Blog | March 8, 2018

Activists, Defenders, Investigators: these are the women who inspire us

To mark International Women’s Day we’ve collected together a few of our favourite female corruption-fighters, environmental defenders and investigators. These women have exposed and challenged corruption, sometimes facing discrimination and gender-specific threats in doing so – and in the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia, paying the highest possible price.

These courageous and exemplary women standing up for transparency and accountability will inspire us to #PressForProgress in 2018. We hope they inspire you too.

Jakeline Romero – Defending her community in Colombia

Jakeline Romero

Colombian defender Jakeline Romero © Christian McLaughlin

With the Guardian we’re recording the killings of environmental and human rights defenders across the world and many of the activists we work with on this issue are women. 

Jakeline Romero is a Wayúu indigenous woman who has faced threats and intimidation after speaking out against abuses committed by paramilitaries and powerful corporations in La Guajira, Colombia.(1)

Working with indigenous community organisations, she took a stand against the devastating impact of vast coal mines on their lands, allegedly imposed on the community without their consent.(2)

Jakeline is on the frontline in the fight for human and indigenous rights protection as the Colombian government pushes for increased foreign investment, particularly in risky sectors and historically violent regions. 

In the midst of intimidation she remains steadfastly vocal in defending her community. As she put it, “as a woman and as a Wayúu, I can’t shut up. I can’t stay silent faced with all that is happening to my people. We are fighting for our lands, for our water, for our lives.”(3)

Elise Bean – World leader on tax justice

Elise Bean Profile

Elise Bean Washington Co-Director, Levin Center © Wayne State University

Elise Bean has a résumé to envy; all of it dedicated to promoting transparency in global tax affairs, rooting out corruption and stopping money laundering.

As Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations – one of the most prestigious investigatory bodies in Congress – she led the fight against anonymous companies and exposed HSBC facilitating the movement of illicit funds for serious criminals in 2012.

The anonymous companies similar to those that Bean investigated come up in our investigations so often, so we’re grateful to her for shining a light on them. Twice named by the International Tax Review on their annual list of the world’s top 50 people who influenced tax policy , Bean currently works to strengthen the ability of parliaments around the world to conduct effective legislative oversight to bring about meaningful changes in public policy.

Francisca Ramirez –Standing up for Nicaragua’s environment

Francisca Ramirez

Nicaraguan activist Francisca Ramirez © Alberto Centeno / Global Witness

Nicaragua remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental defenders. Here, Francisca Ramirez organised rallies and marches to oppose the construction of an inter-oceanic canal built by Hong Kong Canal Development Group, a China-based construction company. (4)(5)

Remarkably, the enormous project wasn’t preceded by any environmental impact reports (6), nor any consultation with local people like Francisca on how their lives and land might be impacted, sparking the outrage that followed. (7)

In response to her brave actions, Francisca’s five children were assaulted, (8) leading the European Court of Human Rights to pass a resolution naming her and other human rights defenders as in need of protection. (9)

Recognising the impact of her activism, the Nicaraguan government even offered to negotiate with Francisca in secret but she refused, citing the need for an open and public dialogue. (10)

The story of Francisca’s battle for her local community, despite threats to her and her family, remains an inspirational one for us as we continue to work with environmental and human rights defenders globally.

Mary Robinson – climate justice pioneer

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson in Brussels to meet with Parliament President Martin Schulz © European Union 2014 - European Parliament

Mary Robinson has been a pivotal figure in Irish history and an inspirational woman. She has been a pioneer her entire life, from campaigning for civil rights in conservative 1970s Ireland, to her election as the first female President of Ireland in 1990, through to her appointment as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

She continues her work as a member of The Elders alongside Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan and others, as well as running the Mary Robinson Climate Justice Foundation.

She is insistent that climate change policy takes the world’s most vulnerable people into account:

“Climate justice focuses our attention on people, rather than ice-caps and greenhouse gases… no world leader should have to plan for evacuation from the land of their ancestors.” This is especially important given the fact that indigenous communities are often amongst the least-polluting in the world, but due to their socioeconomic status, geographic location, gender, and age, they are the ones who experience the worst effects of climate change.

Nominated by Adam McGibbon

Daphne Caruana Galizia - celebrated investigative journalist

Daphne Caruana Galizia

Daphne Caruana Galizia // LinkedIn

The career of Daphne Galizia, one of Malta’s most celebrated investigative journalists, exemplifies the role of women in opposing corruption as well as the deadly threats that face them.

Her work included exposés of the shady secret deals, uncovered in the Panama Papers, that show how politicians and others hide illicit wealth behind secret companies. She also published multiple stories on loopholes in Malta’s Golden Visas programme, concerns that we’ve also raised.

Caruana Galizia was murdered on 16th October 2017 with a car bomb; a killing that shocked and saddened all those who consider a free press to be central to democracy and justice. The intimidation and threatening of journalists is sadly nothing new, but the idea of it happening in an EU member state was especially horrifying to many, including us. 

