Gender equality champions

Our champions are women and men who have made gender equality and women's empowerment their cause and mission in life. Hear from them on why they have made women's rights their top priority and what you can do to join them!

Mikey Mercer – Using music to advocate for change

QuoteWomen aren't here to serve men. Women and men are here to help each other be the best humans they can be.

Champion Mikey Mercer
Photo: Maurice Giles

Mikey Mercer, successful soca music artist from Barbados and a champion for the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE campaign has produced hit after hit for the past 10 years. He is a two-time winner of the Tune of the Crop award from the National Cultural Foundation of Barbados, and has also created the Team Mikey Charity, which includes a focus on ending violence against women. One of Mikey’s songs reached the finals in Trinidad and Tobago’s International Soca Monarch Finals in 2012, a soca competition, and he plans to continue his outreach through music on a global level.

Edith Lederer – Legendary journalist, breaking boundaries in the newsroom and beyond

QuoteThe Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." Yet, women are too often relegated to second-class status. There can be no excuse for discrimination against women or men….Women have made significant inroads in reporting and editing but only a few have cracked the glass ceiling and become CEOs of major media organizations. And the portrayal of women in the media far too often focuses on sex rather than brains.

Edith Lederer
Photo: Courtesy of Edith Lederer

Chief Correspondent at the United Nations for the Associated Press (AP) and an icon in the field of journalism, Edith Lederer of the U.S. has had a long tryst with issues of gender equality and led the AP team at the historic Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. She was also one of the first female war reporters at a time when it was still fairly rare for women to be covering the news from the battle front, and the first woman to head a foreign AP bureau, in charge of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. With a long list of accolades, including the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from International Women's Media Foundation, she has reported for the AP for nearly five decades.

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Funmi Iyanda – Using the airwaves to galvanize equality

QuoteGender inequality is humanity's wilful handicap. It makes no sense. The full evolution of our species will never occur without equal participation.

Funmi Iyanda
Photo: David Campbell Morrison

Award-winning journalist, broadcaster and TV personality, Funmi Iyanda hosts “Talk with Funmi,” a show that traverses her native country of Nigeria talking to people across society about the issues that matter most to them. Popular throughout the country, she was named one of 2015’s 20 Youngest Power African Women by Forbes magazine, and also as one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders. She has made it her mission to encourage women to be vocal across all spheres of life, including in the 2015 elections. From being the Tutu Fellow at the prestigious African Leadership Institute to a fellowship at the ASPEN Institute’s African Leadership Initiative, her tireless work has generated many honours.

Debi Nova – Using her voice for advocacy

QuoteStand with me to make women’s and girls’ voices heard.

Champion Debi Nova
Photo: Courtesy of Debi Nova

Debi Nova, famous Costa Rican singer and songwriter, is a Youth Champion for the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE campaign to end violence against women and a passionate supporter of education for women and girls. Six of the projects she has been involved in have been nominated for Grammy awards. She was named ambassador of the Youth and United Nations Global Alliance, and lent her powerful voice for UN Women’s One Woman song. Recently, she was also invited to participate in the TEDx Youth Pure Life conference where she urged young people to work towards their dreams.

Ram Devineni – co-creator of comic book superhero Priya, who fights gender-based violence

QuoteSpeak without shame and stand up with love for women’s equality, and bring about the change we all want to see.

Indian-American filmmaker Ram Devineni is one of the co-creators of Priya’s Shakti, and a proud #HeforShe supporter. The female superhero in his comic book, Priya, is a rape survivor who fights against gender-based sexual violence in India and around the world. The character has become a global phenomenon and has contributed to a national debate in India about the treatment of rape survivors, as well as a series of murals in Mumbai. The comic book was co-created by poet Vikas K. Menon, artist Dan Goldman and producer Lina Srivastava.

Roberta Bondar – Exploring new frontiers of space, equality and learning

QuoteMen and boys have to see women not as competitors, but as partners. Society is like being in space. It is about being part of a crew. All are equally important.

