Woman Warrior #19: AOC
“Justice is about making sure that being polite is not the same thing as being quiet. In fact, oftentimes, the most righteous thing you can do is shake the table.” was one of the most influential quotes that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez included in her speech in the 2019 Women’s March in New York City.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or, as most people prefer to call her, AOC, has been distinguished as the youngest woman to serve in the United States Congress as she took office at age 29. On June 26, 2018, she won the Democratic Party’s primary election for New York’s 14th congressional district which serves specific regions in the Bronx and Queens. It is important to note that in this election, she beat out Joseph Crowley who served for 10 years before AOC took his spot. Her success was, largely, thanks to how much she has been active on Social Media which heavily contributed to her national recognition.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born on October 13, 1989, in the New York City borough of the Bronx. Her father, born in the Bronx as well in a Puerto Rico family, was an architect and her mother was a house cleaner. After her high school graduation, she started her university journey at Boston University with a major in International Relations and Economics. During her college experience, she became an intern in the U.S. senator Ted Kennedy’s office in the department of foreign affairs and immigration issues. Finally, she graduated cum laude from Boston University in 2011. However, her father could not witness all of her University achievements as she lost him due to lung cancer in 2008 – when she was still a sophomore.
Upon her graduation, she has started working as a waitress and bartender to help her mother as she was fighting the foreclosure of their house. Nevertheless, after all of these obstacles that AOC has confronted, she has never ceased her efforts to achieve her dreams; later, she has launched Brook avenue press which is currently a publishing firm for books that highlighted the Bronx in a positive way.
Generally, politicians usually identify themselves as either Democrats or Socialists; however, AOC identifies herself as a Democratic Socialist as she is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). This identification points out that “both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few.” Ocasio-Cortez believes in several values and policies for which she is working consistently to achieve. Some of these policies include but are not limited to a tuition-free public college, Medicare for all, LGBTQ equality, and the Green New Deal. During recent years, for example, AOC has been working on proposals such as The Medicare-for-all proposal, which has been adopted by many Democratic 2020 presidential contenders, and the anti-poverty policy proposal that takes into consideration, when measuring poverty, the cost of childcare, healthcare, and new “necessities” such as Internet access.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s inspiring journey from her childhood to adulthood portrays how both determination and hard work leads to the concretization of individual or group’s dreams. Despite all of the obstacles that she has faced, she managed to reach the position that can allow her to fight for the values and policies she believes in and that is why she is our Woman Worrier n°19.
Woman Warrior #18: Valentina Pitzalis
Our choice for Woman Warrior n°18 is inspired by the 16 days of activism against gender based violence. Our Woman Warrior n°18, Valentina Pitzalis is the epitome of gender based violence. For the last 9 years, Valentina has not only been suffering from the physical aftermath of her ex-husband’s attempt of murder but also from severe psychological torment caused by the trauma.
The story of Valentina, a young Sardinian woman, started on April 17, 2011, when she woke up in a hospital bed with a disfigured face, one hand amputated and the other severely damaged by the fire flames started by her husband, as indeed most of the rest of her body. But her agony started way before the day of the incident. It all started when her ex-husband convinced her to go to his apartment with the excuse of handing her some documents. When she entered the house he threw gasoline on her and set her on fire. Her ex-husband caught fire in his turn while Valentina after being burned for twenty minutes was rescued by the firefighters, but remains scarred for life. Not only she was suffering physically, she also was accused of killing her ex-husband. Disfigured throughout her life by her ex-husband who did not resign himself to the separation, she found herself under investigation for three years on charges of voluntary homicide. Valentina Pitzalis went from being the symbol of the fight against femicide to a suspect on the loose.
Not until recently she was freed from the accusations. The first of October marked an important day for everyone in Italy because of Valentina’s judicial case that has been ongoing for almost 10 years between debates and postponements which created a fuss. Valentina escaped an attempted fire attack by her ex-husband, but she did not receive any support from the society on the contrary she underwent an investigation with all that would entail from insults to shaming on social media. Valentina Pitzalis is woman warrior who was the victim of an attempted femicide that scarred her face and body and cost her an arm.
Valentina stated “It was an atrocious violence, in a cruel way, by the person who said he loved me. It’s hard to survive looking in the mirror without recognizing your own image. But what hurts me the most was losing self-sufficiency.” 9 years have passed since the tragic drama that marked her life. Today Valentina managed to find her smile again: “I consider myself a warning rather than an example, because I was lucky enough to survive…I had to fight against prejudice, parents often covered the eyes of their children in order not to frighten them, but nothing can take away my smile”.
Valentina suffered from a toxic relationship. Her ex-husband suffered from morbid jealousy, paranoia, and the need to maintain control over her. Once she decided to end their relationship, he kept on convincing her that he changed and he will treat her better but vain. Valentina Pitzalis spoke on a show and stated for the first time in 9 years after facing an attempted femicide that “During my marriage I experienced psychological violence without realizing it. I was blamed for the fact that I survived, because usually the victim dies. I was hoping to die because it hurt too much.”
