Women's History Month 2021

March 31, 2021 – Concluding Note from the SIA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Student Advisory Group:

As Women’s History Month 2021, and our initiative to celebrate and honor the achievements of women, comes to a close, it is important to reflect on the global issues that impact us all. We must work together to solve big global challenges: COVID-19, climate change, enduring peace, and equality for all. Thank you for celebrating with us.

This effort has been organized by the DEI Student Advisory Group and supported by the Penn State School of International Affairs and the SIA Student Government Association (SGA). Special thanks to Adriana Rivera, Jasmine Green, Suparna Dutta, José Miguel LaTorre Ramos, Suad Patton Bey, Cassidy DiPaola, Andrea Magaña Tinoco, Sherrine Boseman-Rives, and Hope Raymond for their contributions to this project. We are very grateful for the hard work of the communications department and the support of the School of International Affairs.

May we all reflect on the words of Kavita N. Ramdas, a global advocate for women: “We need women who are so strong they can be gentle, so educated they can be humble, so fierce they can be compassionate, so passionate they can be rational, and so disciplined they can be free.”

May we all continue to  be inspired to #choosetochallenge.

 


 

We are celebrating Women’s History Month (including International Women’s Day on March 8) by highlighting 31 amazing women—one for each day of the month—whose achievements on the international stage inspire people across the globe. The women we have chosen to spotlight come from diverse backgrounds all over the world and their impact has, in many cases, emerged from personal triumphs and tragedies. They are role models for all who endeavor to be the change they want to see in the world.

The theme of International Women’s Day this year is #choosetochallenge, and we are extending that theme to all 31 women that we are highlighting throughout the month. Following their example, we all must meet the challenges of the world with effort, dedication, and purpose.

This initiative was organized by the SIA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Student Advisory Board and supported by the SIA Student Government Association (SGA) and the School of International Affairs. Special thanks to students Sherrine Boseman-Rives, Adriana Rivera, Jasmine Green, Suparna Dutta, José La Torre Ramos, Suad Patton Bey, Cassidy DiPaola, Andrea Magaña Tinoco, and Hope Raymond for their contributions to this project. The DEI Student Advisory Board is very grateful for the hard work of the SIA communications team, as well.

Please enjoy the spotlights and may you, too, be inspired to #choosetochallenge!

 

Julienne Lusenge, Human Rights Activist

Julienne Lusenge is an advocate for survivors of wartime sexual violence and a leading voice speaking out about the violence of war and gender-based violence of conflict (GBV). When civil war broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1998, Lusenge was working as a radio broadcast journalist and was responsible for communicating health and human rights information to remote areas. Throughout the war, she went from village to village conducting interviews and documenting instances of sexual violence, helping to bring victims’ stories to the forefront.

Motivated and outraged by what she saw in her country, in 2000 Lusenge co-founded Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development, an organization that works to bring issues of gender-based violence to the attention of international organizations, including the United Nations. Her vocal testimony contributed to the adoption, in 2008, of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1820 on women, peace and security, which declared sexual violence a weapon of war. She has been recognized with numerous awards, including the 2016 Ginetta Sagan Award from Amnesty International; 2018 Women’s International Rights Award from the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy; and an International Women of Courage Award by the U.S. Department of State in 2021, among others.

 

Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank

Christine Lagarde is a French politician, businessperson, and lawyer who has served as president of the European Central Bank (ECB) since 2019. Previously, she was chair and managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF); French minister of commerce; minister of agriculture and fishing; and minister of the economy, finance, and industry. She is the first woman to become finance minister of a G8 country and the first woman to lead the ECB and IMF. She ranked second on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list in 2019 and 2020.

Educated in the United States and France, Lagarde became a partner at Baker & McKenzie in 1987 and was elected as the first female chair of the international law firm in 1999. After transitioning to her role as trade minister for France, she encouraged foreign investment and prioritized opening new markets for French products, especially in the area of technology. Although the Financial Times ranked her the top finance minister in the Eurozone in 2009, she has experienced her share of controversy, including being found guilty of negligence in 2016 in connection with a major arbitration deal in favor of businessman Bernard Tapie.