Champion Roberta Bondar
Photo: NASA

Space exploration was always a dream in the making for Dr. Roberta Bondar. She became the first Canadian woman and the first neurologist to enter space in 1992, and holds the prestigious NASA space medal for her achievements. For more than a decade at NASA, Bondar headed an international space medicine research team. A published author, photographer and outspoken advocate of higher learning for girls, she started the Roberta Bondar Foundation in 2009, which creates educational programmes for children to learn about the sciences, technology and the environment in Kenya and Canada through leadership and technical training.

Umuhire Solange Liza – Using her voice to bring change

QuoteI sing to advocate for those who don’t have a voice.

champion Umuhire Solange Liza

Known for weaving traditional music with modern pop, singer-songwriter Umuhire Solange Liza recently won a song-writing contest organized by Kigali’s Safe City Programme, energizing the global movement promoting the prevention of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls in public spaces. Liza is well-known for her work which promotes social mobilization on issues of violence and discrimination. Chasing her dream of using music to prompt behavior change, she co-founded the Kaami organization to deliver arts training for disadvantaged children and survivors of abuse.

Mariana Monteiro – Using the spotlight to prevent gender discrimination

QuoteIt is shocking that there aren’t equal rights between women and men. We must take a step forward by rejecting all discrimination.

Champion Mariana Monteiro

Mariana Monteiro has been an actress since the age of 16. Even as a youngster she dreamt of reaching the hearts and minds of people and advocating for the causes that mattered most to her. As the main female lead in dozens of television shows and the former presenter of the famous "The Voice Portugal" and "The Voice Kids Portugal", she has achieved much fame for her talents and her effervescent personality. A passionate supporter of women’s rights, she participated in the well-known television series "Mulheres de Abril,"  focusing on the ever changing role of women since the 1920s.

Ghada Saba – Making films that create change

QuoteDon't become a doctor or get married to satisfy other people's dreams for you. Become the person you want to become.

Ghada Saba chartered a new course in Jordan’s media space as a woman filmmaker, building the reputation of masterfully addressing social problems in her films. With a body of work that stretches to over 250 documentaries and short films, she focuses on the importance of human rights. Saba is also known for her series of documentaries with Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah`s office featuring everyday heroes. Currently, she is producing a weekly TV report highlighting the success of empowered women within their local communities.

Kek Galabru – Internationally renowned mediator and human rights advocate

QuoteIf you work with patience, determination and respect for human rights, you can make a difference in your country that radiates out to the world.

Champion Cambodia Kek Galabru

Kek Galabru, a Cambodian doctor recently named as a Human Rights Defender by the US-based Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), played a key role in opening challenging negotiations between Prince Sihanouk of the opposition coalition in exile which included the party of Son Sann, the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF) and the Khmer Rouge, and Hun Sen, from the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). A strong defender of her belief in human rights, Galabru founded the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), and was also recently suggested as a neutral member of the National Election Committee.

Deeyah Khan – Emmy and Peabody award-winning multidisciplinary artist

Born in Norway to immigrant parents from Afghanistan and Pakistan, director and producer Deeyah Khan won an Emmy and the Peabody award for her documentary on the horror of honour killings within immigrant communities in Europe entitled Banaz: A Love Story. Working at the intersection of art and activism, the multidisciplinary artist has also created a women’s series of music celebrating women’s voices and indigenous art forms, including music banned for political and cultural reasons, from around the world.

Salif Keita – Award-winning international musician

Salif Keita, a Malian musician known for his eclectic sounds of traditional African instruments with dance music, has shaped the multi-genre music scene as a solo artist since 1987. Creating pieces of work that evoke emotional memories as well as social messages have earned him international recognition and praise as he raises difficult questions about humanity and the nature of discrimination. His 2009 album, La Difference, won Keita the Best World Music award in 2010 at the Victoires de la Musique, the French Ministry of Culture awards. Salif Keita endorses the #HeforShe campaign in support of the global solidarity movement for gender equality.

Midori – Musical virtuoso, child prodigy and UN Messenger of Peace

Midori has been playing the violin since she was two years old after her mother heard her humming a piece of music she had heard just days before. Invited to tour Asia with the New York Philharmonic at the young age of ten, Midori is an internationally renowned soloist musician, winning the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize for excellence in music, and is an official UN Messenger of Peace. Balancing her dual roles as a soloist musician and her responsibilities as the Chair of the Strings Department at University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music, she is also a powerful advocate to end violence against women.

