Eight Women of Colour Changing the World for Animals

Eight Women of Colour Changing the World for Animals

“Working together makes us, and our impact, stronger.”

Last month, the Unbound Project partnered with Encompass to highlight the work of women of colour within the animal advocacy movement.

Encompass is a non-profit organization committed to building a more effective animal protection movement by fostering racial diversity and inclusivity.

With Encompass’ support, Unbound’s platforms were used to help amplify the voices of women of colour working in animal advocacy, and further the discussion around the topic of racial diversity, equity, and inclusion.

A big thank you to Encompass and all of the amazing women who shared their advice and insights with us. Read on to get inspired by their wonderful stories!

Aryenish Birdie

Founder and Executive Director of Encompass

Aryenish Birdie has worked in various social justice movements, including those striving for racial equity, queer rights, and reproductive freedom. Since 2017, she’s been fully focused on building the foundations of nonprofit organization Encompass.

Encompass empowers farmed animal organizations to operationalize racial diversity, equity, and inclusion to further our collective mission of animal protection. It also empowers advocates of colour by cultivating leadership potential and providing a space for individuals to enter and thrive within the movement.

Birdie founded Encompass after witnessing firsthand the urgent need for a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive animal protection movement.

“As a queer, light-skinned woman born in the Midwest from immigrant parents, I’ve struggled with identity and place my whole life. I never feel totally at home anywhere, so I’m always searching to belong. Working to develop Encompass has been personally satisfying because it’s an organization I myself need, but more importantly, it feels wonderful to build something for the animal movement that supports other people of colour.”

We spoke with Aryenish Birdie to find out more about her work.


Michelle Rojas-Soto

Former Managing Director at Better Eating International / Managing Director at Encompass

Michelle Rojas-Soto is the former Managing Director of Better Eating International, an organization using customized digital media to deliver progressive vegan education on a massive scale. She is a founding member of Gender Equity in Animal Rights (GEAR). Rojas-Soto just recently joined Encompass as Managing Director. Her work is focused on the interconnectedness of issues and manifests her commitment to fighting prejudice, hate, and apathy on all fronts.

She shared with us her insights on how we can work together to make activism spaces more open and inclusive:

“Using language from Tamika Butler, activists who want to support women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour should shift from being actors to allies, and from being allies to accomplices. Tacitly supporting women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour is not enough. Instead, we must actively engage with women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour in their journey, share and even transfer resources to them if we are to achieve meaningful transformation and justice. Essentially, what I am advocating for here is love, the action that requires us to extend ourselves for the benefit of someone’s growth.”

Here are some of Rojas-Soto’s specific suggestions on ways we can do this:

•Connect with women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour doing work in animal rights, ask questions, find out what they need, volunteer, and help them secure additional resources.

•Become a vocal advocate for women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour in forums with other activists who know less than you about the subject.

•Study history, read the books Aphro-ism and Sistah Vegan.

•Be a champion for racial equity and gender equity within your own organization.


Jamila Anahata

The Soulful Veganista Blogger and Holistic Lifestyle Coach

Jamila Anahata is a passionate activist, blogger of thesoulfulveganista.com and holistic lifestyle coach.

Through a personal journey to take charge of her own health, which started almost five years ago, Anahata launched The Soulful Veganista, which aims to support people in finding the healer within themselves and to decolonize their lives through a conscious lifestyle. Anahata does this through a variety of mediums including writing and social media, holistic lifestyle coaching, and hosting local events.

“When I first went vegan, my goal was to spread awareness about wellness, holistic living, and veganism in the Black community. Those are still my missions but my advocacy slightly changed after I got into social justice because it’s something we don’t always incorporate in every movement. Now I advocate considering (hopefully) everyone’s level of ability, accessibility, and needs.”

Anahata’s suggestions for building a more inclusive movement:

“The best thing activists can do is to use their platform to amplify the voices of women of colour. Listen to us, respect our stances, learn more about our struggles, share and credit our work, and don’t police us about our delivery as if our words are more violent than the oppression that plagues us and other marginalized folks.”


Billie “Bee” Bryan

Creative Professional

Billie “Bee” Bryan on the power of shared values.

Billie Bryan, affectionately known as “Bee,” is an eco-conscious graphic designer, web designer, artist, musician, activist and vegan. She is also a pansexual, polyamorous, transgender woman advocating for the representation and visibility of her LGBTQIA+ community. When “Bee” is not organising queer meetups and hosting workshops, she’s working from home or on the go as ‘Bee The Designer’, providing design and marketing services to small businesses with big ideas!

“Use what you’ve got to make a difference. I decided to put my greatest skills to use in the best way I knew how and to fill a need that few others were able to. That’s how I contribute. Through all of the work I do, both as part of my own non-profit and as a service provider to others championing a similar message, I hope to help open people’s eyes to rampant inequality affecting human and non-human animals alike.”

Born and raised in the Cayman Islands, eco-conscious creative professional Billie “Bee” Bryan is working to radically reshape the prevalent conservative mindset of her country and create a safe, social environment for LGBTQIA+ people across the Caribbean and Latin America through the work of Colours Cayman, the nation’s first LGBTQIA+ non-profit organization that she founded in 2018.

“I consider animal advocacy to be something of a gateway drug to the recognition of a myriad other socio-political issues. And with so many other social movements breaking ground and continuing to gain momentum, people are beginning to connect the dots. The fact that we’re now considering issues of race, gender and diversity when discussing animal advocacy speaks to that. 

There’s a significant amount of overlap and I feel that our commonalities will lend strength to all our efforts. When people with a common interest band together to achieve a common goal, your gender, your nationality, your age or your background is virtually irrelevant; they will fight with you, side by side, as equals. And very few have shown as much empathy and compassion as the activists that I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”

Having worked with or volunteered for animal advocacy groups from around the world, ‘Bee The Designer’s’ clients consist largely of like-minded eco-conscious or vegan non-profits and solopreneurs. “Bee” aims to align her values with those she caters to and amplify their efforts with the help of her creative genius and marketing know-how.


