Seven Women to Know

As March draws to a close, so does National Women’s History Month. The observance has officially been in place since 1986, in tandem with International Women’s Day on March 8. It is a time to celebrate the women who have pushed for global equality, inspired us as agents of change, and demonstrated what it means to live a life for others.

The theme for 2019 is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence.” According to the National Women’s History Alliance, nonviolence, as a tool for change, has been utilized by generations of powerful women. Their website reads, “These women consciously built supportive, nonviolent alternatives and loving communities as well as advocating change. They have given voice to the unrepresented and hope to victims of violence and those who dream of a peaceful world.”

Research shows that when women are included in peace processes in meaningful ways, the likelihood of an agreement lasting longer than 15 years increases by as much as 35 percent. Furthermore, when women are involved in peace negotiations, agreements have a higher implementation rate and the probability that violence will end increases by 24 percent.

However, women are still routinely left out of such conversations. UN Women cites a study on 1,500 peace agreements from 2000 to 2016 that found “Only 25 agreements discuss the role of women’s engagement in implementation.”

But despite this bleak statistic, there are still countless examples of courageous, electrifying women around the world. In women, we find determination, courage, and empathy. We find strength.

So join us in sharing the stories of 7 international women who embody the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month.

Máiread Maguire

In August 1976, Maguire witnessed the deaths of three of her sister’s children during the violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Immediately, she began to organize massive peace demonstrations calling for a peaceful end to the violence.

Maguire went on to found Peace People, a movement dedicated to fostering a peaceful society in Northern Ireland. It called for the integration of schools, sports, and residential areas, published a biweekly paper, and bussed families of prisoners to and from Belfast’s jails.  

Peace People helped facilitate numerous peace rallies that spread throughout Ireland and the international community. Hundreds of thousands of marchers, both Catholic and Protestant, attended over the ensuing six months, and during that time, there was a 70 percent decrease in the rate of violence.

For her work in Ireland, Maguire was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976. Today, she remains the honorary president of Peace People and regularly travels to Palestine and Israel to promote equality and nonviolence, specifically in efforts to end the Israeli government’s Gaza Strip blockade.

“If we want to reap the harvest of peace and justice in the future, we will have to sow the seeds of nonviolence, here and now, in the present.”

Madeleine Rees

Rees began her career in 1990 as a promising UK lawyer specializing in discrimination law. By 1998, she was stationed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and working as a gender expert for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

From 2006 to 2010, Rees served as the Head of OHCHR’s Women’s Rights and Gender Unit, and focused particularly on post-conflict and gender, transitional justice, and social and economic rights protections. She also conducted extensive work combating trafficking and was a member of the Alliance against Trafficking (now known as the Stability Pact).

By 2010, Rees had been named the Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which is the oldest women’s peace organization. To strengthen the work conducted by the WILPF, she placed an increased focus on gender and inclusivity in peace processes.

“They saw, quite rightly, that the absence of women in making decisions in government meant there was greater likelihood of war. And they were right.”

Shirin Ebadi

The first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Ebadi was one of Iran’s first female judges, as well as the first Iranian woman to achieve Chief Justice status. Then, during the Islamic Revolution in 1979, she was removed from her position and made a court clerk.

In 1992, after obtaining her lawyer’s license, she set up her own private law practice, where she was known for taking controversial cases and promoting the rights of women, children, and political prisoners in Iran. Several of her cases defended political dissidents, which resulted in numerous arrests.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Dr. Ebadi has founded several NGOs in Iran. One, the Million Signatures Campaign, fights against Iranian law’s legal discrimination against women. Another, the Association for Support of Children’s Rights, began in 1995 and currently has over 500 active members.

Dr. Ebadi is also a university professor in human rights training courses, and has published over 13 books and 70 articles on the topic of human rights.

“Human rights is a universal standard. It is a component of every religion and every civilization.”

