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International Women's Day 2021

International Women's Day 2021

08 March 2021

PEN International joins global celebrations to mark International Women's Day. “Every year on this day, PEN acknowledges that violence against women is a form of censorship and that human rights are more important than culture, religion and tradition”, says Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.

Around the world many women, including women writers and women’s rights activists, fight for the rights and freedoms of women and all individuals, risking their life, daily. On International Women’s Day 2021, PEN International highlights the cases of five such women:

  • Volha Kalackaja (Belarus),
  • Bianca Santana (Brazil),
  • Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee (Iran),
  • Rahile Dawut, (People's Republic of China) and;
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe).

“Across the world women are taking their rightful place in expressing and claiming their fundamental rights, participating in societal debates and holding governments to account. Globally, women are at the forefront, bearing witness, reporting and holding the line where authoritarian regimes and cultural norms seek to silence them. Everywhere, everyday women are harassed, intimidated and abused for speaking out, for expressing their views. PEN celebrates women’s voices, their bravery and resilience. We campaign for the freedom of expression of all women as means to full equality”. Romana Cacchioli, PEN International’s Executive Director.

Officially recognized by the United Nations in 1977, International Women’s Day is a day when women are recognized for their achievements. The day also marks a call to action to build support for women's rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.


Volha Kalackaja, Belarus Down arrow

Volha KalackajaVolha Kalackaja, Private

Volha Kalackaja is a translator and English language tutor who has translated into Belarusian the works of some of the world’s most renowned authors, including Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, William Golding and Tennessee Williams. Like thousands of others, Kalackaja took part in mass protests against the presidential elections in August 2020 that brought President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term of office. These largely peaceful protests were met with harsh brutality and many hundreds were arrested, Kalackaja among them. On 18 January 2021, Kalackaja was giving a private tuition class at her home in Minsk, when police entered the residence and took her for questioning. She has been charged with ‘violation of public order’, for which she could be imprisoned for up to three years. She is awaiting trial in Zhodzina Pre-trial Prison

Bianca Santana, Brazil Down arrow

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Photo courtesy of Bianca Santana. ©João-Benz.

Bianca Santana is a writer, researcher, journalist, and teacher. She is the author of an article about connections between relatives and close friends of Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, and suspects in the murder of the Rio de Janeiro city council member Marielle Franco. The article was published in UOL, the world largest Portuguese language website, on 26 May 2020. Two days later, Bolsonaro accused Santana of publishing fake news. In July 2020, Santana presented her case at the United Nations Human Rights Council, during which she also filed a complaint against Bolsonaro with the UN Human Rights Commission. On 31 July, Bolsonaro apologized for the comments made and, on 10 December 2020, he was ordered by a court in São Paulo to pay compensation to Santana. PEN International consider the case of Santana, a clear example of harassment against women journalists in Brazil. Since Bolsonaro took office, women journalists have been attacked by the President or his ministers at least 54 times, an unprecedented number in the recent history of the country.

Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, Iran Down arrow

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Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, Private


Golrokh Iraee is an Iranian writer and human rights defender who is known for her activism against the practice of stoning in Iran. Iraee’s unpublished story depicts the reaction of a woman who burns a copy of the Quran, after watching a film about a woman stoned to death for committing adultery. According to reports, the authorities discovered Iraee’s story when searching her apartment in September 2014. At the time, she was detained for 21 days and sentenced to six years in prison, later reduced to 30 months. Iraee was released on bail in April 2019. In July 2019, new charges were brought against her when the Revolutionary Court in Tehran found her guilty of ‘insulting the supreme leader’ and ‘promoting propaganda against the state’. She is now serving a total of 5 years and 8 months following her re-arrest in November 2019. In December 2020, Iraee was physically assaulted by prison guards in Qarchak Prison who transferred her by force to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Intelligence Ward 2A in Evin Prison, IRGC’s main detention center in Tehran. She is currently held in the Prison of Amol.

Rahile Dawut, People's Republic of China (PRC) Down arrow

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Rahile Dawut. Photo courtesy of Akida Pulat

Rahile Dawut is a renowned anthropologist and leading expert on the study of Uyghur folklore. An associate professor at Xinjiang University and founder of the university’s research centre on minority folklore, Dawut is recognised around the world for her peerless contributions to the study and cataloguing of Uyghur cultural heritage. In late 2017, Dawut disappeared shortly after she had made plans to travel from Xinjiang to Beijing for an academic conference. Presumed to have been detained by the PRC government, Dawut’s current whereabouts and status remain unknown, despite international media attention and a campaigning led by her daughter calling for her release. Dawut’s disappearance in 2017 is emblematic of the over a million Uyghur and other minorities who have been forcibly detained in so-called re-education camps throughout Xinjiang.

Tsitsi Dangarembga, Zimbabwe Down arrow

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Tsitsi Dangarembga. Photo courtesy of Tsitsi Dangarembga

Tsitsi Dangarembga is an award-winning Zimbabwean writer, playwright and filmmaker. She is also a dedicated activist, as well as a founding member of PEN Zimbabwe. On 31 July 2020, Dangarembga was peacefully protesting corruption in Harare when plain clothes police officers arrested her without charge. She was detained overnight and arraigned in court on 1 August 2020, when she was charged with incitement to commit violence and breaching Covid-19 health regulations. Dangarembga was released on cash bail and ordered to surrender her passport and report to the police weekly. Her passport was returned to her in December 2020, but she continues to make regular court appearances as ordered. No trial date has been set for her case. PEN International has been calling for the immediate dropping of all charges against her since August 2020. In January 2021, the organization awarded Dangarembga the PEN Award for Freedom of Expression. PEN International continues to monitor her case.

Notes to editors: Down arrow

  • PEN International activities to celebrate the International Women’s Day, are part of a series of events planned throughout 2021 to mark PEN International’s Centenary. Founded in 1921 by English writer Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, PEN International has spent 100 years celebrating literature and protecting freedom of expression. You can stand up for persecuted writers by making a donation today.