“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even if her shackles are very different than my own.”
These words by Audre Lorde, a writer, feminist, and civil rights activist, may as well be the motto for the following groups of women. Each one saw how women and girls were struggling in their local communities or across the globe and chose to come together and do something about it.
From social media, to videos, to non-profit organizations, the following stories show how their work has empowered women to live better lives.
1. So this happened…
A duo in New Zealand, Maha Albadrawi and Lucy Zee, started an animated web series after realizing that they and their female friends all had something in common – experiencing sexual harassment that was never dealt with. The motivation behind their show: “The more that you tell these stories, and the more people hear it, the sooner we can stop all this crap happening to us,” said Zee.
Similar to the #MeToo movement reframing sexual violence, their show, So This Happened, lets women talk about experiences with sexual harassment that they would otherwise keep to themselves or only share with close female acquaintances. The series also uses a different female illustrator for each episode – so every story is told completely by women.
2. Dress for success
After receiving a $5,000 inheritance from her great-grandmother, Nancy Lublin teamed up with three nuns and founded Dress for Success in the basement of a Manhattan church. The organization not only provides women with professional attire, but is a network of support and development tools to help break the cycle of poverty and empower women to achieve economic independence.
Since its founding in 1996, affiliates have spread to over 150 cities in 30 countries. Combined, they have helped over one million women on the road to becoming self-sufficient.
3. Women for women
After her husband became sick and lost his job, Awham was left with no money to take care of her four children. And because she was pulled out of school to get married, she did not have an education or the skills needed for a job.
That’s when she discovered Women for Women International, an international organization, founded by husband and wife Zainab Salbi and Amjad Atallah, that helps marginalized women in countries affected by war. Like Awham in Iraq, women in these countries can participate in programs and training sessions that enable them to earn money, improve their well-being, make decisions in the home and community, and find a network of support. To date, they have helped nearly 500,000 women create sustainable change for themselves and their communities.
After graduating from the program, Awham was able to create a healthy environment for her children, is insisting that her daughters complete school, and has started her own small tailoring business.
4. She is
“She is anything she wants to be.” That was commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Brenda Andress’ inspiration for the name of the SheIs initiative.
SheIS is an effort to increase resources, viewership, and attendance at women’s professional sporting events. Launched earlier this year, it has already gained support of eight sporting leagues, including the WNBA and the U.S. Tennis Association, with the commissioners of each pledging to attend one another’s events. Through the social media campaign, the founders hope it will help encourage female athletes to support each other and embolden young girls to keep playing sports.
5. Living your dream
Back in 1921, a group of over 80 women gathered in Oakland, California, during a time before women were allowed to join service organizations. Led by Violet Richardson, the group met weekly to hear speakers on worldwide issues and debate which service project to take on. Always rooted on the belief that women and girls should reach their full potential, their projects sought to give women an equal voice in building strong and peaceful communities.
That group was named Soroptimist, which roughly translated from Latin means “Best for Women”, and now consists of four federations across the world. One of which is Soroptimist International of the Americas, whose board and leadership consists entirely of women. Through their Dream Programs, they have helped 30,0000 women and girls achieve an education since 1972, provided 10,000 girls with career support, and have inspired 100,000 activists to spread awareness of the challenges faced by women and girls today.
Ashleen Knutsen is a science writer and editor in Los Angeles. After a decade of experience in engineering and research, she decided to pursue a career in science communications to not only spark women and girls’ interest in STEM, but to let them know that they too can change the world.