.


Marietou Diarra, Senegal Community Activist Issue: Women’s empowerment and female genital cutting How she delivers for women: Diarra lost two daughters to “the tradition,” as female genital cutting is called in her native Senegal, and the tragedy drove her to become an anti-cutting activist. Diarra’s first daughter was only three when she died; her second daughter was seven. But a girl who did not undergo “the tradition” faced intolerable social stigma, and it wasn’t until the elder of a neighboring village proposed ending the practice that Diarra and other women could conceive of change – and speak out. In 1998, the 13 intermarrying villages in Diarra’s region decided, together, to end female genital cutting. Then, with help from the nonprofit Tostan, Diarra approached 48 other villages – all of whom abandoned the practice. Her determined grassroots activism and passionate approach to peer-education has proven the power of communities to decide for themselves to put girls first. Learn More by clicking here.


Christy Turlington Burns, United States Founder of Every Mother Counts,  Model, Maternal Health Advocate, Documentary Filmmaker Issue: Maternal and reproductive health How she delivers for women: Inspired by her own postpartum complication after the birth of her daughter, Turlington Burns has emerged as a courageous advocate for maternal and reproductive health. In 2010, she financed and directed No Woman No Cry, a documentary which features the powerful stories of four at-risk pregnant women around the world. She is bringing new attention to an old issue, and helping raise women’s voices where they’ve been silent too long. Learn more by clicking here.


Nadia Ribadeneira, Ecuador Founding member of La Casa Feminista de Rosa, Member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Issue: Women’s rights and prisoners’ rights How she delivers for women: Though only 26, Ribadeneira has already proven herself a passionate and effective advocate for both female prisoners’ rights and for young women’s sexual and reproductive freedom. She has publicly denounced abuse in Ecuador’s women’s prisons, where corruption, bribery, and overcrowding are commonplace. She advocates for alternative penalties for women while raising awareness of female prisoners’ rights in the media. Ribadeneira is a founding member of La Casa Feminista de Rosa (Rosa’s Feminist House), a social center dedicated to defending the rights of women, and of La Coalición Ecuatoriana por la Despenaliación del Aborto (Ecuadorian Coalition for the Decriminalization of Abortion) which fights for safe abortion services, especially for young women.  In her work for women across the country, she is proving the power of grassroots feminist action. Learn more by clicking here.


Gloria Steinem, USA Writer, Feminist, Organizer and Activist

Issue: Gender equality How she delivers for women: As the face and heart of the American feminist movement, Steinem has been redefining the fight for gender equality since the 1960s. In over four decades of activism and organizing, she has pursued a radically simple goal: a world in which everyone matters. Steinem co-founded Ms. Magazine in 1972, tackling issues that nobody else would, from domestic violence to children’s rights to abortion. She was the force behind initiatives including Voters for Choice, the Ms. Foundation for Women, Take Our Daughters to Work Day, and the Women’s Media Center. She has lent her iconic voice to women’s causes worldwide, speaking out with particular passion for equal economic opportunity and reproductive rights, and against sex-trafficking. Above all, she continually reminds us that as feminists, our work is not over until everyone, everywhere is equal. Learn more by clicking here.


Zahra Rahnavard, Iran Artist and Activist, Former Chancellor of al-Zahra University Issue: Women’s rights and gender equality How she delivers for women: During Iran’s 2009 presidential elections, Rahnavard campaigned alongside her husband, reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi, — the first time a political wife had ever done so. Women make up 65 percent of Iran’s university students, and they can work, drive, and run for parliament—but they have half the legal rights of men in criminal, divorce, child custody, and inheritance cases, and have to adhere to a strict Islamic dress code in public. During the elections, Rahnavard called for a revision of laws that discriminate against women and 25 greater representation of women in government. In the aftermath of the election, when Iranians poured into the streets calling for reform, Rahnavard joined her husband as one of the faces of the Green Revolution, and despite brutal government repression, she has remained a steadfast voice for women’s rights. Learn more by clicking here.


Sarah Nkhoma, Malawi HIV/AIDS activist and educator

Issue: Sex education and HIV/AIDS How she delivers for women: At just 21, Nkhoma has braved condemnation and violence to educate Malawi’s young people about HIV/AIDS. Inspired by her own sister’s difficult decision to disclose her HIV-positive status, Nkhoma committed herself to removing the stigma associated with HIV in Malawi. At her alma mater, where one in three students graduated HIV-positive, she worked to deliver crucial information about safe sex and HIV/AIDS, and to foster honest discussions about sexual behavior. For her life-saving frank talk, she came under enormous pressure from her government and community, and she was jailed and brutally beaten. But Nkhoma has persevered, dedicated to supporting those living with HIV, and working toward the day when all Malawians will live free of it. Learn more by clicking here.


Shada Mohammed Nasser, Yemen Human rights lawyer Issue: Girls’ and womens’ rights How she delivers for women: When 10-year-old Nujood Ali came to Nasser, a human rights lawyer and the founder of Yemen’s first all-female law office, Ali asked for one thing: a divorce. Nasser took the case, and in 2008 she won the first ruling in Yemen’s history freeing a child bride from forced marriage. Roughly 50 percent of Yemeni girls are married before they are 18, and though the law forbids sex until the bride is “suitable for sexual intercourse,” the requirement is often ignored. Ali and Nasser gained worldwide attention for the case, and Nasser has gone on to represent several other child brides, while pushing the government to raise the legal age of marriage. Through her courageous work, she has helped to shatter the silence surrounding child marriage, offering a new hope to girls across the region.

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