In her book “Nobody can take away your smile” published in 2014, Valentina said these touching words “Valentina Pitzalis died on April 17, 2011. That day, my husband doused me with kerosene and set me on fire. That day the Valentina that I had always been, the pretty girl, full of life, prospects and dreams for the future, burned in the flames of a meaningless hell. I don’t know why all this happened to me. I have wondered too many times, just as I have repeated to myself, every day, that he was not a monster, but eventually what he did is a monstrous thing. But I know for sure that the person I am today is stronger than everything and everyone. I understood that in the face of hardships, in the face of tragedies like mine, what matters is finding the strength to react. I have chosen to react, I have chosen to live, I have chosen to be an example for those who believe that they don’t have the strength, because I … I cannot afford depression, not anymore. What gave me the strength to get here was the hope of being able to help all women who are going through, perhaps even without really realizing it, what I have been through. I am happy that I can only raise one hand, I am happy that my eyes have no lashes and brows, I am happy that my legs are covered with scars. Simply, sincerely, incredibly … I found the strength not to stop smiling and I’m happy to live! “
After years of physical and legal battles, now Valentina is free and perhaps now no one can really take away her smile away from her.
La nostra scelta per la Donna Guerriera n°18 si è ispirata ai sedici giorni di attivismo contro gli atti di violenza di genere. La nostra Donna Guerriera n°18, Valentina Pitzalis, è l’incarnazione della violenza di genere. Durante gli ultimi nove anni Valentina non solo ha sofferto per i traumi fisici legati al tentato omicidio da parte di suo marito ma anche per quelli psicologici che il trauma ha causato. La storia di Valentina, una giovane donna sarda, ha inizio il 17 aprile 2011, giorno in cui si è svegliata in un letto d’ospedale con il volto sfigurato, una mano amputata e l’altra, così come gran parte del suo corpo, in pessime condizioni a causa delle fiamme provocate da suo marito. La sua agonia è però iniziata molto prima del giorno dell’incidente.
Tutto ha avuto inizio quando il suo ex marito la ha convinta a recarsi nel suo appartamento con la scusa di farle avere alcuni documenti. Appena entrata in casa lui le ha gettato cherosene addosso e le ha dato fuoco. Il marito è stato vittima della fiamme mentre Valentina, dopo essere stata bruciata viva per venti minuti, è stata salvata dai pompieri restando però segnata a vita. Non solo ha sofferto fisicamente, è stata anche accusata di aver ucciso l’ex marito. Valentina Pitzalis è passata da essere il simbolo della lotta contro il femminicidio all’essere un sospettato a piede libero.
Fino a quando di recente non è stata assolta dalle accuse. Il primo di ottobre segna un importante data per tutti in Italia perché il caso giudiziario di Valentina si è protratto per quasi dieci anni tra dibattiti e rinvii, situazione che ha creato grande clamore. Valentina non ha ricevuto alcun supporto dalla società. Al contrario è stata sotto la lente d’ingrandimento e sottoposta a insulti e diffamazione sui social media. Valentina Pitzalis è una donna guerriera che è stata vittima di un tentato femminicidio che le ha segnato con cicatrici il viso e il corpo e che l’ha portata alla perdita di un braccio.
Valentina ha dichiarato: “Quella è stata una violenza atroce, crudele, di un uomo che diceva di amarmi. È difficile continuare a vivere quando ci si guarda allo specchio e non si riconosce la propria immagine. Ma quello che fa più male è perdere la propria autosufficienza”. Sono passati nove anni da quella tragedia che le ha segnato la vita. Oggi Valentina ha ritrovato il suo sorriso: “Mi considero un avvertimento piuttosto che un esempio perché sono stata abbastanza fortunata da sopravvivere…Ho dovuto lottare contro il pregiudizio, i genitori spesso coprono gli occhi ai propri figli per non farli spaventare, ma nulla può togliermi il sorriso”.
Valentina ha sofferto per una relazione tossica. Il suo ex marito era morbosamente geloso, paranoico, ossessionato dal bisogno di avere controllo su di lei. Quando si è decisa a rompere la relazione lui ha provato a ogni costo a convincerla di essere cambiato dicendole che si sarebbe comportato diversamente, ma invano.
Nel suo libro “Nessuno può toglierti il sorriso” pubblicato nel 2004, Valentina dice queste toccanti parole:
« Valentina Pitzalis è morta il 17 aprile 2011. Quel giorno mio marito mi ha cosparsa di cherosene e mi ha dato fuoco. Quel giorno la Valentina che ero sempre stata, la ragazza carina, piena di vita, prospettive e sogni per il futuro, è bruciata tra le fiamme di un inferno senza senso. Non so perché tutto questo sia successo proprio a me. Me lo sono chiesta tante, troppe volte in questi anni, così come mi sono ripetuta, ogni giorno, che lui non era un mostro, ma aveva fatto, questo sì, una cosa mostruosa. So per certo però che la persona che sono oggi è stata più forte di tutto e di tutti. Ho compreso che di fronte alle avversità, di fronte a tragedie come la mia la cosa che conta è trovare la forza di reagire. Ho scelto di reagire, ho scelto di vivere, ho scelto di cercare di essere un esempio per chi crede di non avere quella forza dentro di sé, perché io… la depressione non me la posso permettere, non più. Quello che, più di tutto, mi ha dato la forza di arrivare fin qui è stata la speranza di poter aiutare tutte le donne che vivono, magari ancora senza essersene rese veramente conto, situazioni di coppia come la mia. Sono felice di poter alzare una mano sola, sono felice di avere i miei occhi senza ciglia e sopracciglia, sono felice di avere le mie gambe coperte di cicatrici. Semplicemente, sinceramente, incredibilmente… ho trovato la forza per non smettere di sorridere e sono felice di vivere! »
Dopo anni di battaglie fisiche e legali, adesso Valentina è libera e forse adesso nessuno potrà toglierle il suo sorriso.
