Sara Hossain, Bangladesh
Hossain is a human rights lawyer in Bangladesh who advocates on behalf of women and girls. She has brought cases in the country’s highest courts to, among others, challenge the practice of forced veiling and using fatwas to punish women. She also played a major part in drafting Bangladesh’s 2010 Domestic Violence Act, which criminalized violence against women.
Debra Baptist-Estrada, Belize
Estrada has fought corruption from within the Belize Department of Immigration for the past 20 years. From her position as port commander of the country’s only airport, Estrada helped U.S. officials break up a large drug and human smuggling ring last spring. Estrada was transferred to Belize’s northern border this summer, where she has repeatedly turned down bribes and unflinchingly upheld immigration laws.
Ni Yulan, China
Ni is a business lawyer who has been fighting to protect the legal rights of Chinese citizens for the past 15 years. For her efforts, she has been arrested and imprisoned twice, sentenced to hard labor and beaten so severely, she lost the use of her legs. None of this has stopped her, though, and she continues to file lawsuits against public security officials on behalf of her fellow citizens.
Latifa Ibn Ziaten, France
In 2012, Ibn Ziaten lost one of her sons to an Islamist terrorist attack, and since then, has been travelling across France speaking about religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue. She founded the Imad Association for Youth and Peace in honor of her son and uses it as a platform to help young people in troubled communities develop positive identities and a sense of responsibility.
Thelma Aldana, Guatemala
Aldana now serves as the attorney general of Guatemala, but she started out in a more humble position – as a janitor in a local family court. Aldana took the job while she studied at night for her law degree. She quickly moved up in the court system to become the only woman magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice. Since becoming Guatemala’s top attorney, she brought corruption charges against the president who appointed her and has worked tirelessly to hold high-ranking officials accountable.
Nagham Nawzat, Iraq
Nawzat is a Yazidi activist and gynecologist who has dedicated her life to combating gender-based violence and promoting equality for women. When Islamic State took over the city of Sinjar in 2014 and began massacring thousands of Yazidi men and enslaving women, Nawzat was one of the first physicians on the ground helping to assist and rescue the enslaved women. Now, Nawzat travels to internally displaced persons camps across the country to provide basic health care to women and their daughters.
Nisha Ayub, Malaysia
Ayub is a transgender rights advocate in Malaysia who has founded two NGOs to help aid transgendered people. One, the SEED Foundation, provides support to transgendered people, while the other, Justice for Sisters, provides legal aid to transgendered people. Ayub has been repeatedly arrested and imprisoned for dressing as a woman, yet, despite constant threats, she continues to fight for transgender rights.
Fatimata M’baye, Mauritania
M’baye is the first woman ever to practice law in Mauritania. Since becoming the country’s first female lawyer in 1988, she successfully prosecuted the first child exploitation case, helped draft the first anti-slavery law and got the first indictment for slavery under the law. Throughout her career, she has been imprisoned and had her life threatened, but she never let that stop her from taking on the toughest legal cases.
Zhanna Nemtsova, Russia
Nemtsova is a Russian reporter and human rights advocate. After her father Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition politician, was assassinated last year, Nemtsova stayed in Russia to demand a thorough and transparent investigation into his death. Despite personal threats, she continues to assert that Russian President Vladimir Putin bore “political responsibility” for her father’s death and supports research in Russia through the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom.
Zuzana Stevulova, Slovakia
Stevulova is the director of the Human Rights League – a Slovakian NGO that provides legal assistance to foreigners. She advocates on behalf of refugees and migrants. Slovakia denies the majority of asylum applications, but Stevulova has successfully defended numerous clients in the Supreme Court and halted their expulsion proceedings. Since the migrant crisis in Europe began in 2015, she has been a prominent voice of compassion and stood up to anti-refugee politicians.
Awadeya Mahmoud, Sudan
Mahmoud became displaced by conflict in Sudan and became a roadside tea seller to help support her family. Now, 25 years later, she serves as a champion for women who work as tea sellers and in other informal professions. She founded the Women’s Food and Tea Sellers’ Cooperative and the Women’s Multi-Purpose Cooperative for Khartoum State, which represent 8,000 women who depend on selling tea to survive.
Vicky Ntetema, Tanzania
Ntetema runs the Under the Same Sun NGO in Tanzania, which attempts to end discrimination against people in the country who have albinism. Prior to serving as the NGO’s executive director, Ntetema was the bureau chief of BBC’s Tanzania office, where she exposed the gruesome trade in albino body parts. After her stories were published, she was forced to temporarily go into hiding, but she never let the threats stop her from fighting for people with albinism in Tanzania.
Rodjaraeg Wattanapanit, Thailand
Wattanapanit is a bookseller and co-founder of Creating Awareness for Enhanced Democracy (CAFÉ), a non-profit organization that promotes the free exchange of ideas. She was forced to temporarily close her bookstore for a year and, in 2014, forced to go to military camps for “attitude adjustment,” but she never let it stop her efforts to engage her community with political awareness. She reopened her book store, Re:public, last fall and the shop now serves as a public space for her neighbors to discuss political problems together.
Nihal Naj Ali Al-Awlaqi, Yemen
Al-Awlaqi serves as Yemen’s minister of legal affairs and is a member of the Republic of Yemen Government’s delegation to Yemeni peace talks, due to begin in April. She helped draft the country’s constitution and made sure women’s rights and interests were represented in the new document. She is seen as a voice for peace and human rights in Yemen during one of the most challenging times in the country’s history.
Source: The United States Department of State