The six people you've never heard of who changed the world in 2015

These six men and women used people power to do extraordinary things. Here they share their stories

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The Independent Online

Laura Coryton - UK

In 2013, Laura Coryton started a petition calling on George Osborne to remove the “overtly sexist” tax on sanitary products in the UK. By 2015, the campaign was a worldwide success, reducing the tax from 20 per cent to 5.5 per cent in France and axing it altogether in Canada. It also pressured the Chancellor to donate the £15m a year collected from the ‘tampon tax’ in the UK to women’s charities.

I launched this petition two years ago from my bedroom in South East London, completely unaware of how passionate so many people feel about ending the sanitary tax. It wasn't until I researched its origins and discovered that it was implemented in 1973 after a male-dominated Parliament deemed sanitary products to be 'luxury, non-essential' products, that I started to look at it more seriously.

The more I researched our tax system, the more determined I became to do something about it: how can sanitary products be classified as 'luxury' items, and subsequently taxed at 5 per cent, when the maintenance of private helicopters, eating crocodile, horse and kangaroo meat, and playing bingo have all been deemed 'essential' enough to avoid tax altogether?

A few weeks later, I visited a friend whose mother, Gillian, told me that she had campaigned for this change when she was my ago. That was when I knew we had to succeed. Over the past year, our 300,000 supporters have been dedicated and active in our protest to end sanitary tax. We haven't made it yet, but we have taken strides forward.

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Laura Crotyon at a protest on the way to Downing Street

 

Sabri Najafi - Italy

Last year, Iranian journalist Soheil Arabi was sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook.  On hearing this story, Italian-Iranian expat Sabri Najafi set out to make the Iranian government change their mind. After her petition collected more than 200,000 signatures, Italian senator Luigi Manconi wrote to Iranian ambassadors and the decision to put Arabi to death was overturned.

I wrote the story about Soleil and the abominable decision to execute him. After 200,000 people signed, an Italian senator wrote to the Iranian ambassador in Italy about the issue. They answered in less than a week saying he wouldn’t be executed.

Officially his sentence has been reduced to house arrest, but he is still in jail and his family awaits for him. Execution should be abolished all over the world.

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Nardy Sabino - Philippines

Until two days before her scheduled execution, Mary Jane Veloso, a human trafficking victim on death row in Indonesia was saved at the very last minute from death by firing squad. The online petition against her execution, started by Nardy Sabino, represented the global outcry which was communicated to President Jokowi by Indonesian activists. His petition led the execution to being delayed - and her sentence may still be overturned.

Me and my group-mates were so moved by the Veloso family's story, their anxiety and agony, their hope to save the life of a loving daughter and caring mother of two children.

Ten days before the scheduled execution, we launched the signature campaign at the Our Lady of Remedies Parish in Manila. As the  executions came nearer, we approached and sought the help of various organizations and individuals to support the appeal and sign an online petition. Hundreds of thousands all over the world did. The translation into different languages was also a big help in reaching out to almost half a million people around the globe.

The petition gained more signatories on the scheduled day of execution. Thousands of people from different walks of life have been touched by Mary Jane’s life story, alarmed by the plight of a victim of human trafficking.

We are keeping the fire going as we reach our ultimate goal to save the life of Mary Jane Veloso through presidential clemency and pardon. This petition is yours and ours as we are joined by our common aspiration for a just and humane society.

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Rosie Nelson - UK

Rosie Nelson, a size 8 model, was moved to act when the a model agency encouraged her to lose weight to obtain work. Almost 120,000 people have got behind her campaign to create a new law regulating the fashion industry to ensure that all models working in the UK are of a healthy and sustainable weight.  

My health campaign has gained a huge amount of momentum since I launched the petition in September. Earlier this month, along with MP Caroline Nokes, I delivered my petition signatures to 10 Downing Street and discussed the issue at an All-Party Parliamentary Enquiry.

Being able to speak alongside models and fashion designers at the Parliamentary enquiry was a very empowering experience, and I am humbled to have helped shift some attitudes and misconceptions about working life as a model.

All the people who signed the petition and shared the story through social media have helped to bring awareness to an issue that has been present in the fashion industry for many years.

I have had dozens of messages from models, parents and those with friends or loved ones that have suffered or experienced the harsh realities of the modelling industry. Many girls are expected to maintain their slim measurements despite their bodies naturally changing and developing.  

There is a whole generation of girls and young women who are growing up with the idea that beauty is defined by size. It is clear that there is public demand for change. I want agencies and designers to take greater responsibility for future generations by promoting healthy lifestyles and embracing a wider variety of body types.

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Rosie Nelson decided to challenge fashion industry norms after she was told by her modelling agency to keep losing weight until she was “down to the bone”

Godze Salur - Turkey

Gozde Salur started a petition to pass what has become known as ‘Ozgecan Law’, after 19-year old-student Ozgecan Aslan was murdered after resisting an attempted rape. The law would prevent sentences for violence against women being reduced because of previous ‘good behaviour’ or ‘unjust provocation’.

Crimes against women are a part of our everyday lives. But the brutal murder of Ozgecan was a last straw. My conscience, my heart, could not handle hearing that one more suspect had been let off in court just because he wore a nice suit. I realized I need to turn all these feelings into action knowing there are people who feel the same.

I wrote to MPs, tried to get an appointment from the Ministry of Family & Social Affairs in March but they declined saying they were too busy. But as the support grew, including celebrities, the government could no longer play deaf: 1.2 million people in Turkey signed the petition I started and it became the most signed petition of all time in the country. 

Now, there is draft proposal in the parliament asking for legislative change, and two weeks ago the trial of the Ozgecan case came to an end and the three accused received life time sentence.

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Rozin Khalli - UK

17-year-old Rozin Khalli came to the UK with her family in 2008, fleeing the dangers of Iraq. She is Yazidi, a religious and ethnic minority in the country. Thousands of Yazidi girls like Rozin have been kidnapped into sexual slavery by Isis – it is thought 7,000 were taken last year. Her petition asked the UK government assistance for Yazidi women.

The whole idea of the petition came from when my father was receiving calls from back home about what life is like after the damage caused by IS. I was just thinking of my life before in Iraq and how this is 10 times worse, going through rape and constant torture at the hands of Isis. But what I was really upset about was the fact that women who managed to escape did not get any help from anyone. 

I decided to set up the petition to get their voices heard and give them hope back. I have managed to get 225,000 signatures and have done a lot of media work to raise awareness. Recently, I met with the Minister of International Development, Desmond Swayne, to discuss what could be done to help those women, as the aid from UK is not getting to those who desperately need it. He has promised me to review who is getting the aid make sure that it gets to the right people. I have managed to raise awareness about what is actually happening to the Yazidis – and I will continue to do that.

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All these petitions were hosted on Change.org

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