Woman Warrior #17: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man”. Whether you’re devoted to feminism or have been exposed even in the slightest bit to pop culture, it’s safe to say that you’ve probably come across a snippet of one of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most notable essays : “We Should All be Feminists”.
For this week’s edition of Women Warriors, we will be taking a deep dive into the career of an author whose work has touched many lives through stories that transcends gender, race and class.
Born on September 15th in Enugu, Chimamanda has grown to become one of Africa’s most critically acclaimed authors, and to be even considered “the 21st-century daughter” of Chinua Achebe. The Nigerian writer was brought up in an Igbo family of eight that valued education, and after completing her secondary education at the University of Nigeria’s school with distinctions, Chimamanda pursued a medicine and pharmacy degree for a year and half before she left for the United States at the age of nineteen to study communication at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Two years later, she moved on to pursue a degree in communication and political science at Eastern Connecticut State University and graduated summa cum laude in 2001. She then completed her master’s degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Chimamanda’s literary pursuit started much before her move to the United States. While still studying medicine and pharmacy, she simultaneously edited her university’s magazine The Compass, run by the Catholic medical student. She also used to write articles for the Campus Lantern journal at Eastern Connecticut State University.
Her first book Purple Hibiscus, which was published in 2003, was the fruit of years of labor as she started writing it during her senior year at Eastern University. This novel opened many opportunities for her as it was awarded the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book and was shortlisted for the Orange Fiction Prize in 2004. These opportunities took the shape of numerous fellowships in prestigious universities as well as other books she published such as Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) and Americanah (2013).
In addition to her well-received novels, Chimamanda has proven herself to be a great speaker. Her 2009 TED Talk The Danger of A Single Story is today one of the most watched TED Talks of all time. Not to mention of course her 2012 talk We Should All Be Feminists that ignited a worldwide discussion about feminism.
With every novel and book, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie demonstrates the power that our own experiences and stories have and the impact they have on our perception of the world.
Woman Warrior #16: Benazir Bhutto
The American elections and Kamala Harris becoming the first female Vice President in the United States of America reminds us of the first female head of government in a Muslim Majority country. Benazir Bhutto Pakistan’s Iron Lady is our Woman Warrior n°16.
Benazir Bhutto was born in Karachi on the 21st of June 1953. She was the daughter of Zulfikar Bhutto leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Bhutto studied for an undergraduate degree at Radcliffe College, Harvard University from 1969 to 1973. At Harvard, Bhutto majored in comparative government and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts. In autumn 1973, she moved to the United Kingdom and started an undergraduate degree, in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford. After three years, Benazir pursued a one-year postgraduate degree in international law and diplomacy at St Catherine’s College, Oxford.
She returned to Pakistan in 1977, shortly before her father was overthrew in a military coup and executed. Alongside her mother, Bhutto took control of the PPP and led the country’s Movement for the Restoration of Democracy. She was repeatedly imprisoned by Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s military government and then exiled to Britain in 1984.
In 1987, Benazir returned to Pakistan and led the transformation of the PPP; from a socialist to a liberal one. Only a year after, the PPP won the elections. She served her first term as a Prime Minister from 1988 to 1990 and led the country’s Movement for the Restoration of Democracy; her first cabinet was the largest in Pakistan’s history. Following her election, a significant mistrust remained between Bhutto and the right-wing military administration; they considered her as a threat. The opposition leaders contributed to Bhutto’s inability to pass any major legislation during her first term in office. Nevertheless, she encouraged the development of civil society and lifted the ban on trade unions and student associations. She removed many of the constraints imposed on non-governmental organizations, and introduced measures to lift the media censorship.
Her government was accused of corruption and nepotism and ended by being dismissed by Khan in 1990. Intelligence services arranged that year’s election to make sure that the conservative Islamic Democratic Alliance (IJI) will be victorious, at which Bhutto became Leader of the Opposition.
Benazir led the PPP to victory in the 1993 elections. During her second term as a Prime Minister, Benazir sought to advance women’s rights. She signed Pakistan to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. She was also a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders in 1996. Bhutto created a women’s division in the government, headed by a senior female civil servant, as well as a women’s bank. She opened a series of all-female police stations, staffed with female officers, to make women feel safer in coming forward to report crimes. She established family courts with female judges to deal with child custody and family issues, and in 1994-95 the first women judges were appointed to the Supreme Courts of Peshawar and Sindh.
Facing all that success, her government was damaged by several controversies; a failed 1995 coup d’état, and a further bribery scandal involving her and her husband Asif Ali Zardari. Her government was dismissed in 1996. The PPP lost the 1997 election and in 1998 she went into self-exile in Dubai.
Only in 2006, after 15 long years an Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) report was brought forward when then-President Pervez Musharraf was trying to gain support from Bhutto. According to this report, Benazir Bhutto was ousted from power in 1990 under the request of then-president Ghulam Ishaq Khan. The AGP report conveyed that Khan illegally paid legal advisers 28 million rupees to file 19 corruption cases against Bhutto and her husband in 1990–92. Benazir returned to Pakistan in 2007 to compete in the 2008 elections. Shortly afterwards on 27 December 2007, she was assassinated. The Salafi jihadi group al-Qaeda claimed responsibility, although the Pakistani Taliban and rogue elements of the intelligence services was suspected of being involved in her assassination.
Twice Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto’s legacy will remain and she will always be the first woman of modern times to have ruled a Muslim country.
