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Manisha Mashall of #Dalitwomenfight (courtesy of Thenmozhi Soundararajan)

Leading the way

9 women rising against violence of the police, state, and empire

By Katie Booth on December 4, 2015

In many places across the globe, violence against women has been woven into the fabric of society. Among many examples, in the U.S., the Black Lives Matter movement has spotlighted the impact of police violence against women of color, and in India, stories of brutal rape have made international headlines, shedding light on caste-based violence.

As part of the One Billion Rising campaign, on December 5, female activists from around the world will converge in New York to discuss the intersection of violence with state and government in a panel called Bodies of Revolution: Women Rise Against the Violence of Police, States, and Empire. The conversation will explore why and how women experience violence, and what activists are doing to curb it.

While the age of social media has allowed most to engage in global activism from afar, we wondered, what has it taken for these activists, many of whom have put their lives on the line, to bring about tangible change on the ground? Women in the World asked them about the violences they’re addressing, the biggest risks they’ve taken, and what solidarity means to them in an age of interconnectivity.

1) Eve Ensler (U.S.): Tony Award winning playwright, activist, author of The Vagina Monologues, and founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising


WITW: What violences are you addressing in your work right now?
Eve Ensler: 
The violence done to women’s bodies and the earth, the occupying of people’s land, countries, minds, cultures and the destruction of people based on race, class, caste, and sexuality. All forms of violence flow into one decimating sea of violence and this is where we must lean to swim.

WITW: What’s the biggest risk you have taken as an activist?
Eve Ensler: 
I think any time one stands up against the powers that be, or the given reality, one risks being condemned, belittled, exiled and alone. But the greatest risk to me feels like not having done enough, not going far enough to resist, not being brave enough or bold enough or creative enough or committed enough. The greatest risk is stepping into the struggle and not going the distance, fighting with any means necessary, the risk of losing everything.

2. Yanar Mohammed (Iraq): Co-founder of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq

WITW: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken as an activist?
Yanar Mohammed: Threats against my life personally took many forms: written emails, police raids, and armed Islamist individuals following my movements. Bigger threats took place in high-ranking police meetings, where we were called prostitutes and pimps, and some individuals in those meetings called for ending our operations altogether. On February 25th 2011, we were shot at while demonstrating in Al Tahrir square.
WITW: Why does solidarity matter?
Yanar Mohammed: Although the general understanding in the U.S. is that democracy was achieved in Iraq, the truth is that we the Iraqi women are facing a most dangerous time. The current religious government continues to legislate for women’s inferiority and discrimination, while the mainstream opposition (ISIS) continues to enslave, rape, and gift women to their fighters. The only source of our support as women activists comes from abroad, from the sisters who feel our pain and grief, and from the individuals who did not agree to this kind of political change in Iraq.
3. Fartuun A. Adan (Somalia): Somali/Canadian humanitarian


WITW: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken as an activist?
Fartuun A. Adan: Activists in Somalia continue to face arbitrary arrest, torture and killings. These are attacks that are not investigated. Perpetrators are not prosecuted, and victims are never provided with remedy. The biggest risk I have taken as an activist was breaking the silence on the violence against women in Somalia.

WITW: Why does solidarity matter?
Fartuun A. Adan: 
Solidarity matters when you operate and live in a country that offers none. It creates bridges of shared values and reaches across oceans; it allows a playwright from New York to connect with an activist in Mogadishu. It creates the conditions that allow for changes to take place.

4. Thenmozhi Soundararajan (India): Director of #DalitWomenFightThenmozhi002

WITW: What violences are you addressing in your work right now?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan: 
I work on the issue of caste apartheid and caste-based sexual violence. This system is maintained through a heinous amount of violence. Make no mistake, India’s culture of caste is a culture of rape.

WITW: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken as an activist?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan: 
Working on this project has been my biggest risk. It has led to me, my family, and our network being surveilled, our network and personal devices hacked, physical harassment, and death threats by perpetrators and their sympathizers in the government.

5. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw (U.S.): ­ Professor of Law at UCLA and Columbia Law School. Spearheaded the Why We Can’t Wait Campaign and co-authored Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected, and Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women

(Mike Windle/Getty Images)
(Mike Windle/Getty Images)

WITW: What violences are you addressing in your work?
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw: My work over the years has been directed toward highlighting the ways that women and girls of color are vulnerable to multiple forms of violence.  Women of color in the U.S. face higher rates of all forms of violence, yet organizing efforts against racial violence and gender violence have traditionally overlooked the connections between the two. Without a fuller understanding of all of the contexts in which black bodies are vulnerable to police violence, a movement seeking accountability cannot be successful.

WITW: Why does solidarity matter?
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw: 
Real solidarity is finding the courage to speak up at home as well as in the streets, to challenge and seek accountability from the people we think of as our family, as well as those we think of as potential allies. No woman or girl of color should ever have to chose between denouncing the violence she experiences or being a valued member of her community.  This is what real solidarity would mean.

6. Saud Amiry (Palestine): ­Writer, conservation architect, and political and social activist

Suad photo in grey by Alessandro Rossellini

WITW: What violences are you addressing in your work right now?
Saud Amiry: The violence of evicting Palestinians from their homes.  Whole families, women and children are being evicted, as we talk right now, from their homes in Arab East Jerusalem.

WITW: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken as an activist?
Saud Amiry: 
The biggest risk I’ve taken as an activist and writer was when I disguised myself as a Palestinian male laborer and accompanied a group of 24 Palestinian men to “illegally” sneak into Israel seeking a job. Accompanying “the illegal workers in their homeland,” reaching the Israeli town of PtahTikva from my hometown Ramallah should’ve taken us 30 minutes by car. However the trip took us 18 hours of walking, waiting, hiding, being shot at and/or arrested.

7. Lu Pin (China): Program manager of Media Monitor for Women Network and chief editor of Feminist Voices


WITW: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken as an activist?
Lu Pin: For my organization, the biggest risk is the lack of legitimation. In China, human rights advocacy organizations are operating in a grey area without legal status. Our operation is not protected by law, and under this circumstance, we have to be strategic.

Why does solidarity matter?
Lu Pin: Isolated activists or advocacy organizations have no means to survive. In this multifaceted battle against various power structures; we have to form a community and help one another out. Solidarity does not mean that we have to fully agree with one another or always act consistently. Internal debate, even dispute, is essential.

8. Nimmi Gowrinathan, (Sri Lanka): Expert on gender and violence, and the creator of


WITW: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken as an activist?
Nimmi Gowrinathan: There is an inherent risk in choosing to be an activist, and one that every activist is conscious of. There is a risk in researching, documenting, challenging state violence and sexual violence. The real question is, and should always be, why do activists, who fight for women’s rights and reveal their political voices, have to risk their lives to do so?

WITW: Why does solidarity matter?
Nimmi Gowrinathan: In an age of superficial, social-media fueled solidarities, it is critical to expose the limits of identity politics and to present, for a younger generation — an activism that recognizes the historical, cultural, and geographic specifics of struggle — yet still fights to find points of connection that strengthen each cause, while building a collective challenge to the family, the community, the state, and the empire.

9. Monique Wilson (Philippines): Director of One Billion Rising


WITW: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken as an activist?
Monique Wilson: I have been very aware of the privilege I have as an artist/activist – where an international community, even in my work as One Billion Rising global director, affords me a level of security. But it is not the same for many of my Gabriela sisters who continue to face the gravest forms of political prosecution because of political activism – who teach me everyday what courage and hope mean – in the fight for genuine freedom.

WITW: Why does solidarity matter?
Monique Wilson: 
Solidarity is strength. It is power. It is the force needed to show the might and voice of all the struggling people of the world against the system of war, capital, economic greed and aggression that is killing of humanity everywhere on this planet. It’s needed to restore the heart of the world that is fighting to reclaim dignity, integrity, respect and equality and peace.

The “Bodies of Revolution” panel will take place in New York City on Saturday, December 5. Watch the live stream starting at 10:00 am EST here


These responses have been edited.