 

Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations

Amina Mohammed is a Nigerian diplomat and politician who is currently serving as the fifth deputy secretary-general of the United Nations. Mohammed coordinated the Task Force on Gender and Education for the United Nations Millennium Project for three years (2002-2005), and from 2012 to 2015, she served as development planning special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. She was the minister of environment for Nigeria from 2015 to 2016, a critical period during which she steered the country’s efforts on climate action and protecting the natural environment from development risks.

Mohammed founded and led the Center for Development Policy, a think tank, and was an adjunct professor for the Master in Development Practice program at Columbia University. She was founder and executive director (1991-2001) of Afri Projects Consortium, a multidisciplinary firm of engineers and quantity surveyors. She serves on numerous international advisory panels and boards, including the Global Development Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Secretary General’s Global Sustainability Panel, the Hewlett Foundation on Education, and African Women’s Millennium Initiative.

 

Malala Yousafzai, Human Rights and Education Activist

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani education and human rights advocate who is the youngest person to win the Nobel Prize. Growing up in an area of Pakistan where girls were often banned from attending school, Malala became an advocate for the right to education. In 2012, she survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban and, following her recovery, rose to international prominence for her courage and commitment to speaking out about gender equality and the importance of education.

In 2013, she co-founded the Malala Fund, a nonprofit that works to provide girls around the world access to 12 years of free, safe, and quality education. In 2014, at 17 years old, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She wrote I Am Malala, an international best seller, and she has been featured three times as one of Time magazine’s most influential people globally. In April 2017, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Yousafzai as a UN Messenger of Peace, the youngest person to receive the distinction.

 

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

Angela Merkel became the first female chancellor of Germany in 2005 and is serving her fourth term. She is considered by many as the de facto leader of the European Union and leads the region's largest economy after steering Germany through a financial crisis and back to growth. Forbes magazine has named her the World’s Most Powerful Woman 13 times—from 2006 to 2009, and from 2011 to 2019. An October 2020 survey found that 75 percent of adults in 14 European countries trust Merkel more than any other leader in the region.

Merkel’s foreign policy approach emphasizes international cooperation, especially within the context of the European Union and NATO. She has received national honors and awards from 14 countries, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, and has been awarded honorary doctorates from at least 10 universities across the globe.

 

Francia Márquez, Human Rights and Environmental Activist

Francia Márquez grew up in La Toma, Colombia, near the banks of the Ovejas River, where she learned the value of the land and river as the lifeblood of the community. The Afro-Colombian community, of which Márquez is a part, has been practicing artisanal mining in and around the river for generations. But in 2014, illegal miners began descending on the area and wreaking havoc on the environment—contaminating the river with toxic chemicals, killing fish, and clearing nearby forests. Deciding to fight to preserve her community’s land, Márquez organized the women of La Toma to exert steady pressure on the Colombian government. Their actions culminated in a 10-day, 350-mile march of 80 women to the nation’s capital, resulting in the removal of all illegal miners and equipment from La Toma.

Márquez’s activism began at age 13, when she opposed the construction of a dam that was threatening her community. She went on to study law at Santiago de Cali University in order to better defend the environmental rights of local citizens through a deeper understanding of the legal system. She was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018 in recognition of her work stopping illegal gold mining in La Toma. Her success has inspired others, especially in the Afro-Colombian community, to resist illegal mining and preserve their right to stewardship over ancestral lands.

 

Khaleda Zia, Prime Minister of Bangladesh (1991-1996, 2001-2006)

Khaleda Zia developed a reputation as an “uncompromising leader” for her staunch opposition to the dictatorship of Hussain Muhammad Ershad. She was determined to restore democracy and organized protests throughout the nine years of the Ershad regime. She was put under house arrest several times for her role in these activities. Her persistence and ability to mobilize opposition among several political parties was a major factor leading to Ershad’s resignation in 1990.

Zia was sworn in as the country’s first female prime minister in 1991 and Bangladesh returned to a parliamentary form of government. She served three terms and during her tenure she worked to build regional cooperation in South Asia and adhered to the UN Charter of Human Rights. She has the distinction of being honored by New Jersey’s State Senate as a “Fighter for Democracy” in 2011.