Woman Warrior #15: Yasmeen Lari
Bringing women’s voices into the table, here is the similarity between Politics4her and our Woman Warrior n°15 : Yasmeen Lari, the winner of this year’s Jane Drew Prize that recognizes women’s contribution to architecture. She was born in 1941, in Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan, where she lived for 15 years before moving to London with her family. After graduating at the age of 23 from Oxford school of Architecture, she returned to Pakistan where she founded Lari Associates in Karachi.
Her career as a “starchitect” started as she was designing some of the major buildings of the Pakistani landscape, such as the Finance and Trade center (1983-1989), The Taj Mahal Hotel (1981) and or the Pakistan State Oil House (1985-1991). For 36 years, she was one of the main figures of the architecture landscape in Pakistan before seeing her journey taking an unexpected shift.
Indeed, in 2005 – five years after she retired from the construction field to dedicate herself to the preservation of the national Heritage – a tragic earthquake hit Pakistan, killing over 80 000 people and leaving 400 000 families without any shelter to protect them. This event signs the end of “the egotistical journey” of Yasmeen Lari, as she likes to mention it. The architect decided to turn the debris into new cost-effective and eco-friendly shelters for the populations who were then, homeless. Inspired by the traditional techniques, she privileges the use of local materials such as mud, lime, stone and bamboo. Lari gave the tools to those who had lost everything to rebuild their own houses in a safer way with a unique participatory approach of architecture. This initiative resulted in the construction of 40 000 zero-carbon shelters which proved their resistance to floods and earthquakes.
This experience changed the way she perceives architecture for ever. She truly started to see it as an opportunity to provide some social and eco justice to the poorest and marginalized communities. Yasmeen Lari believes in the importance of teaching them how to build for themselves as a way to free themselves, and to help them reach a certain degree of safety and independence. Her architecture now seeks equality and inclusiveness by meeting the actual needs of those who do not have access to the minimal comfort, namelya safe shelter, clean water or sanitation, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic which “has also effectively demonstrated to theThird World that in order to ensure safety for all, the poorest of the poor must be provided a minimum standard of living.” This very special warrior also fights for our planet by designing eco-friendly and sustainable shelters, hoping that she is actually “atoning for the damage I caused with my earlier projects.” The impressive humility and dedication shown by Yasmeen Lari earned her the Sitara-i-Imtiaz (Star of Excellence) in 2006 and Hilal-i-Imtiaz (Crescent of Excellence) in 2014 from the Government of Pakistan. In 2016, she won the Fukuoka Prize which honors or celebrates the outstanding work of organizations, groups or individuals for the promotion and preservation of diverse cultures of Asia. In 2018, she received the World Habitat award with her project of fuelefficient stove conceived to protect Pakistani women’s health. Despite her status of a retired architect, she continues to fight for her native country through nonprofit projects such as the community kitchens built in 2007 in refugee camps during the war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Her devotion should be taken as an example and we should all follow her advice and work together for a better tomorrow also for the other 99 per cent.
Woman Warrior #14: Mariam Kamara
‘‘Design can be a Powerful Tool for Good’’ says Mariam Kamara, our Woman Warrior n°14. In politics4her we are today celebrating a founding member of united4design (isn’t it funny ? ). Born in Nigeria in 1979, Mariam Kamara was a software developer before or taking part in this collective of architects and founding her own architecture firm Atelier Masōmī in Niamey, Niger in 2014. In susu, masōmī means ‘‘ inceptions ’’ or the beginning of every creation. Indeed she joined The University of Washington in 2010 and already put a social dimension in her thesis by focusing on the issues of gender and public spaces in West Africa. Her sensibility and awareness of the social, economic and environmental dimensions that the African architecture embodies was noticed, which lead her to win her first award : a special mention in the Young Architects in Africa Competition of 2014. Her thesis was also presented the same year at the Milan Triennale for the exhibition Africa : Big Chance Big Change.
Her understanding of the Nigerian environment and climate probably started when she was 6 years old and moved from Niamey into the country’s vast Saharan desert. Through all her projects, she still makes sure that the environment is magnified and respected. She tries to highlight the actual context of each building by blending the local techniques to more innovative solutions. That is why Mariam Kamara is only working with 3 local materials : recycled metal, compressed earth bricks (a breathable material responsive to Niger’s desert climate), and cement.
Kamara’s approach of architecture also puts into perspective the problem of reproducing a Western modernism design that is definitely not made for African countries and which is far from taking into account their actual needs nor the climatical conditions. Moreover, it is neglecting the cultural and historical heritage of these countries since this way of thinking architecture was brought and spread during the colonisation.
As an architect, Mariam Kamara aspires to dignify people’s lives and improve it by creating not only spaces that we live in but ones that play a major role in every aspect of our lives either economically, socially, politically. She sees architecture as an opportunity to have a positive impact on society : as a social act in itself.
In a field where women are underrepresented, Kamara gives hope to the vernacular African architecture by bringing it to the front of the International scene. In 2017, she won the LafargeHolcim Gold Award for sustainable building for Africa and the Middle East, and in 2018, she was awarded the Silver in the Global Competition for LafargeHolcim. 2019 was also a good year for our woman warrior since she was shortlisted for The Dezeen Awards that identifies the world’s best architecture and laureate of the Prince Claus Awards which celebrates creatives who have had a positive impact on society.
The devotion of Mariam Kamara can be considered as a tangible example for anyone who aspires to act for a better and more inclusive world, to be good for the sake of our precious planet.
Woman Warrior #13: Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Meryem of Morocco
Today we are celebrating the birthday of Moroccan Royal Highness Princess Lalla Meryem. She is an inspiration for women in Morocco and abroad thanks to her commitment to improving lives and conditions of children and women. Her Royal Highness is passionate about helping the most vulnerable and her involvement started at an early age.
