Celebrating Women Who Work for Human Rights

By Mary Ann Zehr — November 14, 2008 1 min read
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While watching a documentary play this week, sponsored by Vital Voices Global Partnership, I was amazed by how some women who have experienced great suffering have gone on to do a lot to help other people. This could be the case with some of the English-language learners in this country as well, many of whom have experienced war or extreme poverty. Or they may be able to identify with some of the stories of these women.

The play, Seven, tells the story of seven women from around the world who have fought for human rights. Those seven are Hafsat Abiola from Nigeria, Farida Azizi from Afghanistan, Anabella de Leon from Guatemala, Mukhtaran Mai from Pakistan, Inez McCormack in Northern Ireland, Marina Pisklakova-Parker from Russia, and Mu Sochua, from Cambodia. After a diverse group of actresses portrayed their stories in the play, five of those seven women were present to speak briefly about their work. Here’s the Washington Post‘s review of the play, published today.

Mu Sochua, who had been a refugee as a child and lost her parents to the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, had a successful career as a social worker in the United States. But she returned to her native Cambodia and fought child trafficking.

Mukhtaran Mai brought international attention to the issue of “honor crimes” against women in rural Pakistan. After being gang-raped by men from a rival tribe in her village, she took her rapists to court. She won a settlement that was the equivalent of $8,000. She spent the money on building a school in her village. She had been illiterate when she went to court; she learned to read and write in her own school.

These women are fighting some ugly stuff. “Acid Attacks Threaten Afghan Schoolgirls,” an Associated Press article posted today at, reports on the cruelty that some girls and women continue to face because of their gender.

In my view, it’s important for all of us to do our part to uphold human rights--and to remember that some of the youth from the humblest of backgrounds who are immigrants in this country have the potential to do great things, as these women have done.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.