Throughout history, women all over the world have organized and championed causes that affect society as a whole. From the Women’s March on Versailles in 1789 to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement, women have been catalysts for change. Women have long been transformational leaders: they lead with the goal of affecting change in individuals and social systems. In our patriarchal society, we often equate leadership with masculine qualities; however, women rank higher in the qualities of what makes a good leader—this according to a study by Pew Research Centre which identified good leadership characteristics such as honesty, intelligence, compassion, and organization to be more innate in women. The proof is in women’s relentless push to address issues that have plagued societies over centuries.
Women have risen up to fight inequality, bodily autonomy, representation, violence, harassment, discrimination, education, wage gaps, healthcare, racism, and climate change. Women, who have long been described as the “fairer” gender, have been warriors—not only for themselves, but for the betterment of humanity. The 10 women identifying persons highlighted in this article come from different lived experiences in different parts of the world, yet they share a passionate motivation to push our world towards progress and positive change. Let’s celebrate their leadership and dedication to making a better, more just, inclusive, and sustainable world.
1. Aaron Rose Philip: Fashion Icon
Aaron Rose Philip is challenging and changing the fashion industry and the definition of beauty standards. After starting her modeling career at the age of 16, she became the first Black, transgender, and physically disabled model signed to a major modeling agency, Elite Model Management, in 2018. In 2022, she became the first model to walk the runway in a wheelchair at the Moschino spring / summer 2022 fashion show. In an interview with Vogue Magazine, the Antiguan American model said that she decided to start her modeling career after looking at fashion magazines and never seeing anyone who looked like her. “… I’d look at all the [fashion] shows and it was surprising to see just how many people really don’t think that disabled people also like to get dressed and feel good,” she told Vogue.
With her career on an upward trajectory, Aaron Rose is quickly becoming an in-demand model and household name in the fashion industry—and in an industry known for exclusion and lack of diversity that is revolutionary. In an interview, Aaron Rose laid out the impact she hopes to make on the world: “My purpose is to normalize the presence of disabled people, women who are trans and gender nonconforming trans people. So that we can work, live and be authentically adored in the high fashion industry and the world itself as a whole.” With her talent and steadfast determination, Aaron Rose is paving the way for an inclusive, diverse, and better future for everyone.
2. Autumn Peltier: Water Warrior
Autumn Peltier has been a water protection activist from a young age. At just 12 years old, she captured the world’s attention when she scolded Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, face-to-face, about his support of a number of pipeline projects directly affecting First Nation communities in Canada. Having learned about the importance of clean water and respecting the environment from her mother and great-aunt Josephine Manamin, who was known as the “water walker” in their community, Autumn fights for people’s right to have access to clean drinking water, on reserves in Canada and worldwide. In February 2019, after the passing of her great-aunt, Autumn was appointed the Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner and became the new “water walker” of her people.
Her positive contributions as a water-rights protector have been widely recognized. She was named one of Maclean’s “20 people to watch in 2020,” and nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2017, 2018, and 2019. She was also named a “Science Defender” by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2019. In 2021, she was awarded the RevolutionHER Community Vision Youth Award. In the spring of 2022, Autumn released a short documentary film titled The Water Walker which follows her story as she prepares to speak at the United Nations. Autumn continues her fight for change and speaks about water preservation and clean water rights, but she doesn’t want to stop at activism. Her goal is to obtain a law degree and then impact change by becoming prime minister or minister of environment.
3. Edna Chavez: Gun Control and Immigration Reform Spokesperson
Edna Chavez grew up in South Central Los Angeles witnessing routine gun violence and the affects of hateful immigration laws on her community. Edna’s own father was deported, and she lost her 14-year-old brother Ricardo during a shooting outside her family home. In a speech during the March for Our Lives rally in Washington D.C., Edna described that the regular gun violence, which she says cost her many loved ones, had become so normal in her community that she learned to duck from bullets before she learned to read. Before the 2016 election, Edna decided that it was time to fight for the lives of her friends and family. She began getting more involved with Community Coalition, a non-profit organization that works to combat addiction, crime, violence, and poverty is South L.A., and joined their youth leader program South Central Youth Empowered Thru Action. Edna decided that her advocacy for social change would include her personal story and experiences so she can spotlight the injustices faced by her community.
She was featured in Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21 and wants the world to remember her name, remember victims’ names, and remember how they’re fighting for change. Through outreach in schools and rallies, Edna is helping build the next generation of student activists. She knows that South L.A. is not the only community affected by poverty, violence, lack of education and mental health funding and resources, and trauma. She wants young leaders—especially Black and Brown youth—to break the cycle that has been ignored for decades. Edna knows that real change comes from policy and law reform, so she is a student voter registration organizer working to get more young people to raise their voices for change.
