Celebrating Women on the Frontline of Animal Advocacy

Sometimes we forget that we are not alone, that there are people all over the world fighting for change, educating others, rescuing animals and inspiring solutions that will make this world a kinder place…

Thanks to Unbound Project, a multimedia documentary project created by acclaimed photographer Jo-Anne McArthur and Dr Keri Cronin of the Department of Visual Arts, Brock University, we can take inspiration from some of these talented women. Together, they show us just how many ways there are to effect change, and how one person can make the world of difference. Here we celebrate five extraordinary women.

unbound project vegan

Marianne Thieme

What kind of person starts a political party that focuses on protecting animals, and leads it to great success? Please step forward Marianne Thieme. Devastated by the 2002 elections in her homeland, the Netherlands, where farmers’ representatives were lobbying to reverse animal welfare measures achieved over 20 years, Marianne decided to fight fire with fire. She determined to launch a political party that would not only maintain protections for animals, it would expand them. She co-founded Party for the Animals.

‘You can imagine how people mocked us’, she says. But from the very beginning Party for the Animals had powerful support from feminists, famous authors, intellectuals and opinion leaders – all people ‘who saw us as the next emancipation movement. After the liberation of slaves, women, giving rights to children, the next logical step was to consider the interests of animals seriously, to look beyond the interests of our own species.’

Thieme’s party has come a long way. Today Party for the Animals has five seats in the House of Representatives, three seats in the Dutch Senate and one MEP.

Read more at https://unboundproject.org/marianne-thieme/ 

unbound project vegan

Rubaiya Ahmad

After a decade in the United States, Ahmad returned to her home country of Bangladesh and there adopted three street dogs. She had them vaccinated and sterilised, put collars on them and took care of them, but she felt that locking them in her tiny flat all day would be cruel and so they – like many others – lived on the streets. Ahmad wasn’t worried; all the neighbours knew they were hers.

But then one of them, a sweet trusting soul named Kashtanka, was caught by the culling gang and poisoned to death. It was an experience that utterly changed Ahmad’s life. Soon after, she founded Bangladesh’s first animal welfare organisation, Obhoyaronno – which roughly translates to ‘Sanctuary’. In 2012, she launched a vaccination and sterilisation programme, and in 2014, following Ahmad’s campaigns, Dhaka city agreed to end dog culling. It was an important victory but she was just getting started. Ahmad petitioned the city to end dog and cock fighting, and again was successful.

She then turned her focus to promoting veganism. As a result, local schools have now adopted Meatless Mondays and the number of vegan foods available in local shops and restaurants has grown. She gives talks, holds brunches, started a vegan meal delivery service and offers cookery courses. She is a powerhouse of advocacy!

It’s not an easy path to take but she says: ‘Even the worst day of doing something is better than the best day of doing nothing. It’s more difficult to do nothing.’

Read more at https://unboundproject.org/rubaiya-ahmad/

unbound project vegan

Susie Coston

Not only does Coston save and care for hundreds of animals, she believes that animals saved her, too. She was suffering with depression, and was told by her doctor that there were two paths ahead of her: if she took one, she would make it; if she took the other, she wouldn’t. She started working with animals.

Today, Coston is National Shelter Director of Farm Sanctuary, the largest farmed animal rescue and welfare organisation in the United States. She not only saves the lives of the animals who come through the gates, she inspires compassion for all animals by telling their stories with humour, grace, and love. She has led countless people to connect with farmed animals in ways they never thought possible.

‘They’re just like people – every one of them has a past when they come in. Most of them come from a place of loss. Once they’re here, though, they’re safe. I honestly believe that if most people got to see them for who they are, they wouldn’t be able to eat them.’

Among all the animals in her care, is a calf named Alexander who was so desperate to find his family after being separated from them that he ran 12 miles. His story – like the others in the sanctuary around him – is a powerful force for change, and Coston does not tire of telling their stories.

Read more at https://unboundproject.org/susie-coston/

unbound project vegan

Seble Nebiyeloul

Nebiyeloul was living in New York on 9/11. The smell that hung in the air after the attacks is still etched in her memory, but she couldn’t pinpoint what it was until she passed a street vendor selling hamburgers. And then it struck her. ‘Animal flesh and human flesh, when you burn it, it’s one smell. That’s when I said no more animal products.’

The epiphany made it suddenly very clear to her: we are all the same.

In 2011, Nebiyeloul returned to her native Ethiopia and co-founded International Fund for Africa (IFA), which serves humans and animals alike. ‘When you start loving animals, you don’t have boundaries,’ she says. ‘When I became an animal lover, automatically, I loved any creature.’ 

Besides its sizeable vegan food and health program for school children, IFA’s work is wide-ranging and vitally important. It includes vocational training for people with limited economic opportunities, improved sanitation in schools, a program that helps girls make reusable menstrual pads, significant investments in maternal and newborn health care, mobile clinics for working animals, sterilization and vaccinations for street dogs, a donkey sanctuary and so much more. And promoting veganism is integral. She began with plant-based cooking demonstrations, then served brunch at a friend’s yoga class. People were shocked that vegan food could be so good! IFA’s vegan school food program, which uses Nebiyeloul’s own recipes, now employs ten cooks and serves two meals a day to hundreds of children.

Read more at https://unboundproject.org/seble-nebiyeloul/

unbound project

Dr Aysha Akhtar

It all began for Akhtar as a child, when she would join her mother to protest pigeon, deer and turkey hunts, travelling long distances along the coast to attend demonstrations. When a hunter pulled a knife on her mother, she recalls her mother saying quite calmly, ‘Go ahead, I dare you’. Such courage within compassion had a profound effect on Akhtar.

Today, she brings that compassion and integrity to her own work. A leader in the field of animal ethics and neurology, Akhtar has made it her mission to explore and explain the connections between human health and the wellbeing of animals. One of those ways is through the viruses and infectious diseases associated with the cramped and unsanitary factory farm conditions. Her rare gift, say her friends, is her ability to master mind-bogglingly detailed and technical scientific concepts and present them to the public in an accessible, engaging, and even entertaining way. It means people listen.

Akhtar has focused on companion animals, animals in entertainment and the role of animal agriculture in driving climate change. She has also looked closely at vivisection. She argues that animal experiments are largely ineffective because we can’t rely on them to predict human outcomes due to interspecies differences in physiology. The questions we should be asking, she says, are: ‘Is animal experimentation the most useful and most effective way to get information today? Do animal experiments accurately predict what we are going to find in humans?’ Akhtar’s work in this area demonstrates that the answer to both of these questions is a resounding no.

Read more at https://unboundproject.org/aysha-akhtar/

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