Zainah Anwar is a founding member and former Executive Director of Sisters in Islam, a non-governmental organization working on the rights of Muslim women within the framework of Islam. She is now the Director of Musawah, the SIS-initiated Global Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family. She also writes a monthly column, Sharing the Nation, for the Star, the largest English-language daily in Malaysia.

Sisters in Islam is at the forefront of the women’s movement which seeks to end discrimination against women in the name of religion. It has successfully created a public voice and a public space for ordinary women to claim their right to speak out on Islam and the impact of Islamic laws on women’s rights and status. The group's activities in research, advocacy and public education help to promote the development and understanding of an Islam that upholds the principles of equality, justice, freedom and dignity within a democratic state.

Musawah today spearheads ground breaking activities at the international level, bringing scholars and activists together to produce new feminist scholarship in Islam, training activists on women’s rights in Islam, and engaging with the CEDAW processes to challenge the ways governments use Islam to justify reservations and evade compliance with human rights treaty obligations.  

Zainah also writes a monthly column, Sharing the Nation, in the Sunday Star. She has been named by Newsweek and The Daily Beast as one of the 150 women “who shake the world”, by Women Deliver as one of 100 most inspiring people in championing the rights of women and girls, and in 2013, was cited by Huffington Post as one of the 10 leading Muslim women from around the globe, appearing at the top of this list.

Her past work experience includes: Chief Programme Officer, Political Affairs Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, London; Freelance Writer; Senior Analyst, Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Kuala Lumpur; Political and Diplomatic Writer, The New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur. She was also a member of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia from 2000 – 2004. Her book, Islamic Revivalism in Malaysia: Dakwah Among the Students has become a standard reference in the study of Islam in Malaysia. She was educated at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Boston University and the MARA Institute of Technology, Malaysia, in the fields of international relations and journalism.

Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda

2016 Annual Lecturer

Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda - Zimbabwe

Since 2004, Dr. Sibanda has held the position of Chief Executive Officer and Head of Mission of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN). Lindiwe coordinates policy research and advocacy programmes aimed at making Africa a food and nutrition secure region. She is currently leading a multi-country research and technical assistance project on Improving Nutrition Outcomes through Optimized Agricultural Investments (ATONU), addressing the question “What can agriculture do for nutrition”. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the ATONU project seeks to improve nutrition outcomes in smallholder farm families and poor households through tailored nutrition-sensitive agriculture programs that ultimately benefit women of child bearing age and children in the first 1,000 days of life.

Ruchira Gupta

2015 Annual Lecturer

Ruchira Gupta - India

Ruchira Gupta is the Founder and President of Apne Aap Women Worldwide – a grassroots organization in India working to end sex trafficking by increasing choices for at-risk girls and women. She has striven over her 25 year career to highlight the link between trafficking and prostitution laws, and to lobby policy makers to shift blame from victims to perpetrators.


2014 Annual Lecturer

Dr. Sima Samar - Afghanistan

Dr. Sima Samar is a renowned human rights and women's rights advocate from Afghanistan. She is head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and founder of the Shuhada Organization, dedicated to the welfare of progress of Afghan citizens, with the primary focus on the empowerment of women and children.


2013 Annual Lecturer

Leymah Gbowee - Liberia

Recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, peace activist, social worker and women's rights advocate, Gbowee is Founder and President of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa and Director of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa. Ms. Gbowee's lecture, attended by close to 800 people, was introduced by Cora Weiss and opened with a performance by Portland's Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus.

2013 Special Lecturer

Hon. Albie Sachs - South Africa

The Honorable Albie Sachs, former activist lawyer and author, worked with Nelson Mandela to draft South Africa's constitution and served as one of the original Constitutional Court Judges. He spoke to all of Maine's state and federal court judges, and dozens of students and community members in Orono, Bangor, Lewiston and Portland.

2012 Annual Lecturer

Honorable Unity Dow - Botswana

Judge Dow is a member of Parliament and Deputy Minister of Education in Botswana. She is also an international human rights advocate and novelist. She served for over a decade as the first woman high court judge in Botswana. Her five books deal with issues concerning the struggle between Western and traditional values, gender, and her nation's poverty. Judge Dow's lecture was introduced by Maine's Chief Justice, Leigh Saufley.