Global Citizen Festival’s Decade Marking 10 Years, Here Are Ten Artists & Activists Who Fought for Women’s Equality

Best performances and films advocating for women’s rights from throughout the globe.

Since its start ten years ago in Central Park in New York City, the Global Citizen Festival has brought together artists and activists to rally behind the cause of gender equality.

Musicians, activists, and others have used festival stages to advocate for women and girls from New York to Hamburg to Johannesburg and beyond since 2012, with the goal of eradicating extreme poverty and fostering a more equitable and sustainable society.

10 Years of Global Citizen Festival

Some took the lead in their own projects to end discrimination and sexism, while others urged Global Citizen Festival to join the battle and put pressure on global leaders to do more to end widespread problems like child marriage and honour murders. Whether their day jobs included political activity or performing their most popular albums on tour, activists and musicians have urged their followers to help advance gender equality in the sustainable development movement.

10 Years of Global Citizen Festival

The 2022 Global Citizen Festival campaign will feature simultaneous events in New York and Accra on September 24. These events will promote an ambitious agenda that gives special attention to the needs of young women. We are urging international leaders to take action to improve girls’ access to school, reduce the strain on care providers caused by the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic, and expand the availability of sexual and reproductive health services for everyone.

Join us as we reflect on the last decade of our on-stage and online events dedicated to empowering women and girls as we prepare for this year’s Global Citizen Festival.

We’ve compiled ten of our favourite examples of progress toward gender parity.

  1. 1. Michelle Obama 

Former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama was welcomed by Beyoncé at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival. After a warm embrace between the two, Obama spoke on the need of investing in girls’ education and announced the beginning of the #62MillionGirls initiative.

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The goal of the campaign was to bring attention to the plight of the 62 million girls worldwide who do not attend school and to encourage political leaders to advocate for the right of all girls to an education.

Obama referred to the girls as “our daughters.” Giving them that opportunity is crucial to our efforts to eradicate global poverty because they deserve it just as much as my girls, your daughters, and all of our children. It’s the only way to make sure these ladies can support their families and their communities, and give back to their country to the fullest extent possible.

2. Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, the laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, spoke with four other education activists at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival to highlight the significance of girls’ education.

She pleaded with global leaders, “Why overlook the rest of the world’s children?” when she pointed out that “up to 66 million girls are denied education,” a statistic that has prompted her and the other five women in the room to put the question in front of you today.

Will you take a stance on the 66 million girls worldwide who do not have access to schooling?

3. Jada Pinkett Smith and 4. Salma Hayek

Marco Bizzarri, president and chief executive officer of Gucci, gave an update on the fashion house’s worldwide Chime for Change project to end discrimination against women and girls at the 2016 Global Citizen Festival. Together with him on stage were actresses Jada Pinkett Smith and Salma Hayek, who spoke about the need of maintaining efforts to advance gender parity in the workplace.

Many women around the globe do not have the same legal protections as males, such as the freedom to seek medical care or to possess property without their male relatives’ consent. Smith said that this prejudice needs to cease.”

Chime for Change co-founder Hayek discussed the truth behind “honour” murders.

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That’s accurate, in certain nations women are killed by their own family members for marrying the guy they love, she remarked. “For refusing to enter into an arranged marriage or for having a relationship with a man not approved by their family, and it is shocking that today’s law often allows families to get away with such murders because the law has exceptions for these so-called honour killings or because legal procedures allow murderers to be pardoned,” the author writes.

A short video on Qandeel Baloch, a social media celebrity from Pakistan who was assassinated in an honour killing, was presented by the actress. The film’s director, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, was then introduced by Hayek, and she invited the audience to join her in condemning violence against women.

Obaid-Chinoy said that the world we leave our daughters and granddaughters should be a far safer one than the one we grew up in.

5. Shireen Ibrahim

At this year’s Global Citizen Festival, Shireen Ibrahim, a Yazidi activist and a victim of the Islamic State, told her tale. As part of their systematic campaign of extermination and mass persecution in 2014, ISIS is claimed to have forced into sexual slavery at least three thousand Yazidi girls and women.