Her Highness Lalla Meryem was born on August 26, 1962, in Rome. She is a princess member of the Moroccan royal family, the first child of King Hassan II. After obtaining her baccalaureate in 1981, Lalla Meryem was appointed president of the social works of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces by her father. In 1984, she married Fouad Filali, son of the Minister of Information at that time. They had two children: Sharifa Lalla Soukaïna, born in 1986 and Moulay Idris, born in 1988.
Holder of many official functions, she devoted a large part of her activities to the social and cultural field. She is president of the Moroccan Association for Support to UNICEF, of the Hassan II Foundation for Moroccans Living Abroad, of the Moroccan National Observatory for the Rights of the Child and of the Hassan II Foundation for Works social services for ex-servicemen and veterans. In July 2001, she was appointed UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, mainly dealing with projects related to women and children. She is also a member of the honorary committee of the International Center for Missing and Sexually Exploited Children.
In March 2019, King Mohammed approved her nomination as Goodwill Ambassador of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in the field of combating underage marriage and promotion of family values and the institution of marriage. Lalla Meryem holds the national honor of Knight Grand Cordon of the Order of the Throne, and her foreign orders include Honorary Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (UK), Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spain), Grand Cordon of the Order of Merit (Lebanon), and Grand Cross of the Order of Prince Henry (Portugal).
Princess Lalla Meryem is a real example of devotion, kindness and humanitarianism. She continues to work on issues related to women and children, by being a fervent advocate for their rights in Morocco and at the international level. As a teenager, I got diagnosted with kidney failure. Her Royal Highness Lalla Meryem didn’t hesitate to take care of my treatment, making sure I was getting the best doctors in Morocco and France. Thanks to her, I was able to fight the disease and go back to living a healthy life. I am forever grateful for her, and she is an authentic treasure for Morocco and its citizens.
Woman Warrior #12: Aicha Ech-Chenna
Aicha Ech-Chenna is a Moroccan social worker and women’s rights advocate and activist. She was born year 1941 in Casablanca and grew up in Marrakech. She is referred to as the ‘Moroccan Mother Teresa’. She has also contributed in helping legalize abortion under certain circumstances. As a teenager, she embarked on her first voluntary action with the Child Protection League. As a registered nurse, she then worked as a health and social education coordinator in the Ministry of Health.
In 1985 she founded the “Female Solidarity Association”, supporting single mothers who had no access to rights. As a matter of fact, the distinction between legitimate and natural children still remains deeply rooted in Moroccan mentalities. Indeed, negative behavior makes it difficult for many children whose only fault is to be born out of the traditional family scheme. In her association, single mothers who were rejected by their families, benefit from training, literacy courses and work, so that they can be financially independent after a three years period.
Aicha Ech-Chenna is giving a chance to these single mothers in constant combat against an intolerant traditional society. She gives them the opportunity to run a restaurant, a hammam, a gym, a hairdressing salon, and kiosks. By standing up for children born out of wedlock for years and taking care of single mothers, Aicha Ech-Chenna has become an icon in the country. She shook Moroccan society and made it possible to pose this fact of hidden society not only in Morocco but in other Muslim countries.
The immense determination and courage of this great lady has been rewarded on numerous occasions. In 2000, Aicha Ech-Chenna received the Medal of Honor, awarded by His Majesty King Mohammed VI. Throughout her career, she has received numerous prizes including the Human Rights Prize of the French Republic (1995), the Grand Atlas Prize (1998), the Elisabeth Norgall Prize (2005) and the dedication, with the Opus Prize, awarded with a check for $1 million.
Woman Warrior #11: Nina Simone
“Prodigy musician, powerhouse singer, civil rights activist, billboard artist,” there are many titles to describe the legendary Nina Simone. She leaves behind a strong legacy of creativity, passion, and rebellion. Simone’s birth name was Eunice Kathleen Waymon, born February 23, 1933, she grew up in North Carolina with seven siblings in a poor household. At age 3 she learned to play the piano. Growing up Simone sang and played the piano in her church choir. Early childhood is when she developed an un-distractable passion for classical music. Brahms and Beethoven were two of her favorite classical musicians. Her dream was to become a classical concert pianist.
After high school, Simone moved to New York to attend Juilliard School of Music. She taught piano and was an accompanist for other artists, but she was forced to drop out of school for a financial reason. Simone and her family then moved to Philadelphia in hopes of her attending The Curtis Institute Of Music. Despite being a previous Juilliard student and having a perfect audition, Simone was denied admissions. Early adulthood was tasking for Simone, she faced racial discrimination and economic hardship. Her dream of studying piano in New York came true, only to be taken away from her.
In 1954 she adopted the stage name, Nina Simone. Nina was a nickname, and Simone was inspired by the French actress Simone Signoret. Simone started performing in jazz nightclubs in Atlantic city to pay for her private piano lessons. Her performances were unlike anything at the time. The soulful depth of her voice and thundering piano was the perfect culmination of jazz, blues, and gospel. Her hard work eventually paid off, Little Girl Blue, was Simone’s first hit single.
By the 1960s Nina Simone was a music icon and she used her platform to demand racial equality. In 1963 Simone wrote “Mississippi Goddamn” in response to the 16th st Baptist Church bombing that killed four black children. This song became an anthem civil rights movement. Simon took part in the Selma to Montgomery marches and performed Mississippi Goddamn in front of 10,000 people. However, Simone did not align herself with Martin Luther King, instead, she believed in black nationalism and did not discredit the use of violence for revolutionary means. She even boycotted paying taxes to protest the Vietnam war. She also spoke out against European beauty standards that black women are subjected to in the United States. Four Women was a song about four black women and the stereotypes they are subjected to.
