1. Grace Kodindo — doctor
Grace Kodindo campaigns every day for women’s healthcare to be acknowledged as a basic human right.
Dr Kodindo spent many years as the head of the maternity unit at the Central Hospital in N’Djamena, the capital city of Chad. Her daily battle to save the lives of pregnant women and their children was featured in a 2005 BBC film, Dead Mums Don’t Cry.
She continues to take the message to the world that women in poor countries are dying needlessly because they can’t get reproductive healthcare.
2. Nafis Sadik — U.N. leader
Dr Nafis Sadik led a 1994 U.N. conference that was a defining moment for women’s health and rights.
Sadik brought world leaders together to commit to universal education for women, reducing child and maternal mortality, and increasing access to sexual and reproductive health services.
She’s been a courageous and tireless advocate for women for more than 60 years highlighting the difficult issues that impact their lives: abortion, contraception, and education, as well as rape and other forms of violence against women.
3. Fahma Mohamed — FGM campaigner
Fahma Mohamed is spearheading a national campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM).
Her petition urging schools to train teachers and parents about the horrors of the practice has been signed by hundreds of thousands of people, and the Secretary General of the U.N,, Ban Ki-moon has called her campaign “deeply inspiring.”
She’s taken her campaign to Education Secretary Michael Gove, who has already agreed to send a letter to every school asking them to teach children about the risks and warning signs of FGM.
4. Graça Machel — international women’s advocate
Former freedom fighter Graça Machel campaigns globally for women’s and children’s rights.
As Mozambique’s first Minister of Education and Culture after independence – and the only woman in cabinet — Graça Machel doubled primary school enrollment for girls.
With her late husband Nelson Mandela she was a founding member of the Elders, a group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. She is now a U.N. independent expert on the impact of war on children.
5. Mama G — family planning pioneer from Sierra Leone
Anna Macauley (affectionately known as Mama G) is a family planning pioneer in Sierra Leone.
She has spent 15 years struggling to take contraception to women and girls in the remotest parts of the country. She has also trained other health workers on how to provide family planning, ensuring her legacy will continue long into the future.
Mama G has worked tirelessly in difficult terrains and social environments, and through periods of political unrest to raise awareness of the importance of family planning.
6. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn — journalists
Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s groundbreaking 2009 book Half the Sky shone a light on the oppression faced by women around the world.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists’ book showed the reality of the huge range of issues affecting women, from maternal mortality and obstetric fistulas to sex trafficking.
Following the success of the book, they started the Half the Sky movement — to “ignite the change needed to put an end to the oppression of women and girls worldwide.”
7. Afsana Babli — local politician and campaigner
Afsana Babli campaigns and raises money for better maternal healthcare in her community.
She is a grassroots politician from Bangladesh who lives and works in a flooded region of Bangladesh, where many women still die in childbirth. She’s set up a fund to pay for poorer women’s transport to medical facilities and has been raising money from wealthy community members to pay the costs.
Babli is now pushing the regional and national governments to make sure that they pay for trained maternal healthcare within the community.
8. Melinda Gates — philanthropist
In 2012 Melinda Gates helped kick-start a global movement to provide contraception to 120 million more women in some of the world’s poorest countries.
She is a co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and has stepped forward to become a global champion for women and girls and a leading figure in family planning.
Describing her motivation she said, “Why have women not been at the heart of the global health agenda? It’s because we’ve not had enough women speaking out. We need to give a voice to women all over the planet.”
9. Meaza Ashenafi — Ethiopian lawyer
Meaza Ashenafi has dedicated her life to the battle to protect the rights of Ethiopian women.
Meaza’s achievements are astounding. She became a High Court judge at 25, helped to draft the Ethiopian Constitution (ensuring women’s rights were included), was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, established Ethiopia’s first bank exclusively for women, and is now a Women’s Rights Adviser to the U.N.
But Meaza is best known for setting up a legal aid centre for poor women fighting injustice. More than 100,000 women have used the service to fight cases such as child abduction and domestic abuse.
10. Chantal Compaoré — First Lady of Burkina Faso
Chantal Compaoré is a campaigner and philanthropist working for women’s rights and empowerment.
Mrs Compaoré, now the First Lady of Burkina Faso, founded the SUKA foundation in 1987, which strives to eradicate illiteracy and malnutrition among women and children in some of the most impoverished areas of Burkina Faso.
In 2005 she established a women’s house in Balé that provides a safe haven for women who have suffered abuse, forced marriage, and genital mutilation.
11. Esther Worae — Ghanaian healthworker
Esther Worae runs a project in Accra, Ghana helping improve the lives of vulnerable female market workers.
She has worked as a nurse and a midwife for more than 30 years in the UK and Africa, and now is dedicating herself to supporting some of Ghana’s poorest women: market head-porters, known as the Kayayei.
Women and girls as young as 10 travel to Ghana’s capital to try and escape poverty and find a better life. Worae explains: “They are so vulnerable, sleeping outside on the streets. They have no one, so I tell them: I’m their mother; I’m here to care for them. My phone is always on and I do whatever I can to help them.”
12. Dr. Suraya Dalil — Afghan Minister of Health
Afghan Health Minister Dr. Suraya Dalil is battling to reduce the shocking number of women dying as a result of pregnancy in Afghanistan.
During her time as health minister, the country’s rate of maternal deaths has already halved.
But there is still much to do. And despite all the cultural and political obstacles, she is continually pushing the message that birth spacing and access to family planning lead to fewer women dying as a result of pregnancy.