10 inspirational women that would make better UN ambassadors than Wonder Woman

by Sara Belhay

Wonder Woman UN Ambassador

When the UN decided to appoint the fictional character Wonder Woman as the honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, I had a few issues with this, and I wasn’t the only one…

Women protest outside UN

Protests ensued after the appointment of Wonder Woman as the UN’s Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls.

Sponsored by Warner Bros and DC Entertainment, the campaign was part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5; set to achieve gender equality for women and girls by 2030. The appointment of Wonder Woman sought to highlight women and girls around the world that are ‘wonder women in their own right’ who overcome barriers to achieve their goals.

The appointment was not received well with roughly fifty UN workers turning their back in protest. A petition signed by just over 45,000 people called out the character’s ‘overtly sexualised image’ which is ‘not culturally encompassing or sensitive’ and that the position was ‘too important to be championed by a mascot’. This begs the question – how is it the UN could not find a real life woman to advocate the rights of all women and girls?

The campaign was set to run over the course of a year but ended after just two months. It is unclear whether the UN plan to relaunch the campaign with someone new.

This inspired me to create a list of ten women, I believe are far more suitable for the role.

Malala Yousafzai

Image source: parade.com

1. Malala Yousafzai: Shot by the Taliban for her activism and determination in giving girls in Pakistan access to a free quality education, she is the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The Malala Fund, an organisation she co- founded in 2014 with her father, has funded education projects in six countries, empowering girls to achieve their potential through education. Malala advocates globally for education as a fundamental social and economic right.

Image source: Al Jazeera English YouTube

Image source: Al Jazeera English YouTube

2.  Obiageli Ezekwesili: Founder of the anti-corruption organisation Transparency Internnational, Ezekwesili has also held the position of Nigeria’s Minister of Education in 2006, and was the Vice President of the World Bank’s Africa Division from 2007-2012. Ezekwesili organised a global campaign #BringOurGirlsBack after more than 200 girls were kidnapped from a Chibok school by Boko Haram’s militant group in 2014. Twenty-one girls were recently freed, but the campaign continues for the release of the others.

Shirin Ebadi

Image source: Radio Free Europe

3. Shirin Ebadi: Served as the first Iranian judge before being removed from her post after the 1979 Iranian Revolution because she was a woman. Outraged, Ebadi claimed early retirement but in 1992, acquired a lawyer’s licence and established her own practice. Ebadi prioritised cases concerning the unfair treatment of women and children and in 2003 was the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Now living in exile, Ebadi is the co- founder of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and continues advocating for human rights globally.

Li Tingting activist

Image source: BBC News

 4. Li Tingting: Was detained and tortured for thirty seven days in 2015 by the Chinese government for her plans to campaign about sexual harassment. The detention of Tingting and four other feminist activists gained international attention and triggered a global campaign #FreeTheFive. One year on, Tingting continues advocating for gender equality and is campaigning against forced marriages.

Leymah Gbowee

Photo by Michael Angelo

5. Leymah Gbowee: Received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for leading a women’s peace movement to end Liberia’s second civil war. Gbowee is a founding member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and in 2012, established a non-profit organisation – Gbowee Peace Foundation which provides educational and leadership opportunities for women and girls in Liberia. Gbowee actively speaks out internationally about the vulnerability women and children experience in war torn areas and gender based violence.

Jody Williams campaigner

Image source: SABC News

 6. Jody Williams: Is the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which within five years, succeeded in advocating for an international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines; which Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize for in 1997. Chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, Williams’ advocacy is focused on issues surrounding peace, human security, women’s rights and is currently working on a campaign to ban killer robots.

Yusra Mardini

Image source: Al Bawaba Sports

7. Yusra Mardini: A true symbol of hope, strength and empowerment, Mardini is an eighteen-year-old Syrian refugee that made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea in a rubber dinghy. After the motor failed, Mardini and three others that could swim, jumped in to the water to push the boat to shore, swimming for over three hours. Under the Olympic Refugee team, Mardini competed in the 100 metre freestyle and 100 metre butterfly race at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Mardini continues to swim and support other refugees.

Tawakkol Karman

Image source: Aquila style

8. Tawakkol Karman: Is a journalist, human rights activist, member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and known as the ‘Mother of the Revolution’. Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, for her non-violent efforts in promoting human rights and women’s participation in peace building in the Yemen. Karman has continued to support female journalists and galvanize Yeminis against the government’s corruption and injustice.

Rigoberta Menchu Tum

Image source: Alchetron

9. Rigoberta Menchu Tum: Has actively campaigned for the rights of indigenous people and women, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. The Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation was soon after established to help Mayans that had been impacted by genocide under the military dictatorship. Rigoberta ran for President in Guatemala in 2007 and 2011 under the first indigenous led political party that she founded. Rigoberta has continued campaigning for Indian rights and ethno-cultural reconciliation worldwide, and is also a member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative.

Zahra Nemati

Photo by Harry Engels

10. Zahra Nemati: Eager to break stereotypes in her home country Iran, Nemati is a Paralympic gold medalist that promotes sport as a source of empowerment to women and people with disabilities. In 2005, Nemati founded the Spinal Cord Injury Dynamic association and advocates around road safety, autism awareness and an international non-profit- Special Olympics, which provides sporting opportunities to disabled people.

These are just a selection of inspirational women that have advanced gender equality and created positive change in adverse conditions; but if the UN is serious about empowering all women and girls by 2030, what better way than to hold states accountable to their duty to uphold human rights?

Here’s in hope that one day we won’t need an honorary ambassador to advocate the right to equality.