Her death was followed recently by the murder of Slovakian journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée; an immensely worrying trend for press freedom and accountability in Europe. Nothing can justify the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, but her courage in exposing wrongdoing and fighting for transparency and accountability can be an inspiration to all.

There are countless women whose bravery and professionalism in the fight against injustice warrants an inclusion on lists like this. We hope these examples can inspire future generations to help create a world free from corruption. 


(1) See statement from the company from 27 January 2017, condemning the threats: Cerrejón, (27 January 2017), ‘Cerrejón rejects new threats to social leaders from La Guajira’. Available at: (accessed: 19 June 2017); the Guardian (26 October 2016), ‘Air of discontent around Cerrejón mine deepens as Colombians cry foul’. Available at: oct/26/discontent-cerrejon-coal-mine-colombians-cry-foul (accessed: 19 June 2017).

(2) In 2014 Jakeline’s teenage daughter received phone calls threatening her and her family, and her sister Jazmin, also a vocal member of the Fuerza de Mujeres Wayúu, has also received death threats. Global Witness Interview with Jakeline Romero (15 May 2017); The Star (21 May 2014), ‘Canada must live up to obligations on human rights in Colombia’. Available at: colombia.html (accessed: 14 June 2017); CENSAT (16 December 2016), ‘Comunicado en rechazo a las amenazas a la lideresa Wayuu Jackeline Romero Epiayú’. Available at: (accessed: 14 June 2017).

(3) Global Witness interview with Jakeline Romero (15 May 2017)

(4) Gazeta Oficial del Gobierno de Nicaragua (14 June 2013), ‘Law 840’. Available at :$FILE/Ley%20 No.%20840.pdf (accessed: 22 June 2017) ; The Guardian, (6 June 2013), ‘ Nicaragua gives Chinese firm contract to build alternative to Panama Canal’. Available at: (accessed: 13 June 2017); Mail Online, (13 December 2013) ‘China’s plan to build £25bn rival to the Panama Canal across Nicaragua’. Available at: (accessed 13 June 2017).

(5) Frontline Defenders, Case: Francisca Ramírez. Available at: https://www. (accessed 13 June 2017); La Prensa, (25 April 2017), ‘Francisca Ramírez denucia ante la Policía de Nueva Guinea el ataque contra su hijo’. Available at: nacionales/2219557-francisca-ramirez-denuncia-ataque-contra-su-hijo (accessed 13 June 2017); Global Witness interview with Francisca Ramirez, (May 2017).

(6) For concession granted with no bidding process. See: Huffington Post (no date), ‘Will China’s Nicaraguan Canal Shift Power In The Western Hemisphere?’ Available at: (accessed 19 June 2017); International Policy Digest (20 July 2015), ‘Nicaragua Canal: Major Project and Major Impact’. Available at: (accessed: 19 June 2017). For no prior environmental assessment see: National Geographic, (22 February 2014), ‘Nicaraguan Canal Could Wreck Environment, Scientists Say’. Available at: (accessed: 13 June 2017). HKND carried out its own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) only after being awarded the concession, which was criticized by scientists arguing that the two-year time frame to compile the study was inadequate to assess the potential impacts, and that there was insufficient data on key environmental risks areas. See: Phys Org, (19 June 2015), ‘Scientists question Nicaraguan canal in newly released report’. Available at: (accessed: 13 June 2017).

(7) Rights and Resources, (17 August 2015), ‘Upside Down World: Nicaraguans Fight to Save Land and Sovereignty from Canal Development’. Available at: (accessed: 13 June 2017); Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos (FIDH), (14 October 2016), ‘Nicaragua : el gobierno debe revocar la concesión del canal interoceánico’. Available at: nicaragua-el-gobierno-debe-revocar-la-concesion-del-canal (accessed 13 June 2017).

(8) Frontline Defenders, Case: Francisca Ramírez. Available at: (accessed 13 June 2017) and La Prensa, (25 April 2017), ‘Francisca Ramírez denucia ante la Policía de Nueva Guinea el ataque contra su hijo’. Available at: nacionales/2219557-francisca-ramirez-denuncia-ataque-contra-su-hijo (accessed 13 June 2017); Global Witness interview with Francisca Ramirez, (May 2017).

(9) European Parliament resolution on the situation of human rights and democracy in Nicaragua – the case of Francisca Ramirez: 2017/2563(RSP), (15 February 2017). Available at: EP//TEXT+MOTION+P8-RC-2017-0156+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN (accessed: 13 June 2017).

(10) El País, (28 April 2017), ‘Doña Francisca, el azote contra la Nicaragua de Ortega’. Available at: (accessed: 13 June 2017); La Prensa, (15 February 2017), ‘Daniel Ortega busca reunirse en secreto con lideresa anticanal’. Available at : (accessed: 13 June 2017).


  • Nick Hoare

You might also like