Believe
Power In Activism: Five Women Who Are Making & Inspiring Change
Words by JENN SELBY
Artwork by MARIA SAGUN
In partnership with Keds, we interviewed five incredible female activists on how they’re making a difference and the ways they believe we can all be part of the change we want to see. This is what they had to say…

We are living in incredible times – and the potential for positive change is greater than ever. It is essential that the voices of women are not only heard, but are leading the charge as we strive for a better world. The power of women is something Keds truly believes in. It’s why they created the first sneaker for women back in 1916, helping push the barriers of who and what we can be, and it’s why now, over 100 years later, they’ve introduced their new platform, The Hand-Book for Women, exploring everything we are, and everything we can be. Because everyone has the power to make a difference, no matter where they are from or what they feel they can give. Whether it’s starting a social media campaign to raise awareness about an issue that needs addressing, spear-heading a charity project or becoming more involved in our own communities, there are many ways we can work towards progress. 

Want to get involved but don't know where to start? Here, five incredible female activists share their proudest achievements, self-care secrets and more.

Mandana Rebecca Dayani

Mandana is a prolific Iranian American activist, lawyer, entrepreneur and public speaker. She's the co-founder of initiative 'I am a voter', an awareness campaign that encourages women to actively engage in democracy by getting out and voting. She's also the co-host of brilliant podcast The Dissenters –  a must-listen for budding activists in need of inspiration. 

What’s your proudest achievement as an activist?

“Building I am a voter, a nonpartisan, non-profit civic engagement movement, with the most inspiring and brilliant women I know.” 

What keeps you motivated even when you’re exhausted?

“The amazing community of people I have been fortunate enough to meet throughout this time. I learn so much from them every day and there is still so much work left to do. I just think the greatest part of finding your people and purpose is that you actually come to realise you can do anything together.”

 What’s your ultimate self-care tip?

“Dancing with my daughters and husband. Whenever we are really stressed or anxious or sad, we will turn on music as loud as we can, and just start dancing and jumping around.”

What skills have you learned through activism that you didn’t have before?

“I have learned how to be vulnerable and honest. I have learned how to listen. I have learned how much I have left to learn. I have learned that all change requires community and compromise.  And I learned if you really want to get stuff done, hand it over to women.”

What advice would you give women who want to get involved in activism but don’t know where to start?

“I would really recommend listening to our podcast, The Dissenters with my co-host Debra Messing. We feature the journeys and learnings of 20 incredible heroes, such as Jane Fonda, Hillary Clinton, Patrisse Cullors, and Shannon Watts. I would also say: just start! Send the email, research the issue, ask a question, donate money or attend a march. And register to vote!”

Which other female activist would you like to shout out and why?

“The 22 women who changed my life and created I am a voter. with me: Kelly Atterton, Tiffany Bensley, Noora Raj Brown, Sophia Bush, Elsa Collins, Rylee Ebsen, Kosha Shah Eisenberg, Alle Fister, Heather Leeds Greenfield,  Carla Hawkes, Sunny Jenkins,  Jessica Kantor, Caitlin Lee, Melissa Magsaysay, Debra Messing, Raina Penchasky, Sara Riff, Maddy Roth, Sahar Sanjar, Fara Taylor, Natalie Tran, and April Uchitel.”

Gabby Edlin

Gabby has worked tirelessly to raise awareness – and provide solutions – to period poverty in the UK as the founder and CEO of charity Bloody Good Period. Thanks to her activism, tens of thousands of women and girls now have access to menstrual products and a chance of having a period with the dignity that they deserve. 

What’s your proudest achievement as an activist?

“The fact that we've brought periods and menstrual equity to the forefront and have taken care of tens of thousands of periods. It's outrageous it took a small charity to do what the government should be taking care of, but I'm proud nonetheless.”

What keeps you motivated even when you’re exhausted?

“Nothing! When I'm exhausted, I rest. So many of us internalise this idea that as an activist you have to hustle 24 hours a day or you don't care. No way, that's how burnout happens, and burned out activists make mistakes. So when I'm exhausted, I delete my Instagram, watch rubbish TV and stop working. You can't pour from an empty cup!”

