Bloggers Unite for Human Rights: 10 Female Human Rights Heroes

In the midst of some of the world’s most darkest of times, a few seek to bring light.

Women have LONG played a significant role in human rights activism, yet historically receive much less attention than their male counter parts.

So, today…

As bloggers all over the world unite for human rights…

I direct your eyes

And your attention

And your heart

to 10 women you may or may not have heard of

And to the causes for which each woman either fought with her life

Or fights with her life now.

1. Harriet Tubman

Abolitionist :: Humanitarian :: Union Spy

Having escaped from slavery herself, Harriet Tubman made 13 dangerous missions to free 70 slaves through the “Underground Railroad” – safe houses set up by antislavery activists; aided John Brown in recruiting men for his raid on Harper’s Ferry; was the first woman to lead an armed exhibition in the war; guided the raid on the Combahee River liberating more than 700 slaves; and in the post-war era she fought for women’s suffrage. Harriet Tubman was a woman of great courage, faith, and determination to help change the world for the betterment of all man and woman kind and she was a great humanitarian hero. To learn more about HarrietTubman, visit

2. Margaret Utinsky

War Hero :: Nurse :: Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient

Married to a civil engineer working for the U.S. Government in the Philippines, Margaret Utinsky enjoyed her life in Manila. It was the 1930’s and her husband had a good job. However, as the world began to change in the 1940’s, so did life in the Philippines. When it became clear that the Japanese were going to attack the islands of the Pacific, the U.S. Government ordered all American wives back to the States. Only Margaret refused to leave her husband. When her husband was relocated to work on Bataan, Margaret stayed behind. In December of 1941, as the Japanese invaded the Philippines and occupied Manila, Margaret hid in her apartment for more than 10 weeks. Eventually obtaining false identity documents, Margaret began to work for the Red Cross and began to search for her husband. Seeing the conditions of the captured soldiers who survived the Bataan Death March and learning of the death of her husband, Margaret set about to save as many of the POWs as she could. Recruiting and organizing a team of helpers, Margaret and her network began smuggling food, medicine, shoes, and money for the captured men being held by the Japanese in Camp O’Donnell and Cabanatuan . Through Margaret’s and her team’s work, hundreds of lives were saved. This life-saving work was not without danger. A number of Margaret’s team members were captured and killed. Margaret, too, was captured, beaten and tortured, but she would not reveal any of those within her network and she was eventually released. Escaping to the mountains near Bataan, Margaret continued her work as a nurse with the Filipino forces moving from camp to camp to help everyone in need. Upon the American liberation of the Philippines, Margaret returned to the United States where she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and would write a book, Miss U, detailing her life story. To learn more about Margaret Utinsky, visit World War II Remembered.

3. Irena Sendler

Champion of Children :: Rescuer :: Order of the Smile Recipient

Appalled by Hitler’s holocaust, Irena Sendler set out to save as many Jews as she could in her native Warsaw, Poland. As a social worker, Irena first began documenting Jewish families as having highly contagious diseases so the Nazis would not visit the families. However, when the Warsaw Ghetto was built and all Jews were walled off from the rest of society and systematically killed, Irena came up with a new plan. Organizing a team of 20 rescuers, Irena worked out ways to not only enter the Ghetto herself, but for her team as well. During her many working visits inside the Ghetto, Irena convinced as many Jewish families with babies and young children as she could to give up their young ones to Irena and her team. All counted, Irena and her fellow rescuers smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and out of certain death at the hands of the Nazis. Finding homes with non-Jewish families, convents, and orphanages, Irena also documented each child as being Catholic. Careful to never reveal their true identities and names to anyone, Irena vowed to herself that she would one day work to reunite the children with their families. To keep the records of each child’s true name safe, Irena wrote the names on slips of paper, placed the papers in jars, and buried the jars in one of her team member’s yard. Irena was eventually caught and beaten by the Gestapo. Even with both feet and legs broken, injuries that would leave her crippled for life, and sentenced to die, Irena never revealed any information. Successfully escaping from prison, Irena was hunted by the Gestapo until the end of the war. True to her word, Irena dug up the jars and set about finding children and families. Sadly, many of the families were killed by the Nazis, but those that survived were found by Irena and reunited with either their children or their relatives children. Irena Sendler died this week at the age of 98. She is a hero of not just 2,500 Jewish children, but of all the generations of their children. To learn more about Irena Sendler, visit Life in a Jar.

4. Alice Paul 5. Lucy Burns

Suffragists :: Leaders :: Committed to Equality

Knowing how government affects our daily lives, real life suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns fought with all of their might to win women the right to vote in the United States of America. Taking on not only Washington D. C. politicians and President Woodrow Wilson, but the National American Woman Suffrage Association founded in 1890 by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns successfully led the campaign that brought the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 giving women the right to vote. However, in doing so Alice and Lucy discovered just how determined many men — and women — were to prevent this from happening. At times fighting with their very lives, these courageous women and their team of fellow suffragists soldiered on. Lobbying, picketing, organizing demonstrations and parades, the suffragists including Alice and Lucy were eventually convicted and incarcerated for obstructing traffic. As an act of protest of their conditions and treatment while incarcerated, Alice Paul began a hunger strike and a number of her fellow inmate suffragists followed suit. Having used the press for the demonstrations and parades, Alice Paul was a known figure. When news of her hunger strike and an order for her to be force fed leaked to the press, pressure on President Wilson and Congress mounted. Committed to see women have an equal vote in how America’s government runs, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns fought with their lives to make this world a better place for all women who would come after them — a place where your daughter(s) have an equal voice to your son(s). To learn more about Alice Paul and her legacy,visit the Alice Paul Institute. To learn more about Lucy Burns, visit the National Women’s History Museum.

