International Activists: Inspiring Women to Emulate

Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, paid tribute to Diana’s work on landmines:

All Honourable Members will be aware from their postbags of the immense contribution made by Diana, Princess of Wales to bringing home to many of our constituents the human costs of landmines. The best way in which to record our appreciation of her work, and the work of NGOs that have campaigned against landmines, is to pass the Bill, and to pave the way towards a global ban on landmines.

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Wangari Muta Maathai was a Kenyan environmental and political activist. She was educated in the United States, Germany, and at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. In the 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental nongovernmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. The movement has planted more than 10 million trees to prevent soil erosion and provide firewood for cooking fires.

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A member of the Cherokee nation, in 1980 Rebecca Adamson founded the First Nations Development Institute. This group has established new standards of accountability regarding federal responsibility and reservation land reform and has an operating budget of about $3 million. Adamson has also aided indigenous peoples in Australia and Africa and has received many awards for mobilizing and unifying people to solve common problems.

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Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams are peace activists from Northern Ireland. They cofounded the Women for Peace, which later became the Community for Peace People, an organization dedicated to encouraging a peaceful resolution of the troubles in Northern Ireland. Maguire and Williams were awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize. Maguire and Williams became active with the Northern Ireland peace movement after three children of Maguire’s sister, Anne Maguire, were run over and killed by a car driven by Danny Lennon, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) fugitive who had been fatally shot by British troops while trying to make a getaway.

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One day when Sampat Pal Devi, a simple woman living in a village in Northern India, saw a man mercilessly beating his wife. She pleaded with him to stop but he abused her as well. The next day she returned with a bamboo stick and five other women and gave the rogue a sound thrashing. The news spread like wild fire and soon women started approaching Sampat Pal Devi in droves requesting similar interventions. In 2006, she started a society called the Gulabi Gang (www.gulabigang.in) with a group of women from her village to fight various forms of social injustice. Many women came forward to join her team, and she decided that the sisterhood needed a uniform and a name and thus the pink sari was chosen, to signify the womanhood and understated strength.

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In 1978, a young housewife named Lois Gibbs discovered that her child’s elementary school was built on top of a toxic-chemical dump. Determined to do something, she organized her neighbors into the Love Canal Homeowners Association, which worked for more than two years to have the community relocated. She led her community in a battle against the local, state, and federal governments. After years of struggle, 833 families were eventually evacuated, and cleanup of Love Canal began. National press coverage made Lois Gibbs a household name.

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