In 2018, she was jailed under charges of corruption and misappropriation of public funds, charges that she and her political party say were fabricated by Zia’s political opponents in order to silence her. The current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has denied that the charges were politically motivated. Zia was released from prison in March 2020 due to her deteriorating health, under the condition that she must remain in the country. Despite the controversies, Zia’s life and legacy of fighting for democracy continues to loom large.

 

Edna Adan Ismail, Nurse Midwife and Activist

Edna Adan Ismail was born in Hargeisa, British Somaliland in 1937. She trained as a nurse and midwife in the United Kingdom, and is considered to be the first Somali woman to study in Britain. In 1980, Ismail began building a hospital in Hargeisa but was forced to leave the country in 1981 at the outbreak of the Somali civil war. She later returned and finished building the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital, which she continues to run.

In 2003, Ismail became the first foreign minister of Somaliland, serving in the role until 2006. She previously served as Somaliland's minister of family welfare and social development. She is currently president of the Organization for Victims of Torture and, throughout her life, she has been a strong advocate for abolishing female genital mutilation (FGM). The University of Toledo added her name to the Medical Mission Hall of Fame in 2007, and she has been awarded honorary degrees and fellowships from Clark University, Cardiff University, London South Bank University, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

 

Minerva Bernardino, Diplomat and Women’s Rights Advocate

Minerva Bernardino (1907-1998) was a diplomat from the Dominican Republic who promoted women’s rights internationally and is best known as one of four women among the 850 international delegates to sign the original charter of the United Nations.

In the early 1930s, Bernardino relocated for a short time to the United States, where she worked with the Inter-American Commission on Women. She returned to the Dominican Republic in the late 1930s to push for women’s suffrage there, which was granted in 1942.

Bernardino was instrumental in adding gender inclusive language to the preamble of the United Nations Charter, making sure phrases such as “equal rights of men and women” and “the dignity and worth of the human person” were included. She was a co-founder and chair of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which was established in 1946 to help promote women’s rights. She was the first vice president of the UN Economic and Social Council and the first vice president of UNICEF. She also established the Fundación Bernadino to continue the fight for women’s rights in the Dominican Republic after her death.

 

Chanchanit Martorell, Activist and Community Educator

Chanchanit Martorell is an activist, educator, urban planner, and a community development practitioner. She is the founder and executive director of the Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC), a nonprofit in Los Angeles that assists Thai immigrants with cultural adjustment and economic self-sufficiency services. Martorell is considered a leading expert on the issue of modern-day slavery and has worked on numerous human rights cases, including one that involved more than 400 Thai victims of human trafficking.

Martorell also works to promote social and economic justice, affordable housing development, small businesses, and neighborhood revitalization projects. She is the co-founder of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, the Asian Pacific Islander Small Business Program, the Rotary Club of Thai Town, and the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development. She has served, in a variety of capacities, in several organizations including the California Community Foundation Council on Immigrant Integration, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, Labor Community Services Program, Thai Community Arts and Cultural Center, and the Union Bank Community Advisory Board.

 

Irene Akua Agyepong, Public Health Physician

Dr. Irene Akua Agyepong is a public health physician with the Dodowa Health Research Center in Ghana and a faculty member of the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons. Agyepong is a leader on the international public health stage and is currently a member of the Independent Advisory Committee (IAC) for the Global Burden of Disease.

Previously, she was the chairperson of the Board of Health Systems Global; member of the Council of Deans for the First and the Second Global Symposium on Health Policy and Systems Research; member of the Advisory Group for the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Strategy for Health Systems Research; member and chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) of the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, WHO Geneva; and chair of the Scientific Oversight Group (SOG) of the Implementation Research Platform (IRP), WHO, Geneva. She also led a commission on the future of healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

Sarojini Naidu, Political Activist and Poet

Sarojini Naidu was born on February 13, 1879, in Hyderabad, India. She joined the independence movement in 1905 and was further inspired to fight for India’s freedom from British colonial rule after meeting with other leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. Naidu traveled throughout India to speak out on social welfare, women’s emancipation, and nationalism.

She helped create the Women’s Indian Association in 1917 and, that same year, traveled to London to advocate for universal suffrage in front of the Joint Select Committee. She was elected as president of the India National Congress in 1925 and was appointed governor of the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) in 1947, the first woman to hold either position in India.