Governor Sergio Fajardo – Governor of Antioquia, Colombia and supporter of education for girls

QuoteAn uneducated girl is a failure of human dignity.

Governor Sergio Fajardo is the governor of Antioquia, Colombia and a #HeforShe. A mathematician turned politician, Fajardo believes that gender equality starts with an understanding of human dignity and human rights, which together provide a blueprint for freedom. To create a free, just and equal society, he calls for the full education of all girls.

Arunachalam Muruganantham – Breaking taboos, pioneering innovation for women’s health

Champion Arunachalam Muruganantham

Arunachalam Muruganantham invented a machine to make low-cost sanitary towels, refusing enormous quantities of money to sell the patent for the machine to any commercial company. The path he took was hard. Through the long years of hard work, he nearly lost his wife and mother who found his deep interest in women’s anatomy unnatural. He was publicly ostracized, and was on the verge of being kicked out of his own village. He risked everything he had to not only improve women’s health, but also went one step further to promote women’s ability to pull themselves out of poverty. He wanted to see women being self-sufficient and started selling handoperated machines to women-managed self-help groups who now work as manufacturers, advertisers, sellers and customers. Muruganantham is a #HeForShe advocate.

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Rafiq Pathan – On the path less travelled, changing hearts and minds

Champion he for she India Rafiq Pathan EN

India’s Rafiq Pathan stands at the forefront of efforts to end discrimination towards girls, and symbolically plants a fruit tree every time a girl is born. He treads on the difficult path where few men have gone before, undertaking grass-roots advocacy to change the hearts and minds of parents, many of whom value boys more than girls. He marries activism for gender equality with environmental protection, and uses his influence as the village council leader to support girl children. Rafiq Pathan is a #HeForShe advocate.

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Magos Herrera – Raising her voice for women’s rights

She is as passionate about gender equality as she is about her music. Mexican-born jazz singer, Magos Herrera, has taken the Latin American jazz scene by storm and was in 2009 nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album. She was nominated three times for the prestigious Lunas del Auditorio Nacional award which recognizes the best performance nationally each year, determined by public votes, as well as stalwarts in the arts and entertainment industry. She can also boast the #1 album, Distancia, in the popular iTunes jazz category. A powerful advocate for women’s rights, she is a spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE campaign to end violence against women.

Dhruv Arora – Co-creator of GotStared.At & #itsnotyourfault

Champion Dhruv Arora

A digital expert and a gender activist, Dhruv Arora, 25, is passionate about both these dimensions of his work and is widely known in New Delhi, India, as the man galvanizing action through an online movement on gender issues. He is one of the creators behind GotStared.At and #itsnotyourfault, an online movement that he built with his friend Kuber. The platforms provide an outlet for people experiencing street harassment, and advances debate on the multiple issues involved. Dhruv Arora is a #HeForShe advocate.

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Carlos Andrés Gómez – Manning up to defend women’s rights

QuoteMy mom taught me that a real man should be emotionally literate, humble, sensitive, a thoughtful communicator, a peacemaker and an outspoken advocate for equality across all dividing lines.

Carlos Andrés Gómez is an award-winning poet, actor, and author of ‘Man Up – Reimagining Modern Manhood.’ His work urges audiences to rethink the way they interact with women, deal with violence, handle fear, and express emotion. Carlos is a #heforshe advocate.

Aung San Suu Kyi - Advocate for the rights of women and girls

One of the world’s most renowned human rights activists, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has dedicated much of her life to bringing democracy, dignity and human rights to Myanmar’s citizens. She is a founding member and current Chairperson of the National League for Democracy, and was elected to parliament in 2012. She spent decades under house arrest, before being freed in 2010. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights, and has received more than 130 awards and honors, including the Commander of the French Légion d'honneur in 2012, and the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal in 2008.

