You likely recognize Danai Gurira from her work on The Walking Dead as Michonne. But when she’s not slaying zombies, she’s standing up for women’s rights. “I’m what I call a ‘Zamerican,'” she told Motto. “I was born in the Midwest state of Iowa but was raised by my Zimbabwean parents in Zimbabwe from the age of 5. The issue of women and girls across the world and the disparity of opportunities [for them] has always been deeply intimate to me. So the idea of getting behind sexism as the core issue of poverty felt very important to me.”
Read more: Melinda Gates: ‘Poverty is Sexist’
Gurira is one of 92 celebrities and influencers who signed an open letter released March 8 titled “Poverty is Sexist.” The letter coincides with a report from the activist group ONE that finds women are consistently denied access and opportunities in countries around the world and that extreme poverty hurts women and girls even more than men.
Gurira spent International Women’s Day on Capitol Hill asking lawmakers to enact better policies for women around the world.
“I think what we deal with societally is the fact that there is a gender gap, globally, especially for women of color,” says Gurira. “I was lucky in that I was shielded from certain components of that. I went to an all-girls school and got a great education…I grew up in a home where my voice was valued, so when I stepped out of the home, I thought it was irrational that suddenly I wasn’t supposed to speak out. I think every girl and woman has felt and witnessed this—that you’re not supposed to be a person at the decision-making table and that your thoughts aren’t supposed to have impact.”
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Gurira says she feels lucky to have the ability to express herself—and that’s why she’s using that ability to advocate for the 62 million girls who cannot go to school “just because they are girls.” According to the ONE report, two-thirds of illiterate people around the globe today are female and 74% of new HIV cases are young women.
“We can totally prevent this,” says Gurira. “We want people to understand that the decisions made here [in Congress] affect lives…We are advocating for programs to be funded quite modestly as far as spending goes, but that ‘modest’ impact I can honestly say will save millions of lives.”