Jaya Bhumitra

Former International Director of Corporate Outreach at Animal Equality

Jaya Bhumitra has nearly 20 years of campaigns and public affairs experience in both the private and non-profit sectors, including a decade in animal advocacy.

Recently, she served as the International Director of Corporate Outreach for Animal Equality, an Animal Charity Evaluators Top Charity. She serves on the advisory council of Encompass, and on the governing board for the Los Angeles chapter of New Leaders Council, the premier leadership training program for young progressives.

In the two-and-a-half years since launching the corporate outreach department for Animal Equality, Bhumitra hired, trained, and led new teams in Mexico, Brazil, India, Italy, Spain, Germany, the UK, and the U.S. to achieve 115 animal welfare policies from the world’s largest food companies, meaningfully reducing the suffering of approximately 40 million animals raised and killed for food each year.

Bhumitra’s suggestions on how we can work together to create more open and inclusive activism spaces:

“One of the most important ways activists can support women of colour – and non-binary folks of colour – in the animal protection movement is by elevating their voices. Rather than posting your own thoughts on social media, share a blog or status by a woman or non-binary person of colour who may have a more acute social commentary to provide, but who may not have as wide a platform from which to be heard.

This doesn’t mean only reposting when we have something to say about our gender or racial identities. This means making space for all of our good ideas and to acknowledge our professional expertise, resharing our content whether we’re describing our varied philosophical and practical approaches to activism or opinions on animal-protection- and vegan-related news.

Likewise, it’s crucial to fund the organizations and advocacy efforts of women and non-binary folks of colour who bear more emotional labor and are stretched in more directions than white-led organizations. If we want to see activism spaces become more open and inclusive, we need to make it possible for those initiatives by women and non-binary folks of colour to thrive.”

We spoke with Jaya Bhumitra about how the movement has evolved over the last few years, including how #ARMeToo and #TimesUpAR have impacted the community.


Anastasia Orth

Culture and Engagement Specialist at the Good Food Institute

Inspired by the possibilities for growth and innovation in the plant-based foods market, Anastasia brings her skills and passion to The Good Food Institute where she supports the creation of a respectful, fair, diverse, and high-performance culture that enables employees to contribute their very best to the organization.

“Before 2015, I admittedly knew very little about industrial animal agriculture and its impact on the environment, food security, global health, and animal welfare. Four years ago, I just happened to pick up and read Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz; that book turned my world upside down. I spent many hours after work and on the weekends binge-reading everything I could about animal agriculture, thinking to myself, ‘how is it that I am only now learning about all of this?!’ The more I learned, the more difficult it became to focus on my tech recruiting job knowing what was going on all around me.”

Orth graduated with honours from the University of California at Berkeley. After beginning her career in sales, Orth was a recruiter for startups in Silicon Valley where she witnessed first-hand the power of technology to transform and disrupt long-established industries and practices.

“In my pursuit of a career transition, I discovered The Good Food Institute and was immediately inspired by the organization’s multi-faceted approach to using markets and innovation to create a more sustainable, healthy, and just global food system from the inside out.”

Orth’s advice to other women looking to make an impact in the movement:

“Many studies show that women are only likely to apply to jobs if they feel they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men will apply to jobs if they feel they meet 60% of the qualifications. I’d encourage anyone who wants to get professionally involved in activism to just GO FOR IT. Acknowledge your learning capacity. Don’t think that you have to know everything before stepping in. I didn’t know much before entering this space—I just knew I wanted to be a part of it. We can learn just about anything, but what’s most important is having the drive and desire—a growth mindset, if you will. If this is truly your heart’s passion, then get after it, sisters! You WILL learn.”


Romina Giel

Open Wing Alliance Events Coordinate at the Humane League

Romina Giel is the Open Wing Alliance Events Coordinator at The Humane League, an organization that exists to end the abuse of animals raised for food. Giel’s personal mission aligns with The Humane League’s mission; end the abuse of animals raised for food.

“Since joining The Humane League’s Open Wing Alliance, which works to end the use of battery cages globally, I’ve deepened my appreciation for collaboration. Working with them and knowing that we all have one common goal, is incredibly fulfilling.”

Giel’s advice to other women looking to make an impact in the movement:

“Get involved! Reflect on the skills you have and how you can apply them to activism. Organisations in the movement have volunteer opportunities in every department. Don’t ever doubt yourself or assume you won’t make a difference because you absolutely will! And if you’re not ready to commit to an organisation, showing up to local protests or signing up to receive online actions, makes a huge difference too.”


Lisa Feria

Founder of Stray Dog Capital

Lisa Feria is the CEO of Stray Dog Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage, mission-driven companies that aim to take animals out of the supply chain using innovative products and services. With over 26 investments, Stray Dog Capital is one of the leading early-stage investors in the plant-based market.

With the drive of Lisa Feria behind it, Stray Dog Capital works to accelerate a massive shift away from animal agriculture by helping amazing entrepreneurs deliver incredible food that doesn’t require people to radically change the way they eat!

Feria’s advice to other women looking to make an impact in the movement:

“Don’t be afraid to be visible and open with your thoughts, ideas and brand. Find great mentors and leverage them for introductions and influence. Finally, don’t stop learning and leveling your skills up.”

Follow Encompass to stay up-to-date with their latest projects and progress.

Tracy Hilda Dukim

Tracy Hilda Dukim

“We want to make Sabah a place where every animal is valued and protected.”

Tracy Hilda Dukim co-founded the nonprofit organization Borneo Animal Welfare Society, Sabah (BAWSS) with her friends when witnessing firsthand the desperate need for population control throughout Malaysia. Under Dukim’s leadership, BAWSS advocates for Borneo’s stray cats and dogs through innovative, educational and humane programs.

This is Unbound’s first project in collaboration with world-renowned filmmaker and photojournalist Aaron Gekoski.

What led Gekoski to tell Dukim’s story?

