When we learned that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day would be “Choose to Challenge”, we thought of the many women we know—brazen and brave and bold—who choose to challenge the status quo every day through their activism, their achievements and their persistence. And while the list of women who aim to dismantle broken systems and build equitable ones in their place is endless, here are five women Colorlines salutes for their ability to challenge and inspire today, tomorrow and always. 

Photo: Screenshot from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-0pD2nzj8Y

Who She Is: Shirley Raines
What She Does: Founder of Beauty 2 The Streetz
How She Chooses to Challenge the Status Quo: While others have chosen to look away, every Saturday, Shirley Raines and her team help women living on Skid Row see themselves as more than homeless. Raines helps these women see themselves as human. Beauty 2 The Streetz provides home-cooked meals, hot showers and make-overs to lift spirits and self-esteem. But for Raines, it’s about more than mascara, it’s about building friendships based on equality and compassion. Beauty 2 The Streez believes that all women can embrace who they are, can define their future and can change the world. Through her contributions to the Skid Row community, Raines is her organization’s mission personified. 

Photo: Chris Guillen Photography

Who She Is: Dr. Amara Enyia
What She Does: Policy and Research Coordinator, Movement for Black Lives
How She Chooses to Challenge the Status Quo: Dismantling systems is in her blood. Dr. Enyia’s great-great mother led an uprising in Nigeria against the British Empire that became one of the largest uprisings on the cContinent. With the same formidable spirit, Dr. Enyia is an expert on city and state policy, as well as international affairs/foreign policy with expertise in Central Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Dr. Enyia currently serves as the Policy and Research Coordinator for the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) and is elevating the awareness of the BREATHE Act, one of M4BL’s initiatives, which seeks to invest in and create a new vision for public safety. “My value—what I bring into any space I inhabit—has always been my ability to envision issues through a systems-lens, capture the nuances, and build alternatives that dare to veer from ‘the way things have always been done.’”

Photo: Courtesy of Alejandra Pablos

Who She Is:  Alejandra Pablos
What She Does: Reproductive justice community organizer and storyteller at the intersections of immigration and mass incarceration; Pablos has been fighting deportation for the past 9 years throught the #KeepAleFree Campaign
How she chooses to challenges the status quo: “I don’t choose to challenge the status quo. The choice was made for me when white supremacy targeted my whole existence,” Pablos told Colorlines. “Most importantly, I share my testimony of being targeted by the state due to my immigration status … I will keep using the power of truth-telling to document and show what I am learning as I am navigating the deportation machine, in order for other people to know their own rights and their own power to self-organize. The biggest way I challenge the status quo is by not being silenced, knowing my worth and never giving up until we are all free.” 

Photo: Courtesy of Ra’mya Davis

Who She Is: Ra’mya Davis
What She Does: Student Organizer with DC Girls Coalition
How She Chooses to Challenge the Status Quo:  Davis uses social media as a vehicle for change. Partnering with Capital Experience Lab, Davis and her peers— the DC Covid Squad—created a digital campaign through Instagram to highlight the disparities within DC communities of color; while also focusing on how COVIDovid-19 has heightened these inequalities. Also? She’s just 17. “For me, challenging the status quo started at home when I was able to read about the slave trade at an early age,” Davis recalls. “This sparked my purpose in the world and has not left me since. I am destined to help shape a better future for generations during and after my lifetime.” 

Photo: Courtesy of Connie Huynh


Who She Is: Connie Huynh
What she does: ‘Health Care for All’ Campaign Director at People’s Action and National Chairperson of the transnational feminist organization, AF3IRM
How she chooses to challenges the status quo: “My family has survived displacement from our homelands as the result of imperialism for multiple generations. And it’s this history that drives me to exist with purpose,” Huynh told Colorlines.

I grew up avoiding the healthcare system because my family didn’t have health insurance. But when my mom survived a heart attack a couple of years ago, the brutality of rationed healthcare stunned me through the trauma of that experience. My mom’s emergency surgery and a 10-day stay in the hospital that would have cost us over $450,000 if she’d had her heart attack a few years earlier (when she didn’t have Medicare) was what motivated me to seek out my current role at People’s Action.  I also have the privilege (and pleasure) of leading an organization of fierce women of color feminists in AF3IRM. This organization raised and trained me to study our personal histories, to theory-build from our lived experience, and to create our own space for organizing to change it. Feminist analysis is non-negotiable in my praxis. To achieve liberation, we must challenge cultural sexism, but also go beyond that in order to upend patriarchy. It requires that we continue to check in with ourselves and ask whether what we are fighting for actually threatens and disrupts patriarchy. Economic and racial justice won’t inherently end male supremacy. And if we’re not challenging male supremacy, then we are capitulating to it.”