4. Haben Girma: Human Rights and Accessibility Champion
Haben Girma is a human rights lawyer advancing disability justice and fighting for accessibility and inclusion in physical and digital spaces. She made history in 2013 when she became the first deafblind woman to graduate from Harvard Law School. As a child of Eritrean refugees who came to the United States to escape the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Haben learned to advocate and fight for freedom from her parents. In an interview with MSNBC, Haber said, “My parents came to the United States seeking opportunities, and they found it’s not geography that creates freedom; it’s people and communities that create freedom. All of us face a choice to accept unfairness or advocate for justice.”
Since graduating Harvard, Haben has been involved in several cases on behalf of people with disabilities and has focused on advocacy work. She was named a White House Champion of Change by President Obama and received the Helen Keller achievement award. Haben travels the world to teach about inclusion, especially in the work force. Her message is a resounding call to action: “Let’s encourage employers to hire more people with disabilities. Stop assuming we’re incompetent. We are talented; we work hard. It’s just ableism, the assumption that people with disabilities are inferior, that gets in our way. And we need society, especially employers, to remove those barriers.” In 2019, she published a memoir titled Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.
5. Hanyuan (Karen) Wang: Climate Entrepreneur
Karen Wang is passionate about technology and the climate. With a background in data science from China, Karen set out to help companies reach their net zero goals by creating a data-as-a-service (DAAS) platform that “measures and analyzes climate change information with easy access.” This technology is meant to “facilitate decision-making in order to combat climate change, especially in developing countries.” Karen is also a research assistant at Imperial College’s Centre for Climate Finance and Investment, focusing on green finance—a system that increases access to environmentally friendly goods and services, equalizes the transition to a low-carbon society, and promotes more socially inclusive economic growth.
Karen became the first Chinese woman to be named a Young Leader of Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations and won first prize at the UNDP Annual Youth National Dialogue in 2021. Karen is committed to making “a transparent and interoperable system for measuring, reporting, and comparing greenhouse gas emissions and removals.” Her research and database address climate change on the corporate level which is crucial to the health of our environment.
6. Heela Yoon: Peace Advocate
Heela Yoon is an Afghan refugee living in the United Kingdom. She says that it took her a long time to consider herself a refugee, but that this recognition really influenced her peace-building initiatives and humanitarian work. Heela is the founder of the Afghan Youth Ambassadors for Peace Organization—a grassroots-level organization, working in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan, that creates platforms for young Afghan activists from different ethnic and religious backgrounds to work on the localization of UN resolution and peacebuilding. Heela advocates for Afghan girls’ education and trains young girls in Nangahar, Laghman, and Kabul in gender equality and leadership, and as first responders to humanitarian crises.
She worked with the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) as their fourth Cora Weiss Peacebuilding Fellow, as well as with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan as a program director. She is also a research consultant with Amnesty International, focusing on the human rights situation in Afghanistan. Heela was recognized by the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice as one of their young emerging peacemakers, and was featured as one of the Young Leaders for the UN Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy. Heela is trying to increase support for NGOs that are led by young women. Her ultimate goal is to create systemic ways to build peace and implement sustainable development goals in order to make permanent change.
7. Lillian Lennon: LGBTQIA+ Activist
Lillian Lennon is a genderqueer, transgender woman born and raised in Alaska, moving between Anchorage, where she was born, and the tiny town of Talkeetna. When she was just 14 years old, her parents sent her thousands of miles away from home to Utah where she was forced to undergo conversion therapy for two years. This dangerous and discredited practice, which has been banned in Canada, 20 US states, and the District of Columbia, falsely claims that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity can be changed. During her “treatment,” Lillian was forced to reside in a boys’ dorm or in an isolation chamber. The staff refused to recognize her gender identity or call her by her pronouns. When she refused to conform, the centre sent her to a second facility where she was subjected to further physical and emotional abuse. Since her experiences of living as a queer person in a small town and being sent away for conversion therapy, Lillian became a career activist and organizer working to champion LGBTQIA+ causes and protect queer people from discriminatory laws and harmful practices.
She co-founded Talkeetna Pride to bring Pride celebrations to her hometown and to humanize and create visibility for the queer community. In 2018, Lillian took a break from her university studies in Anchorage in order to become a field organizer with the Fair Anchorage campaign and fight against Proposition 1—”a citizen initiative to restrict access to public bathrooms and locker rooms based on an individual’s sex assigned at birth.” The proposition was defeated. Lillian was proud of her parents who came a long way since a therapist helped them accept Lillian’s identity. They supported her work by helping to organize business coalitions to rally against the proposition. Lillian has worked for organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Trans Leadership Alaska, and Choosing Our Roots. She plans on continuing to serve Talkeetna, Anchorage, and the state of Alaska, and may consider running for political office later in life.
