Five activist moms who inspire us
Change starts at home, and moms are at the front lines of change--creating a better future for us all. They teach their sons about equality, empower their daughters to defy stereotypes, and shape our worldviews, and the next generation of our societies.
As many countries around the world celebrate Mother’s Day this week, meet some moms who are fighting the good fight, for women’s rights and equality for us all.
1) Speaking out for parental leave in the USA
Award-winning actor, long-standing supporter of girls’ and women’s rights and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Anne Hathaway, works to raise awareness on the issues of parental leave, and the unequal care work as major barriers to gender equality.
From memories of not having enough time with her own father, to the moment she became a mother, Anne is using her own experiences to call for change. She advocates for affordable childcare services and shared parental leave—policies that will have real-world impact for families.
“I remember the indescribable—and as I understand it universal—experience of holding my week-old son and feeling my priorities change on a cellular level,” Anne says.
“I remember I experienced a shift in consciousness that gave me the ability to maintain my love of career and cherish something else, someone else, much, much more. Like so many parents, I wondered how I was going to balance my work with my new role as a parent, and in that moment, I remember that the statistic for the US’s policy on maternity leave flashed through my mind.”
2) Pursuing justice in Mexico
Irinea Buendía remembers the last day she saw her daughter, Mariana Lima, as if it was just yesterday. Her daughter had decided to leave her abusive husband. 'I will file a complaint…I know they will not touch him. He has always said that I cannot do anything to him, as he is a policeman; but I want to set a legal precedent." Mariana had said. “I will be back at three, and have lunch with you, mom”.
Mariana never made it to lunch.
Irinea lost her daughter to femicide/feminicide—gender-based killings of women. Ever since that day, Irinea has fought for justice for her daughter.
"For years I have suffered not only the murder and loss of my daughter...the ordeal of dealing with the authorities and the judicial system only increased my pain because of the impunity and the corruption in these institutions," shared Irinea.
Thanks to her advocacy and commitment to justice, Mexico's Supreme Court issued a historic order in favour of Irinea, stating that the absence of a gender-sensitive approach had led to human rights violations of the victim—both Mariana Lima, the deceased, and her surviving mother. Eventually, Mariana’s husband and killer was arrested, and the case set a precedence for femicide investigations.
Today, as a human rights defender, Irinea supports other families in the country who have lost women to gender-related killings and helps them to access justice.
3) Fighting FGM in the Gambia
Jaha Dukureh, UN Women Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Africa, is a mom and leader in the movement to end Female Genital Mutilation and child marriage. After experiencing FGM herself, and then being forced to marry when she was just 15-years-old, Jaha knew she wanted things to be different when she had her own daughter.
It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my daughter, that I started to speak out against FGM. I didn’t want my daughter to ever have to go through what I had. I also knew there were millions of girls out there, just like me and my daughter, and no one was speaking for them. If it wasn’t going to me, who else would do that?”
“I started to speak out, I started to shout… I started, with a blog, where I shared my own experience. Soon after that, I started a support group for other women in my home in Atlanta. By 2014, I had registered my organization and started my change.org petition, asking President Obama to investigate the prevalence of FGM in the United States. Subsequently, the United States Institute of Peace convened the Summit to End FGM for the first time in 2016.”
4) Challenging cultural norms in Moldova
When 12-year-old Svetlana* was raped, the traditional rules of her Roma community said that no other Roman man can marry her. The Romani Criss (Roma Tribunal), sentenced the perpetrator to either marry her, or pay a sum of money to her family for having stolen her virginity.
But Svetlana’s mother stepped in.
“My girl is not for sale,” Nona* said. “But neither could we have her marry at 12. What about her childhood, her dreams? What was the chance that such a marriage would last? Our decision took the community by surprise, but we knew that what she needed most was for us to stand by her and let her stay with her family, surrounded by our love.”
Svetlana returned to school, with her mother’s and family’s support.
“We are now much closer than we used to be,” says Nona. “She wants to go to university one day, and we’ll support her. I know we took the right decision by refusing the reparatory marriage and her entire life will be better because of it. She will study, she will have a job. She will be happy.”
5) Preventing violent extremism in Bangladesh
In Dinajpur, a rural district in the northern part of Bangladesh, women and their community have started recogninzing that when women are part of decision-making in their communities, societies are more cohesive and more peaceful.
Women like Mosammat Kamrunnaharis and others have stepped up to work together and prevent violent extremism. Known as Polli Shomaj Women [community-based women’s group], the group comes together to talk through what’s happening in their community and discuss how to prevent violent extremism in their own communities.
Mosammat knows that mothers have a key role to play in keeping peace, since in her experience, they’re the ones that often know more about what their family members are doing and maintain friendly relations with others in a community.
“Mothers can play a strong role in ensuring cohesion within their families as well as in the society. So, they are well placed to help themselves and also others to avoid any possible extremism.”
*Names have been changed to protect the survivor’s identity