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Women Transforming Societies: The Global Fight for Human Rights
4:00PM - 5:00PM ET


When women mobilize to demand their rights, they challenge government policies and practices -- paving the way for greater accountability, justice, and equity for all.

The September 2022 murder of Mahsa Amini sparked massive protests across Iran and the world. The demonstrators’ rallying cry, “Woman, Life, Freedom,” called not only for women’s liberation but also for Iran to become a democratic state. A few years prior, Sudanese women, demonstrating against sexist laws that restricted their lives, helped to oust the country’s authoritarian president and start Sudan on the path to democracy.

Women’s rights are contested not only at the country level, but also within the United Nations, where some countries seek to roll back global standards on human rights, limit civil society’s involvement in United Nations processes, and weaken mechanisms to hold governments accountable.

From the streets to the highest levels of international governance, women are mobilizing for rights in all aspects of their lives and demanding societal and political transformation. Following International Women’s Day, join Perry World House; the Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies; the Middle East Center; and the Penn Women’s Center for a discussion on how grassroots activism, research, and UN advocacy work together to advance women’s human rights.


Hagir Elsheikh is the owner and CEO of Tomorrow’s Smile Inc., a nonprofit that combats gender-based and domestic violence. A survivor of domestic violence, she is an advocate for human rights, gender equity, and issues facing migrants. Elsheikh was a pro-democracy activist in her home country of Sudan, fleeing to the United States to escape political oppression and torture. She settled in Pennsylvania in 2001. After graduating from Grand Canyon University with a nursing degree, Elsheikh set up her own healthcare staffing agency, and has since received various honors for her community activism and business achievements. In 2022, her nonprofit received the World Affairs Council of Harrisburg’s Torch Award for its work. Elsheikh recently published her memoir, Through Tragedy and Triumph: A Life Well Traveled.

Homa Hoodfar is an emerita professor of anthropology at Concordia University. Her expertise is in political economy and legal anthropology, with a focus on issues including reproductive rights; Afghan women and youth refugees in Iran and Pakistan; hijab and dress codes as political institutions; and gender and citizenship. Describing herself as an academic in the service of civil society, Hoodfar has also been actively involved in the Research for Advocacy and Publication Division of Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) Feminist Networks. She has authored and edited several books, including Women’s Sport as Politics in Muslim Contexts, The Muslim Veil in North America: Issues and Debates, and Between Marriage and the Market, as well as numerous articles.

Siri May is the associate director for global advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, where she leads the Center’s work at the United Nations in New York with a focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights in humanitarian settings. She is an advocacy and strategy expert with two decades of experience engaging civil society, governments and the private sector on public health, human rights on the issues of gender and sexuality. Before shifting her focus to international human rights, May spent a decade working in HIV and LGBTI activism and community development in Australia. Her education includes a Bachelor of Economics and a Bachelor of Social Sciences from the University of Sydney and an LLM in international human rights law from Monash University.


LaShawn R. Jefferson is Perry World House’s senior executive director. She brings to Perry World House over two decades of legal and policy advocacy, strategic planning and communications, and research and writing on women’s international human rights through civil society organizations and philanthropy. She joined Perry World House after almost seven years at the Ford Foundation, where she worked to advance women’s human rights globally and in the US. Across fourteen years, she held several leadership positions at Human Rights Watch, where she led their women’s rights research and advocacy work. She is the author of many reports on a variety of issues confronting women around the world, and has written op-eds and articles that have appeared in the Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune. She received a BA from Connecticut College and an MA in international relations and Latin American studies from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.