Jerin Arifa is a formerly undocumented activist who is changing millions of lives.
Jerin spearheaded the sexual harassment, assault, domestic violence and anti-stalking policy for the third largest university in the U.S. — while undocumented!
Now, as a proud American citizen, Jerin shares her story of overcoming obstacles to inspire others to be more inclusive and transcend barriers in their own lives. Just as Jerin didn’t allow being undocumented, poor and a Muslim feminist to prevent her from creating large-scale change, she wants every person to know that they can also find success despite their own challenges.
A captivating speaker, Jerin’s NowThis video on intersectionality has gone viral with over 1,000,000 views, showing people how to be more inclusive in simple, actionable steps. She has inspired countless individuals in the corporate and nonprofit sectors through: keynote speeches, presentations and trainings on a wide range of topics.
A movement builder, Jerin trains activists across the U.S. as the Founder of the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) inaugural virtual chapter, Young Feminists and Allies. She leverages her background in corporate and nonprofit communications strategies, along with expertise in women’s rights, to inspire leaders to create change in their own communities. Skilled at coalition-building, she engineers safe spaces for marginalized groups, such as sold-out events for LGBTQAI+ Muslims.
A multi-talented leader, Jerin’s award-winning work ranges from cutting-edge cancer research to community organizing. President Obama’s White House selected her out of 10,000 nominees to attend the historic United State of Women Summit.
Jerin’s work has appeared in diverse outlets from The Washington Post to Cosmopolitan Magazine, and she presents regularly to local, national and international audiences.
Jerin's grandmother was a child bride turned activist. She was a brilliant woman who was forced to marry at 13 and become a mother at 16. She always regretted not being able to continue her schooling. Since she couldn’t choose what she wanted to do with her life, she sought better for other girls and women. This desire triggered her to become a Force for Change, who imbued the feminist spirit in Jerin’s mother.
As the only girls in school, Jerin's mother and aunts endured constant sexual harassment from their male classmates. Jerin's grandfather grew tired of the harassment and took his daughters out of school. Jerin's grandmother, whose own education had been cut short, found it unfair that her daughters were being punished for other people's behavior, and advised them to go on a hunger strike to change their father's decision. The best part — she would secretly feed her daughters when Jerin's grandfather would leave home for work. He had no choice but to allow his daughters to return to school. They both went on to have successful careers.
Jerin's mother earned a Masters in Political Science and worked in a bank, while one of her aunts became an attorney.
It’s important to note that Jerin’s grandfather was not a misogynist who didn’t see the value of education for his daughters. He was a product of his time and felt that his most important duty as a parent was to protect his daughters from harm. He was afraid of sending them to the all-girls boarding school far from home, where he wouldn’t be able to protect them as well if they lived nearby. In many ways, he was ahead of his time. He adored Jerin’s grandmother and would brush her hair and paint her nails — tender acts most men of today would find too feminine to engage in.
Following in the footsteps of her grandmother and mother, Jerin has been an activist since childhood.
As a child, Jerin launched an anti-poverty program for homeless youth in Bangladesh. Many of these kids were domestic workers, enduring physical and sexual abuse with virtually no rights. Jerin's sister and friend came up with the idea to open a free literacy school. They couldn't understand why children just like them had to sleep on the street while they enjoyed the benefits of having a roof above their heads. When Jerin's sister told her about her plan, Jerin couldn't wait to get involved. Along with her sister and friends, Jerin met in the local park and taught literacy skills to the homeless youth to help them secure better jobs.
Jerin and her sister activists persisted despite strong protests from neighbors, who profited from the children's cheap labor. The young girls were inspired by Jerin's mother, who helped a housekeeper break the cycle of poverty. Jerin's mother encouraged and supported their housekeeper to become literate—doing the work she was paying him to do while he attended school—so he could obtain better employment.
Jerin's pursuit of social justice led her to adopt a holistic approach to social change. By the time Jerin was a teenager in the U.S., she was winning awards across disciplines — from writing and mathematics to cancer research in molecular biology.
Immigration was not an easy process for Jerin and her family, who barely spoke English when they arrived. It was a culture shock for Jerin, transferring from a strict Bangladeshi all-girls school to a co-ed middle school in the U.S. that was known for its violence. Jerin endured bullying daily, wondering each day if she would get home safely. In addition to racism and classism, Jerin dealt with sexual harassment because her mother, following the Bengali tradition, shaved Jerin’s hair before school started. Despite these hurdles, Jerin excelled in school — inviting yet another layer of bullying.