Many Yazidis are still captives of ISIS. “We must continue to strive for their liberation and justice,” Ibrahim added. I appeal to you, Global Citizen Festival, to listen to my experience and then demand that the United Nations and international leaders put a stop to the impunity that has surrounded ISIS’s atrocities.

6. Dakota Johnson

Dakota Johnson

At the 2018 Global Citizen Festival, Dakota Johnson handed out her personal phone number to the audience. She sent out a worldwide appeal for victims of sexual assault and harassment to leave her a message detailing their experiences. At the 2019 Global Citizen Festival, Johnson updated the audience on the situation.

Johnson said she had calls from people in 70 countries across six continents and listened to about 60 hours of true tales.

Global Citizen Festival: These tales come from people of all ages and both sexes, with women making up 95% of the contributors, she stated. “People as young as 11 and as elderly as 71 reported themselves. To be honest, I just sat there and listened. And I swore I’d make sure their voices were heard.

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In order to make his podcast The Left Ear, Johnson listened to the voicemails. She said that her goal was to “establish a safe and compassionate dialogue about sexual assault and to draw consciousness to the reality that we live in a time when gender-based violence impacts over 35% of women throughout the globe.”

7. Cyndi Lauper 

In 2021 at Global Citizen Festival Live in New York, pop legend Cyndi Lauper sang a cover of an ’80s hit in honour of the women and girls in Afghanistan who are in a precarious position. Robert Hazard sang “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” in 1979 from a male perspective; Cyndi Lauper reworked the song to say that women just want the same opportunities as men.

When I initially recorded this song in 1983, I sang it to encourage all women and girls that we deserve a pleasant existence and we need to have genuine equality, Lauper stated. As the saying goes, “It’s disheartening to realise that over 40 years later, it’s still not true.”

Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the rights of women and girls there have come under increased threat, prompting Lauper to dedicate the song to them.

We hear you, and we will keep working to bring awareness to your plight. She encouraged me to keep going.

8. Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, co-chair of the VAX LIVE campaign, gave an inspiring video statement urging unity and a gender-responsive COVID-19 rehabilitation.

Because women have been hit harder than males by this epidemic, she and her husband “think it is vital that our recovery prioritise the health, safety, and prosperity of everyone.”

If we work together to bring vaccines to every country and continent, insist that vaccines are fairly distributed and priced, and ensure that governments around the world are donating their additional vaccines to countries in need, then we can begin to fully rebuild — not just to get us back to where we were, but to go further and rapidly advance the conditions, opportunities, and mobility for women everywhere.

9. Rakaya Fetuga 

When a Uterus Is a Burning Flag, a poem by Rakaya Fetuga was performed at Global Citizen Festival Live 2021.

When the revolution is happening from the inside out, she remarked, “the revolution will not be broadcast” since it would be invisible to the masculine gaze and the outside world.

Fetuga discussed the need of reducing maternal mortality, the benefits of family planning for women, and the costs of ignoring women’s health concerns later in the poem.

The time to act on her urging is “now now,” she said.

Global Citizen Festival: After reading the poem, Dr Natalia Kanem, the executive director of UNFPA, reiterated the reasons why every girl should have the freedom to decide for herself and her family how many children to have and when. Kanem urged the audience to join UNFPA in urging world leaders to invest in women’s and girls’ health and rights so that they may reach their full potential.

10. Gloria Steinem 

On the “Women of Influence: The Power of Gender in Shaping Culture” panel at the first-ever Global Citizen Festival NOW conference in May 2022, activist, author, and feminist organiser Gloria Steinem discussed the status of women throughout the globe.

Steinem and her guests discussed the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and its implications for abortion access in the United States. Among the guests were Grammy Award-winning musician and composer Arooj Aftab and philanthropist Pharrell Williams.

Steinem once declared, “I want women and men and everyone to be allowed to do whatever they fucking well choose,” when asked about her hopes for the future of women and girls.