Visible Women

From Anne Hathaway to student activists: the women making waves this week

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Moya Crockett
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Dropping every Friday, Women Making Waves is a series highlighting the women who rocked the boat, pushed for change and made history around the world this week.  

Elin Ersson’s live-stream of deportation protest goes viral 

On Monday (23 July), Swedish student Elin Errson boarded a plane bound for Afghanistan at Gothenburg airport. One of her fellow passengers was an Afghan asylum seeker who was due to be deported – and Errson was determined to stop that from happening.

Before the plane took off, Errson staged a non-violent protest by refusing to take her seat and livestreaming her interactions with flight attendants and other passengers.

In the footage, which has been viewed over two million times, Errson explains that she does not agree with Sweden’s policy of sending rejected asylum seekers back to Afghanistan. Under Swedish immigration law, Afghanistan is classified as a ‘safe’ country.

“I don’t want a man’s life to be taken away just because you don’t want to miss your flight,” Ersson told her fellow passengers. “I am not going to sit down until the person is off the plane.”

Eventually, as a result of her peaceful activism, both Ersson and the man seeking asylum were removed from the plane. She could now face a severe fine – and it seems likely that the Swedish government will attempt to deport the man again. But we think any woman courageous enough to stand up for others, especially those more vulnerable than herself, should be applauded. 

Politicians call on government to reform Northern Ireland abortion laws 

Labour MP Yvette Cooper is among those calling for change 

More than 170 politicians from across the UK and Ireland called on the government this week to modernise abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

Following Ireland’s historic abortion referendum in May, Northern Ireland is now the only country in Europe – apart from Malta – where abortion is illegal. On Sunday (22 July), politicians including Labour’s Yvette Cooper, Lib Dem deputy Jo Swinson, Conservative Sarah Wollaston and Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neil urged Theresa May to act, in a letter to The Sunday Times.

“This is the first and critical step to ending the treatment of British and Irish women living in Northern Ireland as second-class citizens, who do not enjoy the same access to healthcare as their counterparts do across these islands,” wrote the politicians.

“We therefore call for our respective governments to act to ensure that the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is upheld and the human rights of the women living in Northern Ireland are respected.”

Anne Hathaway calls for justice for murdered teenager Nia Wilson

On Sunday (22 July), African-American teenager Nia Wilson was stabbed to death by a white man at a train station in Oakland, California. Her sister Lahtifa was also wounded by her alleged killer, 27-year-old John Lee Cowell, who is now in police custody.

Given the tense political climate in the US, which has seen a surge in racially-motivated hate crimes since the election of Donald Trump, many feared Wilson was the victim of an attack by a white supremacist. (The police have since said there is no evidence that Cowell, a felon with a history of mental illness, had any connections to white supremacist groups.) Others expressed concern that law enforcement would fail to investigate Wilson’s murder properly, and that her death would go unreported by the media.

On Thursday (26 July), Anne Hathaway used her platform to raise awareness of Wilson’s death and call on white Americans to reckon with their privilege.

“The murder of Nia Wilson – may she rest in the power and peace she was denied here – is unspeakable AND MUST NOT be met with silence. She is not a hashtag; she was a black woman and she was murdered in cold blood by a white man.”

Read more about the case of Nia Wilson here

Karina Wagenpfeil calls out medical exam for disbelieving women’s symptoms 

On Wednesday (25 July), biology and neuroscience graduate Karina Wagenpfeil called attention to the all-too-common problem of women’s health problems being disbelieved.

Wagenpfeil is a chronic illness activist who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). On Twitter, she shared a screenshot of a practice question for a medical exam, which asked students to diagnose a female patient experiencing “unexplained pain”.

The correct answer, according to the exam, was that the woman must have Munchausen Syndrome (an outdated term for a disorder wherein people feign illness, generally so that others will treat them sympathetically). But as Wagenpfeil noted, Munchausen’s is rare – whereas a woman with undiagnosed pain is not.

“This is the bulls**t we’re teaching our doctors?!” she wrote. “There are numerous conditions that cause pain but are difficult to diagnose and don’t show up on anything but the most specialised testing, if at all.”

Her tweets prompted many other women to share stories of having their very real symptoms written off by doctors.

Women Making Waves is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign to raise awareness of women who’ve made a difference. See more Visible Women stories here.  

Images: Getty Images