Breaking Societal Boundaries: Female Activists Traverse International and Internal Borders in Their Fight for Gender Equality

A Photo Essay by McKenna Christmas

On September 24th, I travelled as a member of  the Yale delegation to the United Nations for the Sustainable Development Goals Summit. One of the events we attended was the People’s Assembly, which presents a more intimate and informal platform for various organizations from around the world to voice their concerns. It also facilitates open door, round table discussions on topics such as peace and justice. I was extremely surprised by the amount of women-led movements from developing countries, and that many of these women were elderly. We often think of the older generation as one that clings to tradition, yet the women I met were tired of the  oppressive patriarchy. This season’s publication of The Globalist presents the topic of borders. It is in line with this theme that my piece exhibits a few images of extraordinary activists—women who travelled across international borders to further their cause of confronting the unseen borders of discrimination and bias in the culture and society of their homelands. 

Madame Assitam Coulibalyy from Mali is the president of an association that advocates for handicapped women’s rights. She is pictured wearing a headband that reads “Cast Out Discrimination.”

“I am wearing this because in Mali the women are discriminated against. It is the culture. Men think they are better. They do not want the women to have rights. Elections are held during the night time so that women are unable to attend. Women with disabilities face double discrimination. They face discrimination not only because they are women but also because they are handicapped. Women with disabilities are discriminated against by both men and women. We must emphasize securing rights for the disabled,” she stated. (translated by the writer from French) 

During the panel on gender inequality, Ms. Dorothy spoke about her work as an activist for women’s land ownership rights in the Congo: 

“Women have to have access to the land. All of the land is for the government. Why is the land not for local people and traditional communities? On indigeneous people’s lands we have natural riches and one day the government decided to take the land. The indigenous people said no, because my mother is buried here, my aunt, my uncle are buried here. Who is the Congolese state’s mother, brother, aunt? And women across my network took the opportunity to take up advocacy. In my country if they give land, they give the land to the boys not to the girls. If you lose your husband you become a widow. You don’t have access to land. If you get married you can have the land in your own family. That’s the situation. But women do not have access to land, and we say things have to be changed. We have to have a solution. That is why we work with brothers and sisters, local chiefs and communities. We have reached six of the twenty-six provinces. Recently, the new government decided women are working so hard they are feeding people during the war, they are paying scholarships for the children, and they are keeping family. Let’s give them some land. So we have found a solution, but before there were many challenges for women in Congo.”  

Delegates enter the United Nations for the Sustainable Development Goals summit.

The interior of the United Nation’s Civil Societies Forum for the 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Summit. Activists, stakeholders, interest groups, and organization representatives from all over the world make up the delegation. Many of the women interviewed at the People’s Assemblies used this forum to voice their concerns to the United Nations.

A symbol of unity and cooperation—the multitude of flags one sees when exiting the United Nations. 

Closing Thoughts

The UN is often criticized as ineffective, but meeting these women showed me how eager people are for a global platform to voice their concerns and the great amount of effort they are willing to put in to make it work. The desire for collaboration and communication is there, it just needs to be listened to. Despite the wide variety of backgrounds, we are all united in our hope for a better world.

McKenna Christmas is a first year in Jonathan Edwards College. You can contact her at