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14 Asian Women Who Are Changing The World

Asian queens.

1. Yusra Mardini

Ker Robertson / Getty Images

After swimming for more than three hours to get her boat to land when the small dinghy full of refugees began to capsize, Yusra Mardini, an 18-year-old Syrian, competed in the 2016 Olympic games. She said about tackling the dehumanisation of refugees like her: “I want everyone to think refugees are normal people [with] dreams in their lives."

2. Constance Wu

Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images

Award-winning Taiwanese-American actress Constance Wu has been a critical voice in calling out the lack of diversity in mainstream media. She spoke up on the whitewashing of Ghost in the Shell and spoke about telling real stories, saying: "What I want is to foster the Asian-American writers and directors and producers and actors, to foster their stories to come into the spotlight a little bit."

3. Negin Khpalwak

Despite threats and her family's disapproval, Afghan teenager Negin Khpalwak fell in love with music and now leads an orchestra of 35 women at the Afghanistan National Institute for Music. "I will never accept defeat," she told Reuters. "I will continue to play music. I do not feel safe, but when people see me and