“Having lived in Sabah for three years, I first became aware of BAWSS via their educational programs and mass sterilization drives. Their achievements – as an all female enterprise – are remarkable given they are operating in a predominantly patriarchal society, and a place where attitudes towards strays can be apathetic at best. The women work relentlessly in order to help cats and dogs in Sabah, seeking little recognition for their endeavors. This short film shines a light on their incredible efforts.”

Directed by Aaron Gekoski

Twyla Francois

Twyla Francois

“Painting allowed me to literally paint the images out, freeing my mind up to return to the field.”

Like many activists, Twyla Francois can pinpoint the moments in her life that led her to animal rights.

One of the first was when she was 13. Growing up in a farming community in rural Canada, she joined 4H like most kids. She spent countless hours raising and getting to know her veal calf before enrolling him in the town fair, not understanding what would happen there. When she realized the man bidding on her beloved friend was the town butcher, she pleaded in tears to keep the calf, which 4H prohibits. She has no idea how she got a copy, but soon she was reading Peter Singer’s “Animal Liberation” and no longer eating meat.

Years later, as an adult, Francois was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery where doctors discovered stage IV tumors in her abdomen. She was an administrator at the University of Manitoba at the time. While working for the vice president of research, she’d seen documents detailing the university’s research on dogs, including where they’d come from – the city pound. Some arrived with name tags still on their collars. Francois spoke up to no avail, so she moved to another department at the university, but there her values were only challenged further.

Facing the possibility of death, she re-examined her life. While undergoing chemotherapy, she co-founded a small non-profit animal advocacy organization and threw herself into the world of animal rights, first as an investigator and then as an artist.

These two kinds of activism might seem like separate paths. But Francois says the first naturally led her directly to the second.

Besides the research on dogs, what did you see during your time in academia that conflicted with your values?

Any efforts I made at challenging the university’s use of animals were quickly dismissed – the university relied on funding from the various granting bodies and wouldn’t do anything that would risk it. Eventually I felt I had to leave the job and moved over to work for the vice president of external relations, but things just got worse. The university accepted funds from all of the corporations no one else would touch, granting them the ability to rename faculties. (Monsanto’s – now Bayer’s – headquarters are still located at the University of Manitoba.) A large oil company happily accepted the offer and renamed the Faculty of Environment to the Faculty of Earth and Earth Resources, setting the tone that environmental protection would no longer be the primary mandate of the faculty.

A new Smart Park was built to commercialize research, including, of course, animal research, and special films were ordered for the buildings’ windows to prevent photos and videos from being taken, giving the impression of transparency without having to actually provide it. In Smart Park, researchers didn’t even have to release statistics on the number of animals they were using or what they were using them for because they were under private ownership. I cried on the way home from work every day. The cognitive dissonance became unbearable and my body forced onto me what my mind wouldn’t [when I got sick]. It ended up being a blessing in disguise.

Your 10-plus years as an investigator included top roles with Animals’ Angels, Canadians for Ethical Treatment of Farmed Animals, the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition and Mercy For Animals Canada, and your work led to facility closures, animal cruelty convictions, documentaries, government-commissioned research and animal rescues. Why did you stop doing investigations?

I started having more and more difficulty handling investigations as time passed. Part of it was learning the complexity of emotions farmed animals experience and understanding how much they must suffer in animal agriculture. Each time I would get to know a species through one I was able to remove and bring to my property to live out their life free from exploitation, investigations on that species would become more difficult. Eventually I got to know all of the species used in animal agriculture, making it nearly impossible to continue with investigations.

I also questioned whether what I was doing was having an effect. Initially, I had a strong belief that undercover investigations were the most effective way to bring about real change for animals. We put together complete evidentiary packages for law enforcement, and major media outlets provided extensive coverage. But while those releases caused a slight ripple in society, the response wasn’t what I thought it would be. It was devastating to find that the one thing I’d pinned all my hopes on failed. It was my answer to the doubts I’d always had about my previous investigations – that perhaps I hadn’t presented a full enough case or released it exactly the right way. With the undercover work, everything was right, at least according to what I felt was right, and yet it didn’t have much more effect than my earlier work had.

The argument that continued to hound us as well was the (false) claim that our findings were a one-off, and that all we did was expose one rotten apple in an otherwise unblemished industry. We couldn’t put out investigations fast enough to counter this argument and I realized undercover investigations weren’t the panacea I had believed them to be. What was needed were constant releases of evidence from multiple sources across the country, which is exactly what’s happening today and why we’re seeing such a massive shift in how Canadians view animals, along with a concordant increase in veg’ism.

What did you learn from being an investigator?

I learned from doing investigations in Canada that conditions for animals are much worse than any of us can imagine, and that while there definitely are some individuals who are sadistic and enjoy deliberately making animals suffer, the vast majority of those in animal agriculture aren’t intentionally cruel. They’ve absorbed the message that animals are less-than, or simply regard them as commodities. Others in the industry recognize that animals shouldn’t be made to suffer but fail to understand that standard practices such as separating calves from mothers immediately after birth are also forms of suffering.

I also learned that in Canada, government and law enforcement can’t be counted on to protect farmed animals. There are no governmental bodies that conduct inspections for compliance on farms and the animal welfare legislation that does exist exempts farmed animals, along with practices considered standard, such as castration without anesthetic or analgesics and the use of intensive confinement systems. So for the vast majority of a farmed animal’s life, they are completely without protection.

The two pieces of federal legislation that exist are for animal transport and slaughter at federal facilities, but as investigation after investigation has shown, these regulations are rarely enforced. Instead, the officials that are present are often involved in incidents of cruelty themselves or are so subservient to the workers that they are rendered ineffective. Inspections and enforcement are also becoming increasingly de-regulated. For example, in a recent access to information request, I saw that inspections of the unloading of trailers at a large “federally-inspected” pig slaughterhouse that used to be conducted by Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials are now done by plant employees, who, relying on their employer for a paycheck, are highly unlikely to find any issues of non-compliance.

Why did you turn to art?

I began painting shortly after becoming an investigator and did it as a means to cope with what I was seeing in the field. The imagery seared on one’s brain after an investigation can be haunting and difficult to shake. Painting allowed me to literally paint the images out and put them onto the canvas, freeing my mind up to return to the field.