What’s your ultimate self-care tip?

“Therapy.”

What skills have you learned through activism that you didn’t have before?

“How to stand up for what I believe in, and how to actively listen. We are not the first, and we're certainly not the best at whatever feminist fight we're battling. We must listen to those who came before us, alongside us, and after us.”

What advice would you give women who want to get involved in activism but don’t know where to start?

“Just start where you are. Activism isn't a linear path, and you don't get a degree in it. Start by offering sustained, conscious support to a group you respect - and grow from there.”

Which other female activist would you like to shout out and why?

“Always, my darling work wife, Seyi Akiwowo, who runs Glitch, a charity that works to end online abuse. We actually got to know each other at the AllBright and she inspires, encourages and makes me a better activist, every day.”

Joeli Brearley

Joeli is the epitome of a super mum, not just to her two beautiful children, but as an activist helping other new and to-be mums around the UK who find themselves discriminated against at work because of their circumstances. She formed Pregnant Then Screwed after she was sacked when she was four months pregnant and, along with her expert team, they've been advising women legally and practically ever since.  

What’s your proudest achievement as an activist?

“On the 31 October 2017, I took a huge leap of faith and asked people to gather and march in six cities across the UK to demand recognition, respect and change for working mums. The protest was called ‘March of the Mummies.’ Over 2000 people came out and the protest was covered across the news channels and press. The next day our demands were raised in by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons.”

What keeps you motivated even when you’re exhausted?

“We have such a dedicated team of volunteers who are always full of energy and enthusiasm. It’s impossible not to feed off their passion. And we receive regular messages from the women we have supported, explaining how our services have ensured they don’t get screwed over. It’s impossible to not feel motivated to try and provide that to every woman who needs it; as someone who has had direct experience of pregnancy discrimination, I know how these women feel.”

 

What’s your ultimate self-care tip?


”I’m not a big fan of the term ‘self-care’ - it always feels like another thing to add to my to-do list. But I do put my phone away after 9pm most nights so I get a break.”

What skills have you learned through activism that you didn’t have before?


“Social media plays a fundamental role in my work so I’ve had to wrap my brain around that. I taught myself how to use Wordpress, whilst bouncing a baby on one knee, so I could initially launch the website. Thankfully I now have loads of support with that, but digital expertise was a must at the beginning. It’s also really important that you know how to get the attention of the press and media. The first time I appeared on a live TV show I burst into tears from the adrenaline, but it gets easier and you get better at it.”

What advice would you give women who want to get involved in activism but don’t know where to start?


“Identify the problem, the need and the solution. Once you have something you can signpost people to, or a specific action you want people to take, then use every single person you have ever met and ask them to help you. Drive people absolutely insane until they relent. You will inevitably have moments where you think: ‘What am I doing? No one cares.’ But hang on in there. It can take years to build a campaign but if you feel this is an issue then it is, and once you find other people that have been affected the momentum will build.” 

Which other female activist would you like to shout out and why?

“Meenal Viz. Meenal is a pregnant doctor who was sick of seeing her colleagues become seriously unwell from Covid-19 due to a lack of PPE. So she drove to Downing Street and set up a silent and vigil outside the gates with a placard that said: ‘Protect healthcare workers.’ She has since commenced legal proceedings to take the Government. What an absolute rock star.”

Neelam Keshwala

Neelam is the inspiring founder of a not-for-profit project called Don't Sleep On Us, which has created a community for people from minority backgrounds to “uplift, inspire and learn from each other”. She also worked for Girls Not Brides and now works for culture change agency Utopia.

What’s your proudest achievement as an activist?

“Being able to create a community where people feel a sense of belonging is the most impactful thing I’ve been part of so far. When society and the world make you feel like you are alone, but you can enter a space and feel solidarity, lean into strength from others who have similar experiences to you and feel understood, that is part of what makes a community so beautiful.”

What keeps you motivated even when you’re exhausted?