In the 1970s Simone claims that record labels boycotted her music and harmed her career. So she left the U.S. to live in Barbados. While living there she had an affair with the Prime Minister, Errol Barrow/ By the 1980’s Simon was a regular at Jazz clubs in London, and eventually moved to Europe. She lived in Switzerland, Amsterdam, and the Netherlands. Eventually, she settled in Southern France. At this time Simone was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Simone even shot her neighbor’s son after his laughter broke her concentration. Initially, Simone was sentenced to eight months in jail but was suspended after a psychological evaluation.
On April 21st, 2003 Nina Simone died in her sleep. Before this, she had been battling breast cancer. She was only 70 years old but had multiple lifetimes of success. Despite life’s hardship, she embraced her talent and used her voice to fight oppression. All while breaking billboard records and traveling the world. Hundreds of people attended her funeral and praised her for her activism. The government of South Africa even issued a statement saying: “She fought for the liberation of black people. It is with much pain that we received the news of her death. “
Nina’s Simone story is inspiring to say the least. A brilliant black woman way ahead of her time, living in the 50s white conservative paradigm. Regardless of poverty, race, or mental health issues Nina Simon thrived and changed the world for the better. Today she survives through her daughter Lisa Simone.
Woman Warrior #10: Nawal El Saadawi
Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian public health physician, psychiatrist, author, and advocate of women’s rights, born in 1931 in the small town of Kafr Talha. Sometimes referred to as « the Simone de Beauvoir of the Arab world,» El Saadawi is recognized as a major feminist figure whose writings and professional career were devoted to political and sexual rights for women.
She was educated at Cairo University, Colombia University, and Ayn Shams University in Cairo, and worked in the Egyptian Health Ministry until 1972. In 1962, she released her most controversial and renowned book « Women and Sex, » a poignant critique on female genital mutilation and other misogynist practices of her society. The release of her book and her revolutionary ideas caused her to lose her job at the ministry and the closing of her magazine HEALTH, which she founded in 1968. Her book was condemned and highly criticized by religious and political authorities. El Saadawi was jailed or two months in September 1981 by then-president Anwar Sadat after her outspoken criticism of his unilateral peace deal with Israel, and his domestic economic policies. She used that time to write her next book « Memoirs from the Women’s Prison » (1984) on a roll of toilet paper using a smuggled cosmetic pencil.
She founded the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association (AWSA) and worked as the editor of the organization’s publication, Al-nūn in 1982. In 1991, the Egyptian government closed down both Al-nūn and AWSA mainly due to its opposition to the Gulf War. She was forced to flee Egypt in 1992, spending most of the decade in Western universities.
Her outspoken opinions and beliefs continued to cause her recurrent legal confrontations from political and religious rivals including allegations of rejecting her religious faith.
Nawa El Saadawi was and is never afraid to denounce and criticize aspects of culture, all religions, and society that were considered taboo in the 20th century and still are today. She is very direct in her condemnation of genetic mutilation, and patriarchy as a whole. She believes that the veil is never a free choice or a religious one but rather a political symbol.
Woman Warrior #9: Fatima el Fihri
Fatima el Fihri was born during the 9th century. She is also known as Oum al Banine (mother of the children), and as the founder of el-Qaraouiyyin, the oldest university in the world still inactivity. Fatima is originally from Kairouan, Tunisia, and emigrated to Fez in Morocco, with her family. Her father, Muhamed Al-Fihri, is a wealthy trader. Fatima and her sister Maryam grew up fueling their curiosity and strolling together through the alleys of the souk. Coming from a pious and practicing family, the two sisters very early received a religious education, learning sacred texts and stories relating to the life of the prophet and those who accompanied him.
At the age of 19, Fatima married one of her neighbors. Together they had two sons. Their education then became her priority and wherever she went, the two young boys accompanied her. While they were living peacefully as a family, several tragic events shook their daily lives. Around the 820s, her mother died, giving an immense family sorrow as the maternal figure occupied a central place. Still, in mourning, the family had to face the violent riots that broke out in Kairouan, leading them to flee the insecurity and go into exile in Morocco. It was in the city of Fez, where already more than 800 Muslim and Jewish families from Andalusia had taken refuge, that they decided to put their bags in 825.
A few years after their arrival, Fatima’s husband and father died. The two sisters, therefore, inherited a substantial fortune. After reflection, they both decided to spend their inheritance in the service of the community to honor the memory of their father. Wishing to live in devotion and extreme simplicity, they devoted all of their wealth to the construction of pious works. In 859, Fatima undertook the construction of the Al Quaraouiyine, while her sister Maryam directed the construction of a mosque. Fatima fasted for three years and founded the Al Quaraouiyine mosque and an adjoining university, building the oldest university in the world still active today.
The university played a leading role in cultural and academic relations between the Islamic world and Europe. Thanks to Fatima, Al Quaraouiyine attracted scholars and students from all over the world, and of all faiths. Today, the mosque includes one of the largest libraries in Morocco and contains thousands of rare works. Fatima el Fihriya died in 880 at the age of 80. The Guinness Book of World Records and UNESCO notably promote it as the oldest university in the world, long before Bologna, Oxford, Salamanca, or La Sorbonne.
