Owning Our Space

Traditional street protests and marches have moved to the classroom, the car, and most spontaneously, to social media platforms. Puseletso Mompei reports.

Social media has given women and girls across big cities and smaller towns an equal voice as they stand up for their individual and collective rights. Advocacy has taken on a new and exciting determination – with a new voice coming from the inspired and relentless collective. The narratives women advocate for may still be the same, but the vehicles used are creating a worldwide sweep of visible support and a stronger voice. Here we feature four such women giving advocacy a new face.

Tarana Burke

Tarana Burke

At the close of 2017, sexual harassment had grabbed global headlines with the #MeToo phenomenon. Before being thrust into the spotlight when celebrities borrowed the phrase and made it mainstream, Tarana Burke, the founder of #MeToo, spent 20 years creating programmes for victims of sexual abuse. In 2005 Burke set up #MeToo as an activist group, thinking it would merely be a phrase of solidarity between survivors of sexual violence.

The hashtag really took off after Harvey Weinstein was exposed and within weeks it had been used more than 12 million times. Its impact has been deep, taking down major players across the entertainment industry and spilling over into other industries, such as sport. #MeToo has formed the core of a dialogue around sexual abuse – revealing just how pervasive it is.

On another level, the unambiguous sound of women’s voices has legitimised their stories; in the past aspersions were routinely cast on women’s accounts of abuse; now they are being taken more seriously. The cloak of patriarchy and silence which has long protected men has been turned over.

Zanele Muholi

Muzoon Almellehan

Zanele Muholi is a South African visual activist raising awareness around gender, race and human rights. She boldly and unashamedly challenges social norms with artwork that defies traditional gender and sexual identity norms

Even though the South African Constitution protects the rights of all, regardless of orientation, many LGBTI individuals are yet to find a corresponding level of acceptance in their communities. Instead they are often on the receiving end of exclusion, hostility and outright violence. Muholi’s portrayal of black subjects in townships where the stigma of homosexuality is particularly severe is important because she validates the importance of their experience.

Muzoon Almellehan

Muzoon Almellehan often called the Malala of Syria, became the youngest UNICEF goodwill ambassador at 14 and the first who is a refugee. Her family is one of more than five million refugees from Syria.

Her campaign started after she realised that many children weren’t enrolled in primary school and while in the refugee camps of Jordan, she went from tent to tent to talk to the parents about educating their children.

Through her campaign she gained the attention of world leaders and pressured them to fund education for refugee children. Almellehan has elevated the voice of refugee girls and is working hard to ensure that education becomes a basic right.

Loujain al-Hathloul

Sahar Nassif and Loujain al-Hathloul

Driving is something billions of people around the world take for granted, but until recently it was a jailable offence for Saudi women. Despite this, activists Loujain al-Hathloul and Sahar Nassif never allowed this to stop them from putting the pedal to the metal. Al-Hathloul was first arrested in 2014 leading to a 73-day detention when she attempted to drive from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates; she was arrested for driving the second time in June 2017.

Nassif was arrested in 2013 after posting a video on social media of herself driving. Both became symbols for what mobility realy means; the ability to explore one’s curiosity and access new social, professional and personal spaces.

On the heels of the global support Nassif and Al-Hathloul received, a royal decree was passed in September 2017 to allow women to get behind the wheel. To celebrate, Ford gave Nassif a brand-new Mustang, her dream car.

Image: ©Shutterstock - 573033001
Image: Shutterstock - 573033001

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