8. Dr. Nakeema Stefflbauer: Tech Career Builder
Dr. Nakeema Stefflbauer has turned her education and years of experience in the fields of technology and research into a “mission to address the marginalization of immigrant, refugee, and working-parent women from the technology industry.” Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Dr. Stefflbauer now resides in Berlin, Germany, where she runs a non-profit called FrauenLoop.org, a network of women tech professionals who mentor and train women-identifying persons in computer programming and helps them build careers in tech. The organization’s goal is to change the face of EU-based tech companies by providing opportunities to women who have immigrated to a new country, changed family status, or changed careers and don’t have tech industry connections.
Through a series of evening classes and weekend workshops, women receive the instruction and skills they need to build a career in tech, all at no cost to them. The organization website features a list of graduates who have made full-time careers in tech due to their involvement with FrauenLoop. With the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its adaptation into the business world, Dr. Stefflbauer recognizes that more and more jobs will rely on technological knowledge which stands to impact marginalized communities more than ever. She is committed to equip these communities with the tools they need to enter this job market and succeed. Her organization is the embodiment of women empowering women.
9. Ronelle King: Gender Justice Fighter
Ronelle King is an Afro-Barbadian human rights activist and intersectional Caribbean feminist. As a survivor of gender-based violence, Ronelle says that she began her advocacy work for herself and others who have been victimized by what she calls “rape culture.” She started spreading awareness online by sharing her experience and creating a safe space for others to share theirs with the hashtag #Lifeinleggings. Her hashtag quickly spread across the Caribbean and then into the Diaspora, creating a global movement. This evolved to a grassroots organization called Life In Leggings: Caribbean Alliance Against Gender-based Violence through Education, Empowerment & Community Outreach.
As director of the organization, Ronelle focuses on working to reduce the pervasive rape culture and help eradicate regional occurrences of gender-based violence in the Caribbean. Some of her initiatives include Reclaim Our Streets: Women’s Solidarity March, the first and largest cross-regional civil society led march against street harassment and other gender-based violence which make public spaces unsafe for women and girls; Insurgents: Redefining Rebellion in Barbados, a curated, interactive, and highly accessible exhibition to highlight activism and acts of resistance in Barbados; , a movement aimed to include and encourage men and boys to join the fight against gender-based violence by challenging toxic and hyper-masculinity and developing more positive, non-oppressive ways to express masculinity; and Pink Parliament, an initiative that encourages young women and girls to pursue careers in politics to increase their participation in making decisions and new laws.
She is currently working on a couple of new projects: Youth for Gender & Climate Justice and Protecting Our Region’s Elders (P.O.R.E). Although Ronelle views her work as “a small role in helping to create an inclusive, sustainable, and equitable region for all,” she has been recognized as a major changemaker. Ronelle was awarded the 2017 Youth Hero Award, the 2018 Queen’s Young Leader Award, the 2022 Future Island Leader Award, and the 2022 Ignite Caribbean 30 Under 30 Changemaker Award. She was also named one of the United Nations Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth’s young leaders. Ronelle continues to expand her causes and has taken on climate action projects as well.
10. Senti Sojwal: Reproductive Justice Leader
Senti Sojwal was born in India and raised in New York City. She says that “being a transnational, bicultural person” and having to constantly negotiate her identity, gave her “a lens for intersectional advocacy.” Senti is a reproductive justice activist, intersectional feminist organizer, and writer. Her writing on reproductive health and feminist issues has been published on several platforms, including Thirteen, The Huffington Post, Rewire, and more. She ran an award-winning column called Feministing Five at feministing.com and is a co-editor of the Black / Asian Feminist Solidarities at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop project.
Senti co-founded the Asian American Feminist Collective, a grassroots racial and gender justice group that “works to interrogate and dismantle systems of racism, imperialism, patriarchy, and capitalism.” She has worked with NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Population and Development Program, and was a leading student organizer of the Civil Liberties & Public Policy annual conference at Hampshire College called From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom. Senti was also named one of 15 Asian Pacific American Feminists Everyone Should Know. She believes that “we can only achieve reproductive justice through an intersectional lens: by analyzing power systems, centering the most marginalized, and joining together in solidarity.” In a blog post for thirteen.org, Senti wrote that “in a post-Roe America, achieving reproduction justice feels further away than ever,” and that “ … it’s people of colour, the working class, immigrants, queer and trans people, and others on the margins that continue to suffer the most.” She concluded her post with a message: “Abortion rights are racial justice—and we’re in the fight for our future.”
There are many incredible intersectional women working to change our world for the better. It is women like these who will continue to raise awareness and move our world forward in a positive direction. It is women like these who are taking on the work for all of us, who are championing all of our rights and freedoms, and who are creating a world that serves us all. Let’s put our hands together in appreciation to these powerful and important women changemakers.