Woman Warrior #8: Angela Davis
Angela Yvonne Davis is an American political activist, philosopher, academic, author, and feminist. She was born in an African-American family, in Birmingham (Alabama, USA). Her youth was marked by racism, racial segregation, and violence towards the black community. As her parents were activists, she quickly acquired a political conscience. Angela Davis discovered the socialist movement and communism. She was fascinated by utopian experiences like those of Robert Owen considered as the “founding father” of the movement. She joined Advance, a Marxist-Leninist youth organization, and participated in demonstrations to support the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1962 Angela Davis was awarded a scholarship to pursue graduate studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. She discovers the works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. From the third year of study, she made several trips to France and Germany to study philosophy. Frustrated at not being able to participate in the militant effervescence of the struggle for the liberation of blacks, and in particular Black Power, she decided to return to the United States.
Angela Davis campaigns for black rights and quickly discovers the strong rivalries that run through the Black Liberation Movement. In 1968, she joined the Che-Lumumba Club, a section reserved for blacks of the Communist Party of the United States, as well as the Black Panther Party (African American revolutionary movement). At that time, she was under FBI surveillance. In 1970 Angela Davis was accused of having organized a hostage-taking that killed four people in court. Arrested and imprisoned, she was detained for sixteen months before being tried. She proclaimed her innocence and unleashed a vast movement of support in the United States and the world. Convicted by the jury of the court, she was then released and escaped the death penalty.
After her release, Angela Davis published essays and delivers radical speeches for peace in Vietnam, against racism, against the prison system, and against the death penalty. She also led a feminist fight against sexism, including in the Black Liberation Movement, because she thinks that we must fight against all forms of domination, the black man cannot be freed if he continues to enslave women. In 1980 and 1984, she ran in the American presidential elections as a candidate for vice-presidency alongside Gus Hall, leader of the Communist Party. She then became a History professor at universities.
Woman Warrior #7: Fatima Mernissi
Fatima Mernissi is a Moroccan sociologist, writer, and journalist. She is best known for being one of the founders of Islamic Feminism. Ms. Mernissi was born on the year 1940 in Fez, and passed away in 2015 in the Moroccan capital. Fatima Mernissi is a pioneer of justice for women, in Morocco and above, with a focus on the Arab World. She grew up in a domesticated harem, surrounded by women. In fact, her grand mother was her grand father’s ninth wife. Based on her childhood memories, she wrote and published “The Harem Within: Tales of a Moroccan Girlhood”, which will be forbidden in Morocco. She states there that women will rarely allowed to leave the harem, and were kept in so that outsiders wouldn’t lay eyes on them.
The Moroccan feminist first studied sociology at the University Mohammed V of Rabat before flying abroad to study at la Sorbonne Paris in France. Following that, she completed a PhD at Brandeis University in the US and shifted to teaching at universities. Professor Mernissi studied sexual politics of Islamic Scripture and released several books surrounding the topic. In her books “Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society,” (1975) and “Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern Wold” (1992); she promotes a moderate and inclusive Islam. Indeed, she claims that there is misinterpretation of the religion by male leaders in order for them to maintain the status quo: “Not only have the sacred texts always been manipulated, but manipulation of them is a structural characteristic of the practice of power in Muslim societies,” (”The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam”, 1991). In 2003, Professor Mernissi, received the Prince of Asturias Award for Letters, presented by the government of Spain. Fatima Mernissi was then extremely involved with organistions in Morocco, promoting women empowerment. She will always be remembered as one of the greatest feminist figures of the Arab World.
Woman Warrior #6: Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo is one of the greatest figures of the Mexican art of the 20th century. Author of several hundred paintings, including many self-portraits, she is famous for her realistic paintings, which are a reflection of her passions and her suffering, but also of Mexico. Frida Kahlo had a brief life. She was born in Mexico in 1907 and died there in 1954. An extraordinary life, which illuminated her country, her job, her condition, and her femininity. Life begins well for Frida but life turns badly at 10 years old when she contracted polio. Her right foot didn’t grow more. Another disaster hit her six years later, in 1925. A bus accident where Frida survived but got severely injured, with 11 fractures. Being severely disabled didn’t stop her from dominating her broken body. She started painting herself, with a mustache, by provocation, by nonconformity, by feminism.
In 1928, having almost recovered all her mobility, Frida Khalo enrolled in the Communist Party. That same year, she met the famous painter Diego Rivera and showed him some of her paintings. It’s the beginning of a tumultuous love story. In 1929, they married and settled the following year in San Francisco, where Frida met many artists. Unfortunately, she suffered two miscarriages in 1930 and 1932. She painted “Henry Ford Hospital” during her convalescence and wished to return to Mexico. In 1938, Frida Khalo met André Breton in Mexico City. Thanks to him, that same year, she was able to exhibit her works in New York. She sold many paintings. In 1953, the first exhibition of her work is organized in Mexico City. During the summer, she had to amputate her right leg. She died in 1954 at age 47 and left many important works. Frida believed that even though she was damaged, she was beautiful. Her “destroyed” body didn’t stop her from anything. At that time, there was even more machismo, but it didn’t stop her from being a feminist, from being devoted to art. Corseted, operated several times, amputated, she painted while lying on her back. On her last painting, she wrote “Viva la Vida”.
