Pessimism seems to have spread across the globe. With high rates of youth unemployment, unfulfilled promises in the wake of the reformist zeal of the Arab Spring, and ongoing financial and economic crisis, leaders and citizens alike have developed an increasingly gloomy outlook as they look ahead to the future. What is required now is a bolt of inspiration. The international community needs visionaries – forward-looking leaders and individuals of action who believe strongly in the possibility of genuine change for the betterment of the societies they serve. Change-makers, not soothsayers.
When listening to the five extraordinary female change-makers from around the world that The Global Journal approached to participate in this feature, one thing became quickly apparent: they each believe deeply in change, they each believe – despite personal experiences of systemic discrimination and persecution – in the inherent good of humanity, and they each believe in speaking up for the voiceless. The optimism of these women is inspiring, due to their perseverance in the face of difficult, seemingly insurmountable challenges. Whether fighting for LGBT rights in a country where being gay could soon be punished by the death penalty, reporting on drug trafficking and violence in the lawless border cities of Mexico, or running for Afghanistan’s presidency, these women risk everything – often putting their own lives in danger because their passion and belief in a just world outweighs their fears.
In exclusive interviews our five change-makers – Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera from Uganda, Soraya Salti from Jordan, Firliana Purwanti from Indonesia, Fawzia Koofi from Afghanistan, and Adela Navarro Bello from Mexico – talk to The Global Journal about their lives, the obstacles they have faced, and their unique perspectives on the individual’s role in achieving societal change. All are under 45 years old, all have effected change looking on from the outside of an established world of leaders and institutions, and all have grown up in countries where being a woman represented an additional hurdle that had to be overcome.
From the age of eight, when a school teacher told her she was displaying ‘lesbian tendencies’, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera has lived her entire life as an openly gay woman in Uganda. The courage, dignity and determination she displayed in the face of constant discrimination, threats and even physical violence has positioned her as the public face of homosexuality in a country where a coalition of evangelical leaders and conservative politicians are currently pushing for the introduction of the death penalty to punish ‘repeat offenders’. Running an NGO advocating for LGBT rights, and travelling the world to rally international actors in support of her cause, she has emerged as an empowering inspiration to the largely silent community she provides with a voice.
Many pundits claim to have seen the Arab Spring coming. For Soraya Salti though, it was always a question not of ‘if’, but ‘when’. As Regional Director of the NGO INJAZ Al-Arab based in Jordan, Soraya has spent the last ten years working tirelessly to re- shape the educational opportunities of young Arabs. Witnessing first-hand the structural barriers facing the demographic ‘bulge’ about to be unleashed on to stagnant labor markets across the region, she has been the driving force behind a rapid scaling-up of innovative public-private sector partnerships teaching entrepreneurship skills – and in the process inculcating a new start-up culture and mindset – to Arab youth in 15 countries. Ultimately, she sees females as the key to future economic growth and prosperity.
Firliana Purwanti is a taboo-breaker. Growing up in a sexually-repressed society, she witnessed the violent riots that toppled Indonesian dictator Suharto, studied human rights law, and recently wrote a book about the female orgasm. Inspired by Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, Firliana asked a diverse group of Indonesian women to talk about their orgasms. By using sex language she engages women and men to talk about female sexuality in an innovative and fun way. Because talking about sex is not socially accepted in Indonesia, Firliana did not tell her parents that she was writing a book about orgasms. Now she is happy that she was able to provide women with room to voice their sexual experiences.
After her birth, Fawzia Koofi was left to die because her mother wanted a boy. Years later, she won two Afghan parliamentary elections and is now running for Afghanistan’s presidency in 2014. During her life she has endured the repression of the Taliban and the death of her husband and closest family members, as well as surviving several assassination attempts. Despite these incredible hardships, Fawzia found purpose and strength in helping people, especially rural women and children. What drives her today is her belief that Afghanistan is ready for change – for human rights, civility, and the rule of law.
First, Adela Navarro Bello wanted to become a lawyer, to fight for social justice in Mexico. But her love for writing soon put her on the path of journalism. Since the 1990s, she has been investigating drug trafficking and government corruption. As a result, one of her colleagues was murdered in front of his children. She has also been on the receiving end of death threats. Now, as the General Director of the weekly magazine Zeta in Tijuana, Adela believes unwaveringly in the importance of journalism, even if, as is the case in Mexico, it is a dangerous profession: “As a journalist, I must listen to society, particularly when it is voiceless, when it is the victim of governments or criminals.”
The Global Journal was inspired profoundly by the bravery, passion and determination of each of these women, and we are proud to be able to present their stories as a feature in the print issue, as well as here on the website for the next 5 days. Keep an eye on the home page for daily portraits on these amazing women.