Later, after many investigations and exposes that sadly didn’t lead to the widespread changes in consumer behaviour I was hoping for, I realized that we weren’t reaching a substantial portion of the population with our message. In particular, kind-hearted, sensitive animal lovers found the images too upsetting and turned away before absorbing the message. These were the very people most likely to make changes to their diet if they could connect with the message. I realized that art, with its ability to be less threatening, could be a way of reaching these people’s hearts. This is because of how subjective art is – we each see in it what speaks to us and feels personal to us. That leaves much of the interpretation up to the viewer who then feels a sense of discovery and ownership of making the connection. Psychological studies show that this sense of responsibility is a direct catalyst for changing behaviour.

And because humans are social beings and look to others to determine how to feel and react in ambiguous situations, which sadly is the case with farmed animals, my hope is that seeing someone lovingly providing water to a dehydrated sow or gently holding a piglet as one would a puppy changes how we view these animals. It reminds us that farmed animals are just as capable of suffering and just as deserving of our respect and sense of responsibility.

Discuss a painting of yours that is especially important to you.

“Free Me” is likely my most well-known piece. It features a pig in a dimly-lit concrete pen peering hopefully through a window out onto a clear, sunny day. As the viewer’s eye moves to the right to explore the darkness, the pig’s dead body, suspended for bleeding, comes into view. The painting came about after my first investigation at an assembly yard, where animals were temporarily housed while being marketed to slaughterhouses – in this case, thousands of miles away. The pigs were cull sows and boars used for breeding who had spent the majority of their adult lives confined to barren concrete and metal cages barely larger than their own bodies. When the pigs were loaded onto the large multi-deck trailers to be taken to slaughter, many pushed their snouts through the portholes of the trailer, trying to feel the sun on their faces. I realized it was likely the first and last time they would ever experience this simple sensation. In all of their suffering, they still had a desire to feel the sun on their skin. They had to strain for it, and many who were too sick, diseased or injured to reach the portholes weren’t even able to experience it. Their only certainty in life was their death which awaited them at the end of this journey as it had hung over them from the moment they were born. It was as inescapable as a shadow.

I never thought I’d release that painting because it was just too personal, but I eventually did and it became part of the Animal Activism Art collection in Stuttgart and is now on permanent display at Land der Tiere, the largest farmed animal sanctuary in Germany.

How do you think your art is making an impact?

I find that I’m reaching a completely different group of people than I did with investigations. It was only when I started releasing art that people from the small farming community I grew up in began contacting me, saying they’ve been following my work but didn’t feel comfortable contacting me until recently. That means a lot because I know where they come from and the difficulty in openly recognizing animals as anything other than commodities in an area that relies on that view. I’m always pleasantly surprised after exhibitions or when articles about my art have been published when people contact me to say they were inspired to make a change. The Recasting Series, which features women of all ages connecting with farmed animals in ways they would companion animals, seems to resonate with many people.

What is next for you?

There are a number of pieces I’m keen to do but have to wait until my technical skills are up to the challenge! I’d specifically like to continue adding to the Monkey Wrenching series, which features people of all ages actively liberating animals. I’d love to do a subseries of seniors liberating animals in particular, as I’ve found surprising support from this age group. No one is ever too young or too old to take action for animals.


Learn more about Twyla Francois and view her art at twylafrancois.com.

Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and story by Corinne Benedict.

Rubaiya Ahmad

Rubaiya Ahmad

“Even the worst day of doing something is better than the best day of doing nothing.”

Rubaiya Ahmad. Photo by Julie O'Neill.

Rubaiya Ahmad. Photo by Julie O’Neill.

Ask Rubaiya Ahmad about her proudest achievement on behalf of animals, and her answer is immediate.

“Stopping dog culling in Bangladesh,” she says.

Seven years ago, Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital and largest city, was a different world for free-roaming dogs. They were almost constantly hunted by government cullers as part of an ineffective bid to control the country’s rabies problem.

Friendly dogs, including beloved pets, were the easiest targets, sauntering over to anyone who stretched out a hand. Savvier victims were caught using badger tongs, devices on poles that clamped around dogs’ heads inside their mouths, causing excruciating pain. Cullers typically then injected dogs with poison and cut off their tails as proof of the kill. To inflate their numbers, cullers sometimes cut single tails into several pieces to turn in to their overseers.

One night, this happened to Kashtanka, a light brown, grinning dog who Ahmad had cared for since she was a puppy. Kashtanka was one of three street dogs Ahmad began looking after when she returned to her native Bangladesh in 2006 after a decade living in the United States. She was renting a tiny studio apartment at the time and felt it would be cruel to keep the dogs inside. But she’d had them vaccinated and sterilized, had bought them collars and fed them every day, and all of her neighbors knew they were Ahmad’s.

Two of the dogs, including Kashtanka’s mother, Rosha, were able to escape. But Kashtanka was young and trusting and likely greeted the cullers who grabbed and poisoned her. Ahmad remembers it like yesterday. She got a call from her building’s night guard saying that Kashtanka was being taken. She chased after the cullers and found Kashtanka in the back of their truck, lifeless, still wearing her collar, on top of a pile of other dogs.

“Even the worst day of doing something is better than the best day of doing nothing. It’s more difficult to do nothing.”

It was an experience that changed her life’s focus. Ahmad founded Bangladesh’s first animal welfare organization, Obhoyaronno – which roughly translates to “Sanctuary” – in 2009. In 2012, after Obhoyaronno launched a program to sterilize and vaccinate free-roaming dogs in line with World Health Organization protocols for rabies control, Dhaka city agreed to end dog culling. In 2014, Obhoyaronno successfully petitioned Bangladesh’s high court for a national injunction against culling, as well as against animal sports such as bull and cock fighting. There are still occasional incidents of dog culling outside of Dhaka, but today, for the most part, the practice has ended across Bangladesh.