6. Zainab Salbi

Survivor :: Humanitarian :: Builder of Lives

Having survived bombs in Iraq and living under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, Zainab Salbi escaped from Iraq knowing something better must be ahead of her. Discovering other women whose lives had been torn apart by war, Zainab began reaching out to these women in all ways she could. Seeing a great need for women who survive war, Zainab founded Women for Women International in 1993. Along with co-founder Amjad Atallah, Zainab worked to build the organization into a place where women would help women become stronger. Since its opening, more than 93,000 women have been served through Women for Women International’s various programs. To learn more about Zainab Salbi and her work, visit Women for Women International.

7. Esther Chavez Cano

Care Giver :: Advocate :: Champion for Women’s Rights

1993 brought a wave of violence against women and young girls to Juarez, Mexico — a town bordering El Paso, Texas. With more than 400 + women and young girls having been brutally raped, murdered and some disappearing, surely one would think that law enforcement would be working all that much harder to stop the violence and bring the killers to justice — if justice on earth is possible for the horrendous nature of these crimes. But, to this day, the law has turned a relatively blind eye to stopping the violence. Seeking a way to help the victims and gain stronger rights for women, Esther Chavez Cano started the Casa Amiga Rape Crisis Center in Juarez. Amazingly, in this community of 1.5 million, Casa Amiga is the ONLY facility of its kind created to female victims of rape and violent crimes. Last year alone, Casa Amiga provided help for 1, 172 new cases and served 5,803 clients. With a small, mainly volunteer staff, Casa Amiga is a light in a very dark place for women. To learn more about the work of Esther Chavez Cano, visit the Casa Amiga Rape Crisis Center.

8. Mutabar Tadzhibaeva

Activist :: Prisoner of Conscience :: Noble Peace Prize Nominee

Founder of the national Uzbekistan movement, Civil Society, Mutabar Tadzhibaeva is currently in prison in her native Uzbekistan serving an eight year sentence for 13 counts of economic and political counts against the Uzbekistan government. Detained in October of 2005 on her way to an international conference on human rights defenders,Mutabar’s trial began on January 30, 2006. Being forced to sit in a cage throughout her trial, Mutabar was also denied access to private meetings with her attorney, files associated with her case, and sufficient time to review material pertaining to her case. In 2005, when the Uzbekistan government forces fired into crowds of unarmed protesters, killing hundreds, Mutabar Tadzhibaeva’s human rights work increased and she became more vocal. After giving a radio interview in which she condemned the government for their harrassment of human rights activists, Mutabar’s own well being began to be threatened. To learn how you can speak up for Mutabar and demand her release, visit Amnesty International.

8. Angelica Gonzalez 9. Jennifer Echeverria

Lawyers :: Seekers of Justice :: Human Rights Advocates

As part of a team of lawyers at the Center for Legal Action of Human Rights in Guatemala, Angelica Gonzalez and Jennifer Echeverria provide legal support for families seeking justice for their relatives killed during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict. With many massacres and mass killings — one proven to be carried out by the government in 1982, families of relatives killed in this massacre won a court battle and have been awarded compensation to be paid by the Guatemalan government. With more trials coming against military officers and the former Head of State of Guatemala, threats are now being made against the legal teams. Recently, both Angelica and Jennifer have been threatened to the point of fearing for their lives — simply because they are defending the rights of their fellow man/womankind. To learn how you can speak on behalf of Angelica Gonzalez and Jennifer Echeverria in an appeal for their safety, visit Amnesty International.

10. Betty Makoni

Schoolteacher :: Silence Breaker :: Ginetta Sagan Award Recipient

As a victim of sexual abuse at the age of six and having her mother die three years later from domestic violence, Betty Makoni knew at an early age that her native country of Zimbabwe would not change for women unless violence against women was talked about openly. As a former schoolteacher, Betty knew the importance of education for women in stopping the cycle of domestic violence. In 1998, Betty started Girl Child Network by helping to educate six girls on how to fight back against sexual exploitation, poverty and violence. Since then, more than 500,000 girls in Zimbabwe have been served through the Girl Child Network with 3,000 of them having become doctors, lawyers, teachers and professionals in other areas. Empowering girls to stay in school, covering educational fees and school supplies, and providing safe houses for counseling and rehabilitation for girls who are victims of sexual violence and abuse are only a few of the many ways Girl Child Network has helped and continues to help young girls break free from cycles of poverty, abuse, violence and disease. Demonstrating such a success, the Girl Child Network program is now being replicated in Sweden, Swaziland, Sweden, Canada, South Africa, and the United States. To learn more about Betty Makoni’s work, visit the Girl Child Network.

Each of these women had/have the same number of hours in the day that each one of us has and none of these women achieved/are achieving their goals because they’ve been gifted with some special talent.

Each of these women simply looked beyond themselves to their fellow man/womankind and determined to make a difference for the better.

Each of these women first had a thought and refusing to let fear prevail, each of these women took action for the betterment of others.

In the midst of some of the world’s most darkest of times, a few seek to bring light.

What about you?

Are you of the many?


Are you of the few?


4 thoughts on “Bloggers Unite for Human Rights: 10 Female Human Rights Heroes

  1. Brilliant post, Penny. 🙂 Interesting, informative and these very special women deserve recognition and our attention! I had only heard of two of these women previously – Irena Sendler (whom I regard as part of my own heritage) and Zainab Salbi – what courage she has! Thank you for making me aware of the others. They are all truly gifted.

  2. Well worth the read. So inspiring!! Thanks for sending me the link to this post. Now I’m off to the Amnesty Int links to see what I can do to help!


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