Woman Warrior #5: Anna Eleanor Roosevelt
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York on October 11, 1884. She passed away on November 7, 1962, at the age of 78. Eleanor was the wife of the American Democratic President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and held the title of First Lady of the United States from March 4, 1933 to April 12, 1945. Much more than a hostess of the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt was the first wife of a president to hold a true political role. She was the first president of the U.S. Presidential Commission on the Status of Women and chairs the commission drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Eleanor Roosevelt was part of the American elite and embodied White Anglo-Saxon Protestant’s values. The Roosevelts are among the richest and most influential families on the East Coast. Her uncle was a former U.S. president: Theodore Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt leaves her role as a submissive wife to fully interfere in politics. Progressive and feminist, she advocates for the “American Civil Rights Movement” and contributes to the creation of the “Women Airforce Service Pilots”. Internationally, Eleanor Roosevelt developed unique qualities for diplomacy.
Woman Warrior #3: Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai is a young human rights activist. Malala was born in Mingora, Pakistan on July 12, 1997. She is a symbol of resistance in her country of origin, especially in the Swat Vally (northwest of Pakistan), an area caught between the Taliban and the Pakistani army. She is the daughter of Ziauddin Yousafzai, who is known for his positions against the Taliban. Malala Yousafzai appears at the age of 11 on the website of the British channel BBC. She testifies on the Taliban’s violence towards the girls who dare to go to school. In May 2009 she became a spokesperson, with worldwide recognition. Her school was even renamed in her honor once the Pakistani army took control of the region. Malala also received, at the end of 2011, the Pakistan Peace Prize.
In October 2012, the Taliban attempt to kill her when she was leaving school. She was injured in the head and transferred to a hospital in Birmingham, UK, where she continued her rehabilitation and fight. In 2013, she won Simone de Beauvoir prize for women’s freedom. In 2014, at the age of 17, she won the Nobel Peace Prize making her the youngest laureate in the history of this award. Today, Malala Yousafzai actively campaigns for gender equality, especially regarding girl’s education on social networks.
Woman Warrior #2: Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir is the essence of Feminist Theory. The author was born on January 9, 1908, more than a century ago. Until today, her impact has a huge influence on the fight for gender equality. Simone de Beauvoir is one of the leading thinkers of the 20th century. Her theses on the status of women remain at the heart of modern debates. French feminist theorist, she was closely related to another existentialist thinker, Jean-Paul Sartre. Although her writings were controversial at the time, they remain a philosophical reference on the debate related to gender equality. Since her young age, she started developing excellent writing skills. After studying literature and mathematics, she held a particular interest in philosophy. She became a philosophy teacher at only 21. As for her religious beliefs, she was an atheist and strongly opposed to marriage, developing her thoughts on the freedom and autonomy of individuals, especially women. She collaborated with other outstanding intellectuals of the 20th century such as Boris Vian, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and of course Jean-Paul Sartre. Adding to this, Simone helped to found the magazine “Les Temps Modernes”.
In 1949, she published her most famous book, “The Second Sex”. The book’s sales were a success as it advanced very avant-gardiste theses for the time. Simone faced both success and condemnation. She evokes the feminine condition, the situation of domination, the taboo of abortion and so on so forth. She also argues that the relationship between men and women is a social construction. “We are not born women, we become it” is the symbol of her thinking. This book and the ideas defended by Simone de Beauvoir are the ideological roots of the feminist movement. Simone marked the fight for women in the 1970s. Until her death in 1986, she will continue to approach the great themes of society such as love, death, euthanasia. In 2008, the Simone de Beauvoir prize for women’s freedom was created in her honor. Simone de Beauvoir is undoubtedly still occupying society today. The issue of the place of women and the reappropriation of their individuality is an ongoing fight.
Woman Warrior #1: Asmaa Sidi Baba
Asmaa Sidi Baba is without any doubt a strong, brilliant and committed Moroccan woman. She holds a BA from American University, Washington D.C. and an MA in International Affairs (MENA specialization) from Columbia University, New York. Following her successful academic career, she has worked in the UN ECOSOC Committee for a couple years before heading back to her homeland. Since then, Asmaa worked for the Moroccan National Office of Tourism in Paris, Ericsson, EMAAR, and Dakhla Festival in Morocco. Starting in 2011, she joined the UNFM (Union Marocaine des Femmes du Maroc-Moroccan National Union of Moroccan Women) as an Advisor at the Executive Bureau. Today she is Vice President of Rabat Regional Office. She has been involved mainly with women’s rights. Her goal is to empower women by creating cooperatives and helping them commercialize their products. This has allowed the creation of incomes, generating revenues in the rural areas. She also has designed clothes and accessories with Moroccan inspiration. As a matter of fact, she has taken courses during a year at Parsons School of Design, in New York. Her brand Lalla Coneta has been a success in the United States of America and Dubai. Indeed, she was able to sell clothes and accessories to celebrities such as Madonna, Lenny Kravitz, and the Gypsy Kings.
Regarding her personal life, Asmaa Sidi Baba is the mother of two young women she had to raise on her own after an early divorce. Let me introduce you to my hero: my mother. She often tells me that I should not refer to her as my role model because she wants me to do better (hard to believe, right?). However, what she does not know is that when I refer to her as my idol, it is thanks to her numerous assets. I see a mother but I also see a warrior. She is a brave and strong woman, always keeping a positive state of mind despite all the difficulties she has been facing. Mother, you are and will always be my role model. Thank you for teaching me so much. Not only you have a brilliant career, you also have a huge heart and incredible qualities. If I am the woman I am today, it is thanks to you. I owe you everything. Thank you for giving me everything I always needed. I could never thank you enough. I feel so grateful to have you as a mother, I could not ask for better. My main goal in life is to make you proud and I will brave all challenges to achieve it.
I love you more than anything.