Campaign literature“Whenever people tell me that what I do is really difficult and that they could never do it, I just tell them the same thing I tell myself when things get difficult: that it’s more difficult to do nothing,” says Ahmad, formerly an IT consultant. “On the days when I feel like I don’t want to do this anymore because it’s too hard, I remind myself that there was a time when I didn’t do anything, and I wasn’t happy. Even the worst day of doing something is better than the best day of doing nothing.”

“Any platform that allows me to talk about veganism, I take that opportunity.”

With Obhoyaronno’s clinic and spay-neuter program going strong, Ahmad has turned her focus to promoting veganism. Because of her work, local schools have adopted Meatless Monday, popular hotels and restaurants have added veg choices, and Bangladesh’s top-ranking grocery store chain has installed vegan sections. Ahmad gives talks on animal welfare and vegan eating almost anywhere she is asked, shares information and recipes on social media, and writes a regular column, A Vegan’s Diary, in Bangladesh’s largest English-language newspaper. She holds vegan brunches and recently launched a new online vegan food delivery platform, The Bangu Vegan. The venture delivers vegan meals every Monday, hosts supper club events and supplies vegan food items to local retailers. Ahmad also uses The Bangu Vegan to do advocacy and offer cooking courses.

“Any platform that allows me to talk about veganism, I take that opportunity,” Ahmad says.

In Bangladesh, even things as simple as vegan menu options are a breakthrough, she notes. She says figuring out the right messages and how to present them has been difficult, but it’s also been a big key to her success.

“We got our way by speaking in a language they understood.”

“We’ve focused very much on the scientific approach to things, as opposed to being emotionally driven,” Ahmad explains. “When we started talking about our dog population management program, we didn’t talk about animal welfare. We talked about rabies control and how many kids were dying of rabies in Bangladesh. We showed the government that how they’ve been killing dogs for 50 years has not changed the rabies situation – it escalated it, if anything. And in the end, they stopped killing dogs. We got our way by speaking in a language they understood.”

Obhoyaronno’s spay-neuter program has now sterilized more than 16,000 free-roaming dogs, and the organization recently entered into a partnership with Dogs Trust International that has allowed Obhoyaronno to expand its clinic and gain critical surgical training.

Ahmad has also taken a science-based approach in her efforts to reduce animal-product consumption.

“The less you create the divide of us versus them, the better, because no one likes to be judged or told what to do.”

“We focus primarily on the health aspect. Eventually, at the right time and with the right platform, we’ll bring in animal welfare, like we do with our dog work now. We openly talk about how inhumane it is to kill dogs, and no one questions that now.”

She says it’s important, too, for activists to see themselves as part of the communities they work in.

“The less you create the divide of us versus them, the better, because no one likes to be judged or told what to do. It helps me to remember that I couldn’t care less about animals when I was young, and I ate meat until I was 30 years old.”

The progress she sees, even when it’s incremental, motivates her to keep going.

Rubaiya Ahmad portrait“It’s the changes in the community, the changes in mindset – every time an animal is saved or someone chooses a vegetarian meal because of what I posted on Facebook,” Ahmad says. “It’s so funny, I’ll post something, and two or three people will comment, and I’ll think no one cares. And then the next week, five messages will show up with pictures of vegetarian food, saying, ‘Because of what you wrote last week, I cooked this.’”

As for what’s next, Ahmad plans to focus on legislative reforms to help Bangladesh’s animals. She knows it’s a tall order, but so was ending dog culling, and she says that’s been the biggest lesson her work has taught her – that nothing is impossible.

“No matter how absurd an idea may seem, if you put your mind to it, you can.”


Learn more and support Obhoyaronno – Bangladesh Animal Welfare Foundation and The Bangu Vegan.

Photos and interview by Julie O’Neill. Story by Corinne Benedict.

Ten Plant-Based Female Athletes Changing The World For Animals

Ten Plant-Based Female Athletes Changing The World For Animals

“Our lives become so much more valuable when we are achieving not at the expense of others.”


As veganism and plant-based diets become more mainstream, we’re seeing an increasing number of athletes embracing the power of plants to fuel their sporting achievements! Stretching their influence beyond the dinner plate, these individuals are highlighting the benefits of a vegan lifestyle to a global audience – using their success in sport as a platform for raising awareness and inspiring change.

Meet ten women who are blazing trails both in and outside of the sporting arena and amplifying the voices of vegan and female athletes alike.

Fiona Oakes

Fiona Oakes

Fiona Oakes, 48 and vegan since the age of six, has completed over 50 marathons and holds four world records. In 2012, she became the first vegan female to complete the Marathon des Sables (also referred to as “the greatest footrace on earth”) – a racing event which involves running six consecutive marathons across the Sahara Desert, and in 2013 she became the fastest woman in history to run a marathon on all seven continents (in terms of the total number of hours taken).

To top things off, she also founded and runs Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary, where she lives with her partner Martin and the sanctuary mascot Percy Bear, who joins Fiona on all of her races (and who has a large online following!). The sanctuary spans five sites and provides a home for life to more than 450 rescued animals. Oakes’ tremendous drive comes from her lifelong passion to speak up for those who need our help.

“The actual reason for me being in sport at all was to promote veganism. I set up Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary when I was in my twenties as a natural progression in my journey of wanting to help animals. It was soon after starting the rescue in 1993 that I realised it was the answer for the animals I could physically help and nurture but it was only addressing the symptoms rather than the cause of why they were arriving here in the first place. My simple logic was: the better I could run, the better I could prove my point that a long-term plant-based lifestyle is not prohibitive to anything – even the toughest endurance challenges in athletics.”

Follow Fiona Oakes’ life-saving work and advocacy efforts on Instagram and Facebook.

Seba Johnson

Seba Johnson

Seba Johnson is the youngest Alpine ski racer in Olympic history, competing in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada at just 14 years of age. She was also the first black female to ski at an Olympics. A vegan since birth and powerful advocate for animals, Johnson has lived through a notable shift in attitudes towards plant-based athletes and has great visions for what the future of sports could look like if that shift continues.