Feđa Mehmedović – Teaching young men that showing respect goes hand in hand with being ‘cool’

Feđa Mehmedović-champion

Feđa Mehmedović is a national trainer, peer educator and the winner of a competition promoting gender equality in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Stories of Real Men. He has trained more than 10,000 young people as part of his Young Men as Allies programme in preventing violence against women. He leads by example, encouraging young men to treat women and girls with respect, and takes great pride in showing the world that it is cool to stand up for women’s rights. Feđa Mehmedović is a #HeForShe advocate.

Nawal El Moutawakel – Hurdles only strengthen her track

Bursting through the barriers of the male-dominated profession of competitive sport, Nawal El Moutawakel is the first Arab, African, and Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal, which she did for the 400-metre hurdles in 1984. She followed up her win serving as the first Minister of Sports in Morocco.

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Mervat Tallawy -- Challenging those who cite ‘culture’ to oppress

Egyptian diplomat and politician Mervat Tallawy is the former Minister for Insurance and Social Affairs of Egypt and former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). She spent six years involved in the drafting of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and was one of the 23 experts who monitored its implementation. Today she is President of the National Council for Women - Egypt. She challenges States and participants who cite ‘culture’ as the basis to oppress and discriminate against women and believes “women need international solidarity to put an end to violations of their rights.”

Mayor Narisawa – Advocate for equal paternal rights

Mayor Nurisawa, Bunkyo City, Japan

In 2010, Hironobu Narisawa, the Mayor of Bunkyō City in Tokyo, Japan, became the first local government leader to go on paternity leave. A #HeForShe advocate, he made headline news on a global level. Mayor Narisawa said his goal was to change attitudes and experience the difficulties of raising children first-hand, encouraging other men to do the same.

Marta Vieira da Silva - FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year 2006-2010

Quote“You can’t win with only half the team”

Marta knows what it is like to be the only woman on the team. In 2007, Marta Vieira da Silva played in UNDP’s Match against Poverty in Morocco, where she became the first woman in history to play in an internationally sanctioned men’s football match. As UNDP’s Goodwill Ambassador, Marta speaks out about scoring goals for gender equality.

Farhan Akhtar – Be a catalyst for generational change

UN Women appointed Farhan Akhtar as its Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia, making him the first man to take on the role in the organization's history. Indian actor and director of numerous films and founder of Men against Rape & Discrimination (MARD), he was touched by the struggle to end violence against women when a woman he worked with was sexually assaulted and killed in her own home. Farhan established MARD to advocate for change in the ideas of masculinity, and to campaign for the end of violence against women. He is raising his voice for the #HeForShe campaign.

Nicole Kidman – Equality between women and men. Picture it!

Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman is an Academy Award-winning actress and an advocate for women's rights. As UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, her efforts have focused on raising awareness to end violence against women and girls. In her message, Nicole imagines a world where every women and girl has the opportunity to reach her highest dreams. Join her on a journey towards women's empowerment.

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Mallika Sarabhai – See things differently

Internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer, writer, actor and activist, Mallika Sarabhai calls herself a "communicator". Through her art and activism, and in her message for #Beijing20, she stresses that it's time to break the silence about violence against women, and teach men that to be gentle and vulnerable is manly.

Orlando Ayala – Emerging market is women and their capabilities

Orlando Ayala, Chairman of Emerging Markets, Microsoft, is a #HeForShe advocate, because he believes that progress for women means progress for society. Microsoft is partnering with UN Women to advance women's empowerment. As the world searches for new economic models, Ayala is convinced that investing in women is not only the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do.

Dinesh Karthik – You can end violence against women

Dinesh Karthik is one of India's finest cricketers and a sports icon. At 29, he is also a champion for women and girls' empowerment. He is a #HeForShe advocate and is calling upon men and boys everywhere to take action to end violence against women and girls.


Youssou Ndour – Girls represent the future of Africa

QuoteWomen are the centre of economic, political and social changes and they play a role in the prevention and resolution of conflicts.

Youssou N'Dour

Youssou Ndour is a Senegalese singer, percussionist and actor, and one of the most celebrated African musicians in history. A champion for women and girls' empowerment, he believes that women and girls represent the foundation on which Africa will take off by 2050.