“I have a wonderful group of friends who work as my support system, also known as the advisory board for DON’T SLEEP ON US. My team are my cheerleaders and I am the kind of person who thrives with support. They’re the backbone of what I do and I have them all to thank for keeping me going and inspiring me every step of the way.”

What’s your ultimate self-care tip?

“Be totally alone in your thoughts at least once a day, whether that manifests itself in going for a long walk, writing in a journal or Notes on your phone, or meditating. This is the rebuilding that allows you to recharge and go again when you’re ready, knowing that you’ve somewhat processed the emotions from the day before in some form.” 

What skills have you learned through activism that you didn’t have before?

“When you want to create systemic change, you learn early on that it takes more than just one voice to make a difference. Everyone has their part to play in dismantling existing power structures that work against underrepresented groups but there tends to be a buzz of noise from lots of people before anything changes. It takes initiative and courage to be the first one to take a stance on something, but once you do, you find your people who also believe in what you’re standing for and this is when real change can take hold.”

What advice would you give women who want to get involved in activism but don’t know where to start?

“What makes you angry? Lean into this frustration and research it. What groups are out there that campaign on this, what individuals are doing the work and how can you design your social media feed to show you these people who inspire you? Figure out what capacity you want to work in activism in. Is it that you want to join a community of people campaigning for change, is it that you want to start your own community, or do you want to work in the not-for-profit sector full time? This will determine what the start of your journey looks like, but it’s different for everyone. Oh, and don’t give up - the world needs you now.”

Which other woman activist would you like to shout out and why?

“Maiya Michelle. She talks openly and beautifully about the power of being vulnerable and inspires everyone she knows to be comfortable with themselves. She volunteers her time to standing up for the rights of children and young adults when they are detained by police, and advocates for others to sign up and do the same. She’s training to be a clinical psychologist and is on a mission to make healthcare more accessible for people from minority backgrounds. Along with all of this, she is part of the team at 100 Women I Know - a community for survivors of sexual violence.”

Sandy Abdelrahman

Sandy uses her incredible talent as a creative entrepreneur and filmmaker to encourage young people to engage with their human rights. She does this as the found of social enterprise Skaped, which runs creative workshops and events that allows individuals to get involved in social and political issues around the world.  

What’s your proudest achievement as an activist?

“I represented the UK as a youth delegate at the UN headquarters in New York, where I was the voice of young people from East London. During my speech, I realised how far we have come but also how far we still have ahead of us to tackle issues and support young people to create the change.”

What keeps you motivated even when you’re exhausted?

“I always feel motivated when I look at my younger family members, especially my baby niece. It might sound like a cliché, but they motivate me to keep going and to create a change so they don't have to experience the discrimination, racism, and other forms of oppressions that I did.”

What’s your ultimate self-care tip?

“I make sure I switch off and unload before going to bed, especially if I had a quite heavy day. Every night before I got to bed I listen to music for 30mins - it's my way of meditating to decompress.”

What skills have you learned through activism that you didn’t have before?

“Previously, I used to shy away from uncomfortable conversations, particularly because as a minority, I felt that my opinion would be ignored. Being an activist made me challenge different perspectives, especially when it comes to racism, discrimination, and sexism. It allowed me to host conversations that are provocative and challenge them, rather than walking away from them.” 

What advice would you give women who want to get involved in activism but don’t know where to start?

“Be yourself and stand up for what you believe in. Find out your values and stick with them, join community groups that fight for what you believe in. Surround yourself with people who will inspire you, support you, and give you positive energy. It’s OK to make mistakes and feel lost at times, you’ll find your way if you stick to your values. Set yourself goals and tasks monthly to achieve these goals, whether it is to read a book by your favourite activist or learn a new skill.” 

Which other female activist would you like to shout out and why?

“Shanea Oldham, a young activist from Newham in London who is doing incredible work on the ground to end youth violence. She's also the founder 'Your Life More Life', a community-led organisation that works on a grassroots level to deliver relatable support and positive opportunities to marginalised young people.”

 

To read more of the inspirational stories from the Power Issue of the Keds Hand-book for Women, click here.

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