“Athletes are no longer listening to the propaganda of eating animals’ bodies to thrive in their sport. It’s evident that in order to have strong bones, a clearer respiratory system, faster recovery, clearer focus and stamina, athletes are choosing plant-based foods to fuel their bodies. Top athletes around the world are becoming more vocal about switching to veganism. When athletes worldwide are embracing plant-based living it will revolutionize the way sports are played. I envision a complete revamping of equipment and those “sports” (ab)using animals will cease to be. Athletes will become conscious of the individuals their particular sport exploit via the manufacturing of their clothing, equipment, etc. and that exploitation also extends to the individuals making the sporting goods. How are they treated, what kinds of hazardous chemicals are they exposed to, are they forced to work in dangerous factories, endure long hours, underpaid, unpaid or live in extreme conditions? These are things I envision being improved upon once we funnel our plant-based consumption into every aspect of our lives, athlete or not. Each year animals are being slaughtered by the billions, suffering at the hands of humans. Your voice is far-reaching as an athlete, so I emphatically encourage you to use whatever talents you were born with, or can muster up. Use your sporting career as a platform for promoting veganism and for advocacy, and help shift the paradigm by eradicating the use of dead or live animals in sports.”

Read more about Johnson in her Unbound story and follow her advocacy efforts at sebajohnson.com and on Instagram.

Hulda B. Waage

Hulda B. Waage

Born and raised in Iceland, leading female powerlifter Hulda B. Waage started competing in 2011 and has since set 32 national records, including National champion and Cup holder 2016, 2017 and 2018 — all fueled by plants! Waage draws her inspiration from being a mother and is proud to be a role model to her two daughters.

“To make veganism BIG we need to talk about it and be proud of it. I’ve been working hard towards my goals in my sport and I use social media to show what I am doing and how it is working. Every chance I get I use it to talk about subjects that are important to me in a calm and respectable way and I always take the time to answer questions. I hope I get more opportunities to do my fair share of activism using my sporting talents.”

Waage’s advice to other women in sport who are considering shifting to a plant-based diet:

“Take your time to adopt. Focus on fruits, veggies and beans and with time you can try out new foods like tofu, seitan and soy products. Talk to those sportswomen who are making great progress on a plant-based diet. I always take the time to answer questions, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.”

Follow Waage’s progress in sports on Instagram and Facebook.

Sarah Stewart

Sarah Stewart

Australian wheelchair basketball player and three-time Paralympian, Sarah Stewart is shooting some serious hoops and showcasing the benefits of plant-based power to a global audience! Stewart has been vegan for 24 years, and started playing wheelchair basketball about 17 years ago. Since then, she has had a decorated career in the Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball League (WNWBL), including being named in the ‘WNWBL All-Star Five’ ten times.

“I did not know any other athletes that were vegan at that time, and my coaches definitely didn’t. I have always well-researched everything I am interested in and passionate about. I did a lot of research about wheelchair basketball games, rules and training techniques as soon as I found the sport and got the opportunity to play. And similarly, by the time I started playing wheelchair basketball, I had done many years of research into a lot of different aspects of veganism – animal biology, environmental impacts, health impacts, farming practices, etc. I was confident in my ethical reasons for being vegan – to not kill, and to reduce pain and suffering; but also in the happy off-shoots of health and environmental benefits. I had coaches who couldn’t understand what I was doing, and tournaments – especially overseas, where it was incredibly difficult to get food. Luckily, because I was knowledgeable about what I needed to eat, was strong in my convictions, and well prepared, they could not find fault in what I was doing – and in the end I was often complimented on how well I ate, and how well I performed through our longer, more gruelling tours.”

After injuring herself when she was 16, Stewart developed dystrophy, and turned to wheelchair sport at the end of 2001. In 2004, she represented Australia at the Athens Paralympics, bringing home a silver medal and then a bronze from Beijing four years later. In her third Paralympics, Sarah and her team again won silver in London.

“People with a disability are often treated as “lesser than” in society, and not encouraged to be academic, to be athletic, to be compassionately connected to the world, or to make informed, healthy choices about their lives. I’ve found that a lot of us with a disability can get so worn out just advocating for our right to exist, to be able to participate, to have a voice; that we often don’t have much time or energy to hear about or focus on other issues. Given that, it is quite encouraging how many people within that context will still appreciate how I’m living my life, ask questions about being vegan, and research veganism themselves – because they do care about animals.”

Stewart enters each game with the aim to play hard and play well. Her goal in life is to achieve everything she sets her mind to with honour and respect, and above all with a smile. With three medal-winning Paralympic campaigns now under her belt, her impressive skills and sheer determination to do what she does well has made her a valued member of the Australian Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball team. Alongside her sporting commitments, Stewart dedicates a lot of time to giving back to the community and sport through coaching and committees.

Follow Sarah Stewart’s sporting progress on Facebook and Instagram.

Dr. Anastasia Zinchenko

Dr. Anastasia Zinchenko

Dr. Anastasia Zinchenko is an international level powerlifter, bodybuilder and scientist! She started lifting weights and transitioned to veganism at the same time. Three years later, she represented Great Britain at the Bench Press World Championship in South Africa.

With a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge, Zinchenko researches and writes about sports nutrition and exercise science – and is also a passionate health and fitness coach. She applies general research findings to a plant-based diet in order to help others to reach their strength and body composition goals in the best way possible.

“For me it is very important to show that a person can build strength and muscle and be a successful competitor as a vegan. It is a myth we often hear that vegans can’t build muscle and the athletes who are successful have built their muscle eating meat and switched to a plant-based diet afterwards. I am one of the multiple examples that it isn’t true. I became vegan and started strength training at exactly the same time (I was vegetarian 12 years prior to that). I have built all my muscle and my strength as a vegan. When people learn that, they often change their opinion about veganism and become more open-minded about trying vegan meals and reducing the amount of non-vegan food that they eat.”

Learn more about Dr. Zinchenko’s work at sciencestrength.com and follow her on Instagram.

