Sometimes it seems like there's little hope for humanity. We're surrounded by terrible people doing terrible things all over the world as we watch almost unimaginable horrors unfold from Turkish beaches to Australian refugee detention camps.
These three women — in two cases, groups of women — are bucking the trend and bringing their all to three huge social problems around the globe, and for that, it's time for some confetti and party hats.
With a name like that, you already know that these people are at the top of their game. This elite South African anti-poaching group consists of mostly female Rangers, who act with aggression and courage to tackle the poaching problem in South Africa. Rhinos of the region are of particular concern, but they're an equal opportunity animal protection division, also handling cheetahs, elephants, hippos, and leopards (my personal favorite big cat). If you prefer giraffes, wildebeests, impalas, and many other members of the African wildlife community, they have those covered too.
"Since its inception in 2013," the UN reports, "the 26-member unit has helped arrest six poachers, reduced snaring by 76 per cent, removed over 1,000 snares and put 5 poachers' camps and 2 bush meat kitchens out of action." The organization has just recognized the Black Mambas with its Guardians of the Earth award in honor of their efforts to protect the region's vulnerable animal populations.
As if their critical conservation work wasn't enough, here's what Leitah Mkhabela has to say about would-be poachers: "I am not afraid, I know what I am doing and I know why I am doing it. If you see the poachers you tell them not to try, tell them we are here and it is they who are in danger."
Check out some outstanding portraits of the women here; the members of the Black Mambas come to the organization from varying walks of life and all have different long-term plans for their lives. Many members of the community-led and focused organization ultimately want to work in the national parks system, and are also interested in public outreach and education to put a stop to poaching.
This woman was one among many who have been "passed around" to male soldiers as rewards for their service by a commander known as "Abu Anas." She reacted to sex slavery by shooting him, a pretty decisive response to ISIS's notorious treatment of women.
Rape and sexual assault are rampant in wartime, and are often explicitly used as weapons of war. Human Rights Watch recently published a chilling internal document that spells out official ISIS policies on the abduction and rape of women (STRONG trigger warning for sexual assault and slavery). As ISIS marches across Iraq and Syria, unknown numbers of women are victimized at the hands of soldiers and commanders, even as some fight alongside Kurdish freedom fighters — who are holding the line against ISIS in many areas despite being attacked with chemical weapons and heavy artillery.
The woman in question is believed to be a Yazidi Kurd and her ultimate fate is unclear. I hope she survived to fight another day, but if she didn't, she just sent a powerful message to other women held in sex slavery by ISIS, and she brought the terrorist group up short on its heel. More than 3,000 Yazidis are being held by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the ethnic minority has been targeted with unspeakable violence in addition to systemic sexual assault and rape.
This 18-year-old Indian woman was partially blinded and heavily scarred in an acid attack last year when her brother-in-law poured highly concentrated acid into her face while two men held her down. She was forced to turn to crowdfunding to pay the medical costs associated with her recovery, an experienced echoed by other Indian women.
In a testimony about the prevalence of acid attacks in India, she noted that if you stroll through a market, it's as easy to find acid as it is to find red lipstick — it's that commonplace. Consequently, hundreds of acid attacks occur in India each year, and the organization Make Love Not Scars is campaigning for a ban on sales of products used in these vicious attacks on Indian women.
With assistance from the organization, Reshma took to YouTube to engage in a time-honored tradition: The makeup tutorial. As she applies makeup like countless YouTubers have done before her, she also talks about the epidemic of acid attacks in India, and challenges norms of female beauty. Many look at the faces of attack survivors and turn away, viewing them as mutilated or ruined, which is the goal of those who commit them. As a result, some women feel isolated and unable to pursue their dreams after such attacks, and women like Reshma are working to change that.
Some are retaking control of their lives even as they advocate for an end to attacks: At Sheroes' Hangout, for example, "food could be better with a pinch of new wave feminism," and all the employees are acid attack survivors. All are welcome, but the group also provides a safer space and offers workshops and empowerment tools for women who have suffered at the hands of male relatives and suitors, who tend to be the perpetrators of such attacks.
Ladies, keep being awesome.
Photo: Kurdishstruggle (Flickr/CC)