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Sunday, March 8, 2015

10 Inspirational Women Human Rights Defenders from South Asia

International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on the struggles women have and do face, and celebrate what women have achieved against all adversity. We present 10 women who have fought; fought for their rights, fought for the rights of other women, fought for the rights of others. It is humbling to live in times where such women exist. For your determination, we praise you. For your courage, we admire you. For your persistence, we thank you.

Safia (Warasta) Amajan – Afghanistan 

Remembered as a teacher and ‘true public servant’, Safia Amaja fought for women’s rights through education. During the Taliban’s fundamentalist rule, she was an outspoken critic of the Taliban and defied their ban on educating women: she memorised the Quran and secretly taught Islamic studies to young girls in Kandahar. After the Taliban fell, Amajan worked for the new Afghan government setting up the provincial department of women’s affairs. Her progress in this role eventually lead to her assassination by the Taliban.

Taslima Nasreen - Bangladesh

The eminent writer and intellectual, Taslima Nasreen, continues to support freedom of expression and thought, women’s equality, and secularism despite the call for her death by extremist groups and expulsion from her home country. She won a Bengali language literary award for her book Lajja (Shame), which was banned by the Government of Bangladesh, shed  light on the unfair treatment of Hindus in Bangladesh.

"When I write, I don't allow the feat of consequences to interfere with the writing process. I have in the past paid for my commitment to the truth and the way I live my life. I am prepared to pay more if I have to."

Asma Jahangir – Pakistan


Asma Jahangir is Pakistan’s leading human rights lawyer. She was involved in forming the first law firm established by women in Pakistan, was the first female president of the Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association, the United Nations Special Rapporteur of Freedom of Religion or Belief from August 2004 until July 2010 and a founding member of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission. Jahangir’s work traverses the advancing women’s rights in Pakistan, the prevention of persecution of religious minorities, and fighting extremism.

Sunila Abeysekera – Sri Lanka

Sunila Abeysekera spent a lifetime fiercely advocating for the victims of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, despite being brandished a traitor for it and being forced to leave the country for safety at times. She was also a staunch feminist who played a lead role in the global women’s rights movement, including recognition of "women’s rights are human rights" at the 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. She was particularly forthright in fighting violence against women and championing for sexual and reproductive rights.

“When everyone is criticizing you, then you are doing the right thing.”

Anuradha Koirala - Nepal 

Having recovered 50,000 women from human trafficking, Anuradha Koirala and her organisation Maiti Nepal, continue to rehabilitate and empower women and girls traficcked and forced into sex work across the Indian border.

Khushi Kabir - Bangladesh

After the liberation of Bangladesh, Khushi Kabir became the first women to work with marginalised women and men. She has tirelessly advocated to improve the lives of the rural poor in Bangladesh, particularly women. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

“When did I become a feminist? There are lots of moments in every woman’s life that make her stand up for herself and her sisters, and there were many in mine. But the first one that comes to mind is the day I was told I couldn’t take a seat on the bus, simply because I was a woman.”

Malala Yousafzai – Pakistan 

As a young women activist, Malala Yousafzai spoke out against the Taliban’s war on education for women. Her words were such a threat that the Taliban attempted to assassinate her. Her courage and determination to continue fighting for her right to education on behalf of all women was recognised when she became the youngest person, the first Pashtun, and the first Pakistani to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

"One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world."

Laxmi Narayan Tripathi - India

Laxmi Narayan Tripathi is a prominent artist and LGBT activist. She was the first transgender woman to represent the Asia-Pacific region in the UN General Assembly task force on HIV/AIDS while championing her role as the ambassador to the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW).

The recent landmark decision by the Supreme Court recognizing a third gender is something positive that is helping to protect the identity and rights of future generations of hijras in India. I personally never thought this judgement would ever be made in my lifetime, but we were fighting for it .”

Mangala Sharma – Bhutan

Speaking out against the Bhutanese Government’s “one nation, one people” policy and discrimination against ethnic minorities, Mangala Sharma was exiled from Bhutan. She created Bhutanese Refugees Aiding Victims of Violence (BRAVVE) which supports thousands of refugee women from Bhutan who had been subjected to sexual violence and torture. She was the first winner of the Ginetta Sagan Fund award in 1997 due to her work to protect the rights of women and children in areas where human rights violations are pervasive. 

Aneesa Ahmed - Maldives

The former Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs in the Maldives, Aneesa Ahmed brought to the surface the taboo subject of domestic violence. Since her governmental service, Ahmed is a strong advocate on ending gender-based discrimination and violence and the harms of female genital mutilation.

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