Christine Vardaros

Christine Vardaros

Meet Christine Vardaros, a Belgium-based International professional cyclist and vegan for nearly a decade. She began her career as a pro mountain biker (MTB), before switching over to the pro ranks in road and cyclocross racing.

“I started cycling and racing as a vegetarian, then turned vegan in 2000. It wasn’t until a few months later that I discovered the moral ramifications of my dietary choices. This is what now keeps me strict in both my diet and lifestyle. Shortly after I turned vegan, I noticed that I could immediately breathe better, and I recovered much more quickly from hard trainings or races. This factor alone helped me to convince my teammates to consider a switch to a plant-based diet. Even my recovery from injuries turned miraculous. Since turning vegan, I no longer get sick, my skin is much brighter, and my mood has lifted – along with my energy levels.”

Vardaros uses her sporting platform to advocate veganism throughout the world.

“Once I established myself as a top cyclist, I was able to start using my cycling clothing as yet another way to actively promote veganism. Around my collar and on my butt are The Vegan Society logos. In addition, I included animal images lined up around my arm and leg bands as well as fruit and vegetable images covering my arm, shoulder and back. This design was created by NODRUGS, maker of my cycling clothing. Every time a photo of me is published and during all the live television coverage of my races (almost every one of them is now on TV), the audience will see these images promoting veganism. I also hand-pick all my sponsors so they perfectly align with my messages of veganism, healthful living and environmental preservation.”

When she’s not on the bike, she volunteers as a spokesperson for The Vegan Society, In Defense of Animals, and Switch 4 Good. Her talks are targeted at getting the best out of your body through a plant-based diet.

Follow Christine Vardaros on Facebook and Instagram to find out more about her cycling achievements and advocacy efforts.

Monique Sapla

Monique Sapla

Monique Sapla is a 22-year-old competitive trail runner and obstacle course racer (OCR) from London, UK who is embracing the benefits of plant-based living to fuel her sporting passions.

“I’ve been plant-based for two and a half years now, and as cliché as it sounds it’s the best decision I ever made. I actually used to have quite a negative attitude towards the vegan lifestyle, and definitely didn’t believe that I could thrive on plants alone as an athlete. Whilst I knew people who were plant-based, I didn’t see any athletes in the media to demonstrate that you could be strong, fast, and plant-based, not either or. As soon as I made the switch it became apparent pretty quickly that a plant-powered diet was the best thing I could possibly do for my health and fitness, and I feel better than ever before. I’m thrilled to see how many athletes have already come to the same conclusion, with more making the connection all the time! I use my social media to show people what is possible to achieve on a plant-based diet, and also as a female athlete. I’m very aware that social media is often one big highlight reel that can make things feel out of reach, so I’m always honest, open and approachable with those who follow me.”

Follow Sapla on Instagram for her latest progress and race updates.

Pat Reeves

Pat Reeves

Vegan powerlifter Pat Reeves, 73, is a registered Nutritional Therapist, author, and competitive sports person of multiple talents – competing in everything from marathons and triathlons to bodybuilding and powerlifting! Initially turning to the benefits of a plant-based diet to assist her body with healing brain cancer, Reeves now uses the power of plants to fuel her sporting passions, and has held the all age/weight National, Commonwealth, European and World records with two powerlifting Associations for more than 20 consecutive years.

“I was already vegan before I embraced multiple sports (competitive keep-fit, triathlons, racing at all levels though with particular success at marathon distance, bodybuilding and powerlifting). Whilst I have no comparison as of sporting success following a mixed diet, I’m pretty pleased to still be increasing my World deadlift record – lots of work to do for that next year for sure!”

Reeves believes the future is brighter than ever for veganism within the sporting arena, as more athletes are choosing to adopt plant-based lifestyles and use their platforms to speak out about the related issues – from personal health, to the environment and animal rights.

Find out more about this remarkable woman at foodalive.org.

Lisa Gawthorne

Lisa Gawthorne

Team GB Age Group duathlete, Lisa Gawthorne is a passionate vegan and animal advocate, using her positive, can-do attitude to inspire others both on and off the track to embrace the power of plants!

“It is really important to show people the great things you can achieve on a plant-based diet and how you can utilise veganism to really go far in sports and fitness. The world of sports is certainly taking it more seriously now. In the past, I definitely think there was a lack of sports coaches and personal trainers who specialised in plant-based fitness and diet plans but this is changing and I am seeing more and more of these pop up to cope with the rising demand. There has been a notable increase of high profile sporting celebrities that have been adopting a vegan diet such as Lewis Hamilton, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic – all of whom are doing very well and showing that a plant-based diet can help deliver sporting success and achievements.”

Alongside her sporting successes, Gawthorne co-owns and runs vegan food business Bravura Foods and is author of Gone in 60 Minutes – a bite-sized vegan health and fitness saviour of a book that can be read in just 60 minutes!

Gawthorne’s advice for other sports people interested in going plant-based and inspiring their peers to join them:

“Going vegan is the best thing you can do for yourself as it will improve your health, it’s the best thing for the animals to reduce senseless suffering, and it’s the best option for protecting the future of our planet. If you have kids just take a look at them – let them be your motivation – if you want to build a better world for them to live in, then adopting a plant-based diet is the most effective way of achieving this.

Take every opportunity to shout about it – it doesn’t have to be a race win, it doesn’t even have to be a personal best, it can be something as simple as communicating how good you feel after a workout, how strong you feel, or how much better your sleep is. Even mentioning how energetic you feel is a big win and worth shouting about – people love positivity. You are more likely to gain a credible platform with people who are curious and will come to you with questions – embrace this and enjoy helping others on their vegan journey!”

Follow Lisa Gawthorne’s vegan advocacy and sporting progress on Instagram.

Leilani Münter

Leilani Münter

(Münter’s quote courtesy of LIVE KINDLY)

“Never underestimate a vegan hippie chick with a race car” is the motto of professional American race car driver, Leilani Münter. Münter is also a biology graduate and passionate environmental activist.

Listed among Sports Illustrated’s ‘Top Ten Female Drivers in the World’, Münter’s tenacious attitude and racing brand Vegan Strong is bringing plant power to Nascar fans and highlighting the benefits of vegan living to new audiences around the globe. Her race car even runs on renewable energy!