A renowned orator and accomplished poet, she was also known as “The Nightingale of India.” Her first play, Maher Muneer, earned her a scholarship to study abroad.

 

Hillary Clinton, Lawyer, Politician, and Diplomat

In 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman to be nominated for president of the United States by a major political party. Previously, she served as a U.S. senator (2001-2009) and U.S. secretary of state (2009-2013).

As secretary of state, Clinton’s overall strategy was one of “smart power,” which combined military power with diplomacy, and she advocated for an expanded role in global economic issues, improved diplomacy, and empowering women across the globe. She is the most widely traveled secretary of state in U.S. history, visiting 112 countries during her tenure. Toward the end of her time at the State Department, she received criticism for her handling of an attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Clinton graduated from Yale Law School in 1973 and The National Law Journal has twice listed her as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the United States. In 1978, she was selected as the first female chair of the legal Services Corporation. The following year, she became the first female partner of Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas.

 

Tanzila Khan, Disability Rights Activist

Tanzila Kahn was born and raised in Pakistan. She speaks English, Urdu, and Punjabi, and earned a Bachelor of Laws degree in international development from the University of London. Khan is the founder of Girlythings, the first mobile application to deliver sanitary napkins for women with disabilities. She also founded Creative Alley, a company that trains and empowers the community through collective projects and interactive events.

Khan has written several books and speaks frequently on issues related to sexual and reproductive health and the importance of providing opportunities for people with disabilities around the world. She has received numerous awards, including Young Connector of the Future, from the Swedish Institute; a Young Leader from Women Deliver; and named a 2018 Changemaker from six-two, an online travel and lifestyle website.

 

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organization

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a global finance expert and international development leader. On March 1, 2021, Okonjo-Iweala became the first woman and first African to hold the position of director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO). She said that a key priority as director-general will be to work with WTO members to address the economic and health consequences facing many countries due to COVID-19. Prior to her current position, she spent 25 years as a development economist at the World Bank and served two terms as finance minister of Nigeria, the first woman to serve as finance minister in that country.

Okonjo-Iweala is on the boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, and the African Risk Capacity. She is also co-chair of the High Level Independent Panel (HLIP) on financing the global commons for pandemic preparedness and response, established by the G20. Euromoney magazine named her global finance minister of the year in 2005, and Forbes named her among the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the World for four straight years (2011-2014).

 

Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1979-1990)

Known as the “Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990—the first woman to hold that office and the longest-serving British prime minister of the twentieth century. Her political philosophy emphasized deregulation, privatization, and reducing the power of trade unions. She also supported policies to address climate change and helped bring environmental issues into the British mainstream.

Prior to her tenure as prime minister, Thatcher served as a member of parliament (1959-1970), secretary of education (1970-1974), and leader of the opposition (1975-1979).

Thatcher is a controversial figure in British politics—she survived an assassination attempt by the Irish Republican Army—with a complicated legacy, but her impact on British and global politics in the late twentieth century is significant. She is credited with establishing strong ties with then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and with Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, helping to warm relations between former Cold War adversaries. and assisted with creating an international environment that led to the end of the Cold War.

 

Greta Thunberg, environmental activist

Greta Thunberg was born on January 3, 2003, in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2018, at 15 years old, she founded the Fridays for Future movement with the goal of drawing Swedish lawmakers' attention to address climate change ahead of the 2018 elections. Through the movement, Thunberg and other students organized strikes from school every Friday and sat outside the country's parliament with signs that read "Skolstrejk för Klimatet" (School Strike for Climate).

Thunberg spoke at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, and her words inspired student strikes across the world, including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and United States. She also delivered a speech at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. Her age and gender have made her a target for critics, but she has also received many awards, including an honorary Fellowship of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019, and three consecutive nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize (2019-2021).

 

Begum Suhrawardy Ikramullah, Pakistani Politician, Diplomat, and Author

Begum Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah was born in 1915 in Calcutta, British India (now West Bengal, India). She was the first Muslim woman to earn a Ph.D. from the University of London and her doctoral thesis, "Development of the Urdu Novel and Short Story," was a critical study of Urdu literature. She wrote for magazines and newspapers and published numerous books, including Beyond the Veil (1953) and From Purdah to Parliament (1963), an autobiography.