Jerin and her family faced exclusion from the Bengali community in the U.S. because of their nontraditional family structure. Most American-Bengali women come to the U.S. to follow their husbands, often joining them after they settle in a new land. Jerin’s mother did the opposite. She came to the U.S. as a single parent, and helped her husband settle years later. Jerin’s parents later separated, which caused further shame from the American-Bengali community, as divorce is still taboo in Bengali culture.
While this experience was painful, it did not discourage Jerin from helping some of those same people who excluded them, when they needed interpretation assistance in the hospital or referrals to resources.
Although Jerin's mother was a bank officer in Bangladesh, she had to take lower paying jobs like nannying due to lack of experience in the U.S. As a result, Jerin had to work full time and support her family while attending college. Jerin faced sexual harassment and other forms of exploitation at every job, the predators knowing all too well that her undocumented status gave her fewer rights than other women to speak out. Quitting a job before securing another one was never an option. She supported both herself and her family.
Jerin barely completed her final year in college, having to choose between paying for books or fixing a broken roof in her rental apartment. The landlord was a slumlord who systematically took advantage of undocumented tenants.
However, she didn't allow these barriers to keep her from creating change for millions.
In college, Jerin focused on gender and women's rights as the President of one of the most active groups on campus. She led her club to create social justice programming at least once every two weeks, working on everything from helping immigrant students to supporting her university’s union. She also served on the executive board of student government, helping manage a $2.5 million budget.
Jerin continued feminist activism well beyond college. As the Founder and President of the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) inaugural virtual chapter, Young Feminists and Allies, she convened generations of feminists—from the second wave to the fourth wave—to create change across the U.S. Young Feminists and Allies has intergenerational and intersectional members from AZ to NY.
Jerin led the diverse group in its support of Montana and Connecticut NOW chapters to bring justice against rape-apologist Judge Todd G. Baugh. They launched a public relations campaign, such as partnering with We Are UltraViolet to collect over 250,000 signatures, while feminist lawyers filed an amicus brief to the MT Supreme Court. Due to the online/offline integration of strategies, the judge was suspended, and decided not to run for re-election.
Under Jerin’s leadership, the Chapter used digital media to leverage activism on the ground. She hosted an international Google Hangout with participants from three continents on multicultural realities and responses to street harassment. She also led multiple national webinars on everything from Title IX to the need for intersectionality within feminism.
Jerin’s previous positions at NOW include National Board Member and Chair of the National and New York State Young Feminist Task Forces.
She also served on the board of the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute, along with Gloria Steinem. The organization trains mostly underserved middle, high school and college-aged girls and women to become leaders.
Within social justice, Jerin is most passionate about ending gender-based discrimination. Like other advocates, Jerin sees violence as the most extreme form of gender-based discrimination. She began volunteering as a domestic violence advocate as a teenager, interpreting for Bangladeshi survivors with limited English capabilities. Since then, she worked alongside leaders in the violence against women sector: as an advocate, front-line staff and movement builder.
Jerin masters the multi-prong approach to activism. In addition to skillfully organizing rallies / marches / protests / events on everything from reproductive justice to equal pay, she is equally adept at working on legislation. She is a coalition-builder with proven success uniting groups with varied interests for a common purpose. She did exactly that when she enlisted a fraternity to tackle the issue of sexual harassment and assault on campus.
A captivating speaker, Jerin’s NowThis video on intersectionality has gone viral with over 1,000,000 views, showing people how to be more inclusive in simple, actionable steps. Jerin has inspired countless individuals in the corporate and nonprofit sectors through: keynote speeches, presentations and trainings on a wide range of topics.
Jerin has known her purpose for a very long time, and intentionally built her career in a variety of sectors, ranging from a nonprofit startup with five employees to a multinational corporation of 8,000 team members.
Early on, she recognized the power of marketing and communications in creating change, and challenged herself to master these tools in diverse settings — ranging from commercial real estate to NGOs. For over a decade, she learned how to sell ideas in the corporate sector to bring back those skills to nonprofit causes.
Drawing on her expertise, Jerin helps individuals and organizations create communications strategies that change cultures and policies.
The communications skills Jerin honed over the years were invaluable when she navigated a complex bureaucracy and competing interests to create systemic change for half-a-million students and staff members. She brought together diverse community stakeholders—media, legislators, staff, faculty, students and City University of New York Board of Trustees—in a collaborative process of discovering needs and defining a desired policy against gender-based violence.