Münter sits on the board of three non-profits (Oceanic Preservation Society, Empowered by light, EarthxFilm) and is featured in 2015 environmental documentary Racing Extinction. She believes it is essential for humans to adapt and evolve our ways of living to avoid destroying the planet. Her dedicated environmental advocacy efforts have seen her named ‘#1 Eco Athlete in the World’ by Discovery’s Planet Green.

Learn more about Leilani Münter’s impressive achievements and important advocacy work at leilani.green and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

We’d like to extend our thanks to Great Vegan Athletes for connecting us with a number of the inspiring vegan athletes included in this feature.

Zoe Weil

Zoe Weil

“I realized that this was the work I wanted to do, and I just had to figure out how to do it.”

Zoe Weil is one of the world’s revolutionary thinkers. As a leader in humane education – a model that centers around sustainability, humanity, and justice – she advocates a bigger vision for schooling that shows care for people, for other animals, and for the environment. As Weil sees it, students – or, as she calls them, Solutionaries – can be empowered with the knowledge, skills, and will to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Like all revolutions, it doesn’t come easily. The education system in Weil’s home country of America is in dire need of an overhaul. It centers on traditional curriculum models and standardized testing, which values how much a student knows over their ability to apply learning. Insecure funding causes public schools to steer away from “controversial” topics and unconventional teaching methods. Subjects are taught separately, presenting challenges to multidisciplinary teaching methods that could be more relevant to real-world topics such as climate change or factory farming. Teachers themselves are frustrated and the passion that brought them to teaching is waning.

But Weil’s work is making waves. As well as being the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) for which she has developed multiple humane education graduate programs, she has delivered six TEDx talks, and authored seven books for youth and adults on humane education raising a generation of solutionaries, both in the classroom context and at home.

Weil grew up idolizing Dr Jane Goodall, and dreamed of following in her footsteps to work with animals. But, like many of us, by the time she entered university Weil had stopped imagining that future for herself. Instead, she studied English literature before enrolling in law school and promptly dropping out. She couldn’t have known it then, but just as she felt she was at a loose end, a new path was laying itself before her.

Weil began volunteering with a researcher who was working with chimpanzees. Though she couldn’t have been closer to her childhood dream, she found it wasn’t all she’d imagined. “While the research wasn’t painful or invasive, the chimps were still imprisoned, and their futures seemed bleak,” she recalls.

She then worked as a teacher and naturalist at a wildlife centre for injured and orphaned animals, and while she loved teaching young people about animals, she was again confronted with the ethics of the programs, which brought wild animals to schools for presentations.

By this time Weil had been instilled with the love of teaching and returned to university with the aim of becoming a professor. Discovering a program at the University of Pennsylvania that offered weeklong courses to middle school students, Weil saw the opportunity to reach students and, in so doing, change the course of history. She proposed several courses, including one on animal issues and another on environmental issues.

I realized that this was the work I wanted to do, and I just had to figure out how to do it.

To her surprise the animal issues course turned out to be the second most popular of the sixty courses offered that summer, and Weil taught a class full of enthusiastic 12- and 13-year-olds. She found humane education deeply rewarding and felt heartened by the impact she was having. She taught a class about product testing and the animals who suffered severe pain, injury, and death for household and beauty products; the next morning a student came to class bearing homemade leaflets. “While the rest of us were having lunch, he was standing on a Philadelphia street corner handing them out,” she remembers. “He’d become an activist overnight.”

This was Weil’s ‘aha’ moment: “I realized that this was the work I wanted to do, and I just had to figure out how to do it.”

After graduating, Weil began working as a humane educator with a local SPCA, but again she felt that something wasn’t quite aligned. She was only allowed to teach about companion animals, but wanted to extend her compassion-driven brand of teaching to all animal issues. Soon she moved to the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), where she became their Director of Education, developing a humane education program that she began teaching in schools. It addressed global ethical issues relating to animals and the environment, from product testing and pollution to factory farming and climate change. Animalearn reached 10,000 students across several US cities, and Weil soon began training others to become humane educators, expanding the reach of humane education across the country.

Education is the root system underlying all other systems.

Despite this success, Weil yearned for systemic change. She saw a need for the education system to embrace humane education programming, and for students to have access to ongoing learning on these issues. The obvious access point was the teachers, who could be trained to deliver humane education in their classrooms, as a framework connecting all subject areas.

With this new vision, Weil left AAVS and in 1996 co-founded the Institute for Humane Education. She began creating the first graduate programs, and even a Ph.D. program, in comprehensive humane education. IHE started to offer workshops for teachers around the U.S. and Canada, and now offers online courses and free downloadable resources on a broad variety of issues ranging from compassion, ecology, conservation, extinction, and ethics, enabling teachers to do this work in classrooms on almost every continent.

Most recently, IHE created the Solutionary Program, a comprehensive set of tools that teachers in middle and high schools can use to support students in solutions-focused learning. The program has seen such success that in 2018 the Office of Education in San Mateo County began implementing the solutionary approach as the core educational philosophy for their curriculum. This program will reach over 95,000 students across the county.

Explaining her philosophy, Weil says: “Education is the root system underlying all other systems. If we nurture compassion in children and provide young people with the knowledge and skills to create meaningful positive changes, we will witness the unfolding of a more humane, just, and healthy world for all beings.”

In the time that Weil has worked in humane education, she has propelled its expansion from a field associated with the welfare of companion animals, to a comprehensive and intersectional field that embraces and champions the interconnections between human rights, animal protection, and environmental preservation. Weil’s revolutionary work has carved out a place for compassion, ethics, and responsibility in students’ learning, and has challenged educators to imagine a bigger and more meaningful purpose for schooling. And she shows no signs of slowing down: she is currently writing her eighth book with the bold title, How to Solve the World’s Problems.

It hasn’t been a linear path, but Weil has created a version of that future she imagined for herself as a child, working to improve the lives of animals on a global scale.