Ikramullah was one of two female representatives at the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1947 and actively worked to improve gender equality and relations between East and West Pakistan. She was a delegate to the United Nations and helped draft the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, pushing for the inclusion of Article 16, which focuses on equal rights in marriage. She also worked on the Convention Against Genocide and was Pakistan’s ambassador to Morocco from 1964 to 1967. Ikramullah died in 2000 at the age of 85 and was posthumously awarded the Nishan-i-Imtiaz (Order of Excellence), Pakistan’s highest civil award, in 2002.

 

Hind Al-Zahid, Undersecretary for Women’s Empowerment, Saudi Ministry of Civil Service

Born in Damman, Saudi Arabia, Hind Al-Zahid has worked to break barriers and achieve personal success, and is now helping to empower women with more opportunities. In 2012, she started her own fashion business, Zoha Arabia Trading Company, and was featured in Forbes Arabia as one of the most promising young entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Zahid has been the manager of the Center for Women Entrepreneurs of the Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry since 2007 and was a member of the Women in the Workforce Council at the Ministry of Labor from 2011 to 2015. In 2017, she was nominated to the Board of Directors at the Dammam Airports Company, becoming the first female board member in the Saudi aviation industry. In 2019, she was appointed the undersecretary for women’s empowerment at the Saudi Ministry of Civil Service. In these roles, she has led numerous strategies to empower Saudi women to contribute effectively to the country's economic development.

 

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, Computer Scientist

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was a pioneer of computer engineering who was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I, and early modern computer. Born in New York City in 1906, Hopper graduated from Vassar College with degrees in mathematics and physics and would go on to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University.

Initially rejected from the Navy due to her age (34 at the time), Hopper joined the Navy Reserves during World War II. In addition to her work on the Mark I, which supported the U.S. war effort, she helped develop the UNIVAC I computer and was the first person to propose a computer programming language based on English. She retired from the Naval Reserve in 1966, was recalled to active duty in 1967, and retired from the Navy in 1986.

Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities across the world, had a college at Yale renamed in her honor, received the National Medal of Technology, and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

 

Wangari Muta Maathai, Social, Environmental, and Political Activist

Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya in 1940. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a Ph.D. and was also the first woman in Kenya to hold the positions of university professor and department chair. She founded the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots organization that focused on environmental conservation through the actions of women and helped spread green initiatives throughout Africa.  

In the early 2000s, Maathai was elected to the Parliament of Kenya and appointed as the assistant minister for the environment and natural resources, and was an honorary member of the World Future Council. She was internationally recognized for her work promoting democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation, and served on the boards of numerous organizations including the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament, the Jane Goodall Institute, World Learning for International Development, and Green Cross International. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, the first African woman to receive the award.

 

Ada E. Yonath, Chemist and Crystallographer

Ada E. Yonath was born in Jerusalem in 1939. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s in biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Ph.D. in crystallography from the Weizmann Institute of Science. Her scientific career took her across the globe—postdoctoral positions at Carnegie Mellon University and MIT, a research position at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, and as a visiting professor University of Chicago.

She is considered a pioneer for her work in crystallography, which she used to map the structure of the ribosome, a novel approach that initially drew skepticism from many in the scientific community. Since the ribosome is a major bacterial target for antibiotics, her work has led to new antibiotics and a better understanding of antibiotic resistance. For her efforts, Yonath received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009, becoming the first Israeli woman to win the Nobel Prize and the first woman from the Middle East to win a Nobel in the sciences.

 

Carmen Barroso, Academic, Activist, and International Leader

Carmen Barrosso began advocating against inequality at a young age, marching in high school for better schools and fairer treatment of students. After earning her Ph.D. from Columbia University, she returned to her native Brazil and established the country’s first women’s studies center. She taught reproductive health and rights as Hubert Humphrey Distinguished Professor at Macalester College and research methods at the University of Sao Paulo.