Massaran Traore

For over a decade, Traore has been working in West Africa’s extractive industry to advise mining companies about community development strategies. To her, socio-economic development depends on a peaceful environment, which is what makes natural resource management so important.

Today, she works at International Alert in Mali, an independent peacebuilding organization that operates internationally toward peacebuilding. Through her job, Traore focuses on strengthening and improving the economic impacts of mining on the local communities, as well as training civil society organizations (CSOs) on how to monitor, manage, and reduce conflicts that occur between local communities and mining companies.  

She particularly focuses on training on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as guidelines for preventing and remedying human rights abuses carried out by businesses.

By improving relationships between communities, companies, CSOs, and authorities, Traore is laying the groundwork for a world in which mining revenues contribute sustainable development, both economically and socially, in Mali.

“Without peace, there is no development and I want to ensure women have the right skills to help build peace in Mali.”


Leymah Gbowee

After living through the First Liberian Civil War when she was just 17, Gbowee responded to Libya's second civil war, in 1999, by mobilizing a coalition of both Christian and Muslim women in the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement. The resulting pray-ins and nonviolent protests, attended by thousands of women, helped pressure President Charles Taylor into exile and brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.

For her work in this movement, Gbowee became the second African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

But her work hasn’t stopped there. She is the founder and president of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, which helps provide young women and girls with education and leadership opportunities. Additionally, she is a founding member of Women in Peacebuilding/West African Network for Peacebuilding, as well as Women Peace and Security Network Africa, where her work promotes cross-national peace efforts with women’s active participation.

She continues to speak up about the vulnerability of women and children in war-torn societies, yet highlights their strength as peace-building forces. Gbowee has received several honorary degrees from universities around the world, has served on the board of several different initiatives and organizations, and has appeared on international programmes like CNN and BBC to advocate for women’s high level inclusion in peace negotiations and conflict resolutions.

“It is time to stand up, sisters, and do some of the most unthinkable things. We have the power to turn our upside-down world right.”

Emma González

At 17 years old, González lived through the Feb. 14, 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The tragedy left 17 students and faculty dead, and forever changed the lives of the survivors.

In what ‘The Washington Post’ has called “furious advocacy,” González and her peers began pressuring lawmakers to enact gun control. In a now infamous speech delivered at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Feb. 17, 2018, she called “B.S.” on anyone who said gun control could not be done.

Just a few weeks later, on March 24, González and other Parkland survivors organized the nationwide “March for Our Lives” protest, which included rallies around the country and drew two million demonstrators.

Since The March for Our Lives, 25 states, including Florida, have passed more than 50 pieces of legislation supporting the cause of gun control. While more mass shootings have taken place since Parkland, González is still passionate about her movement and has no intention of stopping her activism anytime soon.

“Nothing that’s worth it is easy...We could very well die trying to do this. But we could very well die not trying to do this, too, so why not die for something rather than nothing?”

Rigoberta Menchú Tum

Born in 1959 in a small Mayan communities in the Guatemalan highlands, Menchú Tum often traveled with her father as he encouraged rural farmers to organize. Then, in 1960, ethnic and socioeconomic tensions came to a head as a civil war against the indigenous Mayan people broke out. Over the next six years, over 200,000 Guatemalans had been murdered and 1 million were displaced.

Menchú Tum worked with her family to mobilize Guatemalans in denouncing government-led atrocities, but she soon had to flee into exile after further tragedy struck. At a peaceful protest in 1980, Menchú Tum’s father was one of 38 famer-activists murdered in a fire, shortly before her brother and mother were tortured and murdered by the Guatemalan army.

Soon after, in 1983, she published “I, Rigoberta Menchú” discussing the plight of the Mayan people. It quickly gained international attention, and she received the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her work focused on indigenous peoples’ rights, social justice, and ethno-cultural reconciliation.

Since then, she has returned home to Guatemala and founded the Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation, which advocates for justice of Mayan communities and survivors of the genocide.

“Only together can we move forward, so that there is light and hope for all women on the planet.”