The People Fighting for Women Empowerment; Literally

“I think women are capable of doing many things. Because we are women.” — Karan Ramirez, OYW delegate, Honduras

While the situation of women has improved drastically in some parts of the world, inequality in society and the workplace continues, while sexual and physical abuse against women remains shockingly common. In the United States women earn 80% of what men earn on average and 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their lives.

Women’s empowerment and the fight for equity remains incredibly important, and on the global scale, the challenges women face are even more diverse and complex. Fortunately, there are some notable people and organizations that are working to empower women and create global gender equality.

Speaking at the One Young World conference is Lina Khalifeh. On stage with Emma Watson as part of the HeForShe campaign on Thursday and addressing delegates on Saturday, Lina is the founder of SheFighter. SheFighter is the first self-defense school for women in Jordan and Lina has helped over 12,000 women and girls learn to defend themselves since it was launched in 2012.

Confronted by a friend of hers story of a physically abusive boyfriend, Lina, who had been trained in martial arts since the age of five, decided to launch a school to teach fellow Jordanian women her skills. Lina’s goal, however, was not only to confront violence against women but also to empower women in Jordan to pursue whatever path they wished. As a child, Lina was excluded because she wanted to do typically masculine activities like fight and play sports. This forced her to hide her personality in order to fit in. One day, however, a friend of hers asked her why she was trying to hide what made her unique. Lina then realized that she “didn’t need to fit in” she “needed to change society.”

Since launching SheFighter, Lina, has given women the tools to develop self-confidence and protect themselves from physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. In 2015, Lina and the SheFighter program were recognized by US President Barack Obama for their work empowering women and Lina hopes to expand SheFighter into a form of global university that would teach women about empowerment and self-defense.

Sparknews’ Impact Journalism Day 2016 also highlighted women empowering each other in a different context. In Mexico, Isabel Rauh-Hain founded Anam (formerly KUKUA), to empower rural women through the cultivation of the Moringa plant. The plant, originally from India, is highly nutritious, can withstand drought, and grows rapidly. By training rural Mexican women to grow the plant and by providing workshops on business management and gender equality, Anam hopes to increase household incomes, give women a direct source of revenue, bridge the gap between genders, and improve nutrition in rural communities. The pilot project in Morelos in 2015 was a success and Anam is now expanding to Veracruz and Yucatán.

Multinational organizations are also mobilizing their knowledge, experience, and wealth to improve the situation of women globally while supporting the discovery of solutions. L’Oréal, since 1998, has run the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards program, which celebrates five exemplary laureates who are making a significant contribution to scientific research. The awards program provides the notable women with grants of up to $100,000 and aims to break down the barriers that prevent women from pursuing a long career in science while encouraging young girls to explore scientific career paths.

In 2016 five laureates from five continents received grants, including Professor Quarraisha, Abdool Karim from South Africa whose work is expanding prevention and treatment of HIV and Professors Jennifer Doudna, from the United States, and Emmanuelle Charpentier from France, who have discovered DNA editing techniques that can rewrite flawed genes and potentially cure diseases.

While the situation for women is still dire and unequal in many places around the world, it is inspiring that so many women are taking their independence into their own hands and fighting against barriers to empower themselves and each other.

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