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‘You wanted equal treatment’

by Joshua Piercey

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon faces a civil suit for attacking Amelia Molitor. Image source: Tulsa World

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon faces a civil suit for attacking a young woman. But comments on the graphic video suggested that by wanting equality,  women who start a fight deserve to be dealt with the consequences, equal to a man. Image source: Tulsa World

There’s a video that’s been popping up on my social media, a symptom of the simultaneously sophisticated and asinine algorithms that control our content. Facebook knows I enjoy NFL and knows I’m interested in feminism… and so it shows me an act of shocking violence, perpetrated on a woman by a college footballer. Great catch, Facebook, just what I wanted for Christmas.

equality-quotes-13The video makes for uncomfortable viewing; I will describe it instead if you would rather not watch it. To do so might seem oxymoronic – why offer to protect you from distressing material only to force it on you via another medium – but it’s important because both the way the violence makes you feel and the way you subsequently assess it are important.

In the video a young woman and young man are arguing. The woman is speaking loudly and apparently aggressively to the man. After a second or two of footage she shoves the man in the chest. The woman is slim and perhaps a foot shorter than the man, but the shove is enough to make him take a step back. He lunges towards her but she doesn’t back away, instead she slaps him. From my reading of the footage the slap is not particularly powerful, if only because the woman is off-balance. The man retaliates with a brutally fast punch, hooking his arm around to punch downwards into the woman’s face. The man is tall and obviously muscular, though not particularly broad – a sprinter’s build. The punch looks very powerful, and the woman is absolutely floored: clubbed to the ground. The man immediately turns and walks quickly out of shot.

The footage is from 2014, and the man is Joe Mixon, a then running back for the University of Oklahoma. The woman is Amelia Molitor; four bones were broken in her face and she had to have her jaw wired shut. Mixon was suspended for the 2014 college football season but is back playing ball: the footage was released by his attorneys in 2016 (Molitor filed suit in federal court in the summer of last year).

I read the Facebook comments on the video for the same reason most of us do: the wound demands prodding, the tooth demands wiggling, no matter the pain nor noxious discharge that may result.

Like many comment streams an initial argument derailed the overall discussion; all subsequent conversation related to two points. In short: did Molitor partially deserve what happened to her, and more broadly, is violence against women ever ‘justified’?

The last part of that sentence makes me immediately uneasy, but I think it’s worth exploring for reasons which hopefully will become apparent. I should make it clear at this point that neither the mainstream media nor the NCAA shared these views: both condemned Mixon’s behaviour.

Whether you watched the video or not, I hope you agree that Mixon’s assault on Molitor was without any kind of justification. The shove and slap delivered by Molitor caused no physical injury, and the retaliation was in an entirely different league. One might have stung – the other shattered bones.

The commenters who maintained that Molitor ‘had it coming’ or ‘not to start shit if you can’t handle what happens’ are entitled to their personal views, but the law is clear on who was at fault. Any attempt by Mixon to claim self-defence would be rendered moot by the sheer level of force involved. An attack using the same level of force on another man would have been equally vicious, equally unacceptable, equally open to prosecution and punishment.

The use of the word ‘equal’ is problematic, and this was picked up by the commentators. Many of them identified a disparity of feeling and used it to move to an often-used argument that is tricky to work through: that it is hypocritical (and therefore sexist) to reserve greater judgement on male-on-female violence over female-on male or male-on-male violence.

Image source: Hong Kong Free Press

Image source: Hong Kong Free Press

This argument makes a basic sort of sense, especially as an unsophisticated argument against feminism. If women want to be treated equally, then a woman hitting a man should be treated as seriously as a man hitting a woman. The legal consequences should be the same. And since, a secondary thread of the argument often runs, a man hitting a man might reasonably expect to be hit back, a woman hitting a man should accept any subsequent violence as either self-defence or a consequence of her own actions.

This line of reasoning is touted with triumph by anti-feminists because it appears to use feminism’s core tenet – a simple plea for equal treatment – against it. You want equal treatment? Fine, and don’t come crying to us when equal treatment hurts. To quote a commenter: “She put herself in man (sic) position. So she got treated like a man.” This argument is, unfortunately, utter horseshit – for several reasons.

But there are two key (and deliberate) misunderstandings at its heart.

The first is that with equal treatment must come an end to nuance or circumstance. Mixon is several inches taller, several stone heavier and many times more powerful than Molitor. The law in most western nations is surprisingly refined in this area: it takes differences like this into account. The law cares only a little for who starts the fight, and less for who ‘deserved’ what. It’s not specifically to protect women in most cases (although this is an inescapable effect), it’s to protect the weak when they are abused by the strong. And this leads us to the next flaw in the argument: the false equivalency between equal treatment and identical personhood.

Women do not want to be treated “like” men, they wish their treatment to be equal in social status and opportunity. Woman are normally shorter, lighter and not as physically powerful as men. Fine. To confuse this very specific set of physical differences with the differences in social treatment is to – deliberately or not – denigrate or obscure the issue.

Male-on-female violence is not reprehensible because of some chivalric distinction between the sexes, or some implicit demand from women for special treatment – not wanting to get beaten up does not count as special treatment, even if you want it extra, extra bad – it’s reprehensible because it is almost always the powerful abusing the less powerful.

Feminism extends beyond women to equal treatment for all (something that should be obvious from the word ‘equal’ but seems to need constant repeating). To state that it is hypocritical to want equal positive treatment but leave behind the negative is both despairing for our progress as a species and some pretty wack logic.

Equal treatment means only positives: why would we preserve the negatives at all? If we could extend our society’s inbuilt unease about violence against women to everyone, would men not benefit most?

Women do not ‘deserve’ special treatment when it comes to combatting violence. Everyone ‘deserves’ special treatment, but until those who cry hypocrisy can truly admit that (and believe it, without dismissing the giving and receiving of violent acts as a part of the male experience), not everyone is going to get it.