Barroso was the first non-American to be appointed as a director in the MacArthur Foundation, leading its Population and Development program, and has served on several boards, including the International AIDS Alliance. More recently, she served as the Regional Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation. She received the UN Population Award in 2016, given in recognition of outstanding contributions to reproductive health. Since retiring in 2016, she has been an active and vocal advocate for addressing climate change, healthcare, and gender equality.

 

Kizzmekia Corbett, American Immunologist

Kizzmekia Corbett is a viral immunologist at the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health (NIAID NIH). Her work at the VRC has been central to the development of the Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, which is currently being deployed in the United States, Canada, European Union, and United Kingdom. She is a modern-day history maker and visible proponent of vaccinations, especially in minority communities. She has conducted research on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and the dengue virus. As part of the latter research, Corbett worked as a visiting scholar at Genetech Research Institute in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

 

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, under-secretary general of the United Nations

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the under-secretary general of the United Nations and executive director of UN Women. Mlambo-Ngcuka began her career as a teacher and started her international experience as a coordinator at the the World Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Geneva, Switzerland. She holds a Ph.D. in education and technology from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. 

She has appealed to the UN General Assembly to ensure that women who have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic are not forgotten. In a recent statement on behalf of UN Women, Mlambo-Ngcuka said “As we face COVID-19’s devastation, there has never been a more important moment to resolve to put our combined resources and commitment behind the biggest issues, and to end violence against women and girls, for good.”

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author and scholar

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a celebrated author and scholar from Nigeria. She completed a master’s degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and a master of arts degree in African Studies from Yale University. She was a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University in 2005-2006; was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “MacArthur Genius Grant,” in 2008; and was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, in 2011-2012. 

Adichie has written books that have reignited interest in and sparked debate regarding African literature and modern feminism. Some of her well-known works include Purple Hibiscus (2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), Americanah (2013), and Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (2017).

 

Zhang Haidi, Chair of the China Administration of Sports for Persons with Disabilities

Zhang Haidi is a writer, translator, and inspirational speaker of Han nationality, born in the Shandong Province of China. At age five, Zhang became a paraplegic and, unable to attend school, educated herself to university level. She has been a tireless advocate for persons with disabilities and is now the chair of the China Administration of Sports for Persons with Disabilities, the national paralympic committee of China. In 2015, she was named executive chair of the Chinese Olympic Committee, Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Organizational Committee. She speaks several foreign languages, including English, Japanese, German, and Esperanto. She has written numerous books, including Beautiful English and A Dream in a Wheelchair, and has translated many Western literary works in to Chinese.

 

Nadia Murad, Human Rights Activist

Nadia Murad is an Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist who lives in Germany. In 2014, the Islamic State (IS) launched an attack on her home village that killed 600 men and took many young women and girls as prisoners and slaves, including Murad. After three months of the harrowing experience, she escaped to a refugee camp and eventually made her way to Germany. She has advocated for Yazidi women and has been outspoken about the atrocities of genocide, human trafficking, and violence against women.

Murad was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for her “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.” She is the first Iraqi and Yazidi to be awarded the Nobel Prize. She is the founder of Nadia’s Initiative, a nonprofit that advocates for survivors of sexual violence.

 

Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand

When Jacinda Ardern became prime minister of New Zealand in 2017, she became the world’s youngest female head of government and the country’s youngest prime minister in more than 150 years. She has led New Zealand through several crises, including the Christchurch mosque shootings and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ardern is an advocate for climate change initiatives and multilingualism—including calls for the introduction of compulsory instruction in Maori, an indigenous language in New Zealand. In June 2018, she became the first leader of a country in nearly three decades to give birth while in office, becoming an international role model for working women with children.

 

Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Human Rights Activist and Feminist

Rigoberta Menchú Tum is a Guatemalan feminist and human rights activist of K’iche’ background who has spent much her life promoting the rights of indigenous people globally. Menchú gained international prominence in 1983 with her widely translate book, I, Rigoberta Menchú, which told of her impoverished youth and detailed the murders of her family during the Guatemalan civil war. 

She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 and the Prince of Asturias Award in 1998 for her work highlighting human rights violations against Guatemala’s indigenous peoples during and after the civil war (1960-1996). She was appointed as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 1996 and was a spokesperson for the first International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. She founded Winaq, Guatemala’s first indigenous political party, and ran for president of the country in 2007 and 2011.