To ensure that the new policy would be inclusive of the voices of various stakeholders, she leveraged surveys, town hall meetings, events, Op-Ed pieces, and her marketing background to raise awareness and create an inclusive policy. She worked with other student activists to include an additional student member to the task force charged with creating the policy, to ensure there was LGBTQAI+ representation. She fostered leadership among other students by creating a safe space for victims and advocates as the President of the Hunter College Women’s Rights Coalition.
To change campus culture, Jerin fundraised and organized anti-violence programming. She led “Take Back the Night,” self defense classes, and trainings with Men Can Stop Rape, the Bringing in the Bystander® Program In-Person Prevention Program and other organizations. Trainees included students, faculty, staff, deans, athletics and public safety officials from City University of New York, New York University and Columbia University, and rape counselors from all across New York. Inspired by the dynamic workshops—especially on bystander intervention—the public safety officials in CUNY began incorporating the lessons from the workshops immediately for their training academy. The CUNY General Counsel Staff who was in charge of drafting the university-wide, sexual assault policy incorporated lessons from the training in the final draft of the policy.
Jerin has helped launch other large-scale projects, such as a $200,000 innovative program to fight domestic violence within Asian American communities in New York City. As the Project Manager, she helped develop the curriculum and trained dozens of volunteers for the largest Asian American anti-trafficking and domestic violence agency. This groundbreaking program taught volunteers not only to be pro-social bystanders against domestic and sexual violence, but also to recruit others in their communities to do the same.
Although more difficult to quantify, Jerin has impacted countless women, men and gender nonconforming folks through her tireless activism. Whether it was helping homeless Bangladeshi kids become literate to escape the vicious cycle of poverty, or helping domestic violence and rape victims recognize and seek out help, Jerin has not become numb through the multiple experiences of being a secondary survivor. It was the rape of someone close that prompted Jerin to become involved with V-Day at college. She helped publicize the events every year during college, and even after graduation. Her visible activism made her a likely confidante to students who sought out her advice.
Jerin is committed to applying intersectionality to her work, and is skilled at recruiting unlikely allies (e.g., a fraternity to fight rape culture on campus). She never shies away from challenging work, and has gracefully executed workshops on divisive topics such as building bridges among secular and feminists of faith and young / older feminists, and getting more men engaged with feminism.
Jerin fights patriarchy and racism every day, tactfully challenging sexist and racist behaviors from friends and strangers alike. Quite a few men credit her for helping them understand, identify with and support feminism. One of the reasons she is successful is her kind, gentle and respectful approach to educating people about the other “f-word.”
Another reason for Jerin's success is her ability to ask for and convince others to help. Her grateful and generous nature makes her always show gratitude and share with others everything she has.
Intersectional feminism is not just a theory, but how Jerin leads her life. As an immigrant, woman of color and American-Muslim feminist who used to be undocumented and lived in poverty, she is keenly aware of accessibility issues within feminism. In addition to fundraising, she leverages her leadership positions and makes personal sacrifices to create opportunities for others. She once took a 18-hour bus ride instead of flying to save money and allow other young feminists to attend a feminist conference.
Some of Jerin's national projects to end inequity have resulted in personal and racist attacks against her. Instead of being discouraged, she uses these obstacles as opportunities to learn, educate and connect to further social justice. She understands that there will always be resistance to change, but is steadfast in her pursuit to end all forms of oppression.
Jerin’s NowThis video on intersectionality has gone viral with over 1,000,000 views, showing people how to be more inclusive in simple, actionable steps.
A high empath, Jerin understands the interconnectedness of different systems of oppression. She knows that true feminism requires fighting to end all forms of inequity, everything from environmental abuses to cruelty toward animals.
Jerin’s intersectional search for justice and equity led her to volunteer for the American Cancer Society for over a decade, and the Humane Society for years. Behind all of Jerin's activism is her deep compassion for all living beings, culminating in the motto of "Empathy Above All.”
President Obama's White House chose Jerin out of 10,000 nominees to attend the Historic United State of Women Summit.
She received multiple awards for her achievements in science, scholarship and social justice. Her work has appeared in diverse media from The New York Times to Cosmopolitan, and she presents regularly to local, national and international audiences.
A practicing Muslim feminist, Jerin is happily married to an atheist, Alaskan man. They love exploring cultures and nature in New York City.
Click here for Jerin's CV.