This Sunday is International Women’s Day. In preparation, Facebook has released a list of twelve amazing women they want you to know. The women come from around the world and fight for a range of issues, including stopping gender-based violence and getting more women into politics.
MTV News caught up with three of the amazing women for exclusive interviews.
Kalki Subramaniam is an important transgender rights activist. She broke new ground in 2011 by starring in a major motion picture in India -- the first transgender woman to ever do so.
MTV: What is the current situation for transgender people in India?
KALKI SUBRAMANIAM: In the urban areas and big cities, there is a fair amount of acceptance. In the rural areas, the situation has not changed much. Our advocacy for equal rights has definitely brought positive changes, including the legalization of transgender identity and the third sex. There is certainly a long way to go.
MTV: How are you working as an activist for transgender rights?
SUBRAMANIAM: There is a huge percentage of school and college dropouts among the transgender people, which is very unfortunate. I believe education can transform our lives positively. I am working for legal protection and equal opportunities for trans people of India.
"Courage can take you places."
MTV: How can people stand for transgender rights, in India and elsewhere?
SUBRAMANIAM: Being educated, knowledgeable and believing in yourself is so important. Courage can take you places. Stand tall, stand sensibly.
MTV: How would you like to use your new Facebook platform to continue your cause?
SUBRAMANIAM: It encourages me to be even more responsible and has given me a new avenue where my voice will certainly be heard. I am going to use that voice for the voiceless.
MTV: How can people take action for International Women’s Day?
SUBRAMANIAM: It begins at home, treating our women in families with dignity and respect. Understanding them and encouraging them to pursue their dreams. A woman is a creator; she is the pillar and strength of our homes and our world. Celebrate their presence. I personally celebrate my womanhood everyday, and I have great respect for my mother and sisters.
In Iran, women are required to wear a hijab, and in some places, women who uncover their hair can face shame or even death. But Iranian-born journalist Masih Alinejad (who now lives in England), believes it should actually be a woman’s choice to wear a hijab or not. That's why she he created My Stealthy Freedom, a site where women share images of themselves without their hair covered.
MTV: Why did you feel it was necessary to start My Stealthy Freedom?
MASIH ALINEJAD: I started My Stealthy Freedom because of the response from Iranian women. I had posted a picture of myself running and with the wind blowing through my hair and some women wrote to me to tell me how lucky I was to live in a country where you could walk around without the veil. I next posted a photo of myself in my car without a veil and asked women to send photos of themselves.
The reality is that MSF is a platform for women to express their opinions, how they feel about forced hijab rules in Iran. If you cannot control how you cover your hair, you cannot control what's inside your head.
"The question of hijab is more than just a piece of cloth; it's about rights, about how women are treated as second class citizens."
I think it's important for you to know that I am a child of the Islamic Revolution. I was two when the revolution happened and I grew up in a conservative and religious family, where all my family wore the hijab, as I did. But the question of hijab is more than just a piece of cloth; it's about rights, about how women are treated as second class citizens.
It's funny, but the word "Yavashaki," which means stealthy, has gained huge following and wide circulation in Iran.
MTV: What sort of responses has My Stealthy Freedom received?
ALINEJAD: The response can be divided into different groups -- our biggest fanbase is inside Iran and we have received huge support. The page has also started a debate between supporters and opponents of hijab.
Inside Iran, the initial official reaction was antagonistic, and extremely hostile -- in a television news program, it was reported that I was raped in London after wandering around the streets naked.
Another response was acid attacks in the city of Isfahan, where a number of women wearing hijab were attacked with acid. Many felt that the clerics had been calling for a response against the women. That backfired because Iranians denounced the attacks and the government had to start an investigation that produced no culprits.
Recently, on state-owned TV there have been debates where the issue of forced hijab has been discussed... That only means that the government is feeling the pressure of our campaign.
MTV: How else have you stood up for people’s rights — especially women’s rights — over the years?
ALINEJAD: I was a parliamentary reporter -- before being expelled from the Parliament building for uncovering corruption -- and a political columnist in Iran. Since being forced to leave Iran in 2009, I have also covered human rights violations of the Iranian regime. I have written extensively about the deaths and tortures and imprisonment of political activists after the disputed 2009 presidential elections. I made 57-part radio program on 57 people who were killed during the protests.
I have also written about prisoner rights and the rights of ethnic minorities in Iran, especially Kurdish dissidents who are executed at an alarming rate whilst the world is focused on the nuclear program.
MTV: How would you like to use this platform with Facebook to further promote women’s rights?
ALINEJAD: My Stealthy Freedom is more than about hijab -- it is a first step for women to have full rights.
After the recent Ebola outbreak began, Shoana Solomon saw the prejudice and stigma West Africans and people affected by Ebola were facing. In response, she and other women began the campaign #IamALiberianNotAVirus, which quickly went viral.
MTV: How did #IamALiberianNotAVirus get started?
SHOANA SOLOMON: This campaign was started by myself and three Liberian women who were talking about how frustrating it is to be looked at as if they were diseased or walking viruses from Liberia, rather than as human beings who just happened to be Liberians.
Comfort Leeco wrote a moving post about what it feels like to be a Liberian during the current Ebola Crisis. This inspired Aisha Bruce to suggest that we start a campaign to do something about the spreading of stigmatization. Dr. Katurah Cooper saw Aisha’s post, and sent out a call to other progressive Liberians to join in. She suggested the slogan “I am a Liberian, not a virus.”
I came up with the idea of using imagery to express our feelings. I then took a self-portrait with the words suggested by Dr. Cooper, written on a sheet of paper, and the rest is history. Within hours that image went viral.
The response has been very positive. There were Liberians and non-Liberians all over the world taking pictures with their own homemade signs and posting them on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social media sites.
MTV: What sort of stigma is there around people who have contracted Ebola or lived in areas where Ebola has been treated?
SOLOMON: Honestly, only education and time will remove the stigma surrounding all this. The purpose of this movement is simply to make people aware that even though this virus exists in our country, we are not all infected by it. We do not want our children to be stereotyped or discriminated against at school. Adults can better cope with the insults, but our children can be scarred for life.
"The purpose of this movement is simply to make people aware that even though this virus exists in our country, we are not all infected by it."
My 9-year-old was insulted three times in two weeks for simply being a Liberian. Stigmatization really starts with parents. We need to be sensitive about what we say around our children. I understand that people are scared and trying to be cautious. We are scared and equally cautious. We do not intend to change anyone’s feelings of fear, nor minimize the severity of the crisis. This is not our intention. We just want people to be sensitive with their actions or reactions to Liberians and others who have resided in countries afflicted by Ebola, especially the children.
Liberians have suffered enough. First, it was a civil war which lasted 14 years. As if that was not enough, we now have the Ebola virus. By the way, we did not start the virus or invent it. On the contrary, it discovered us.
MTV: How can people continue to help those affected by Ebola?
SOLOMON: Today, the stigmatization of Africans abroad seems to have died down. The media barely talks about it. This certainly does not mean that Ebola no longer exists. We are still battling this disease in West Africa. There are a number of organizations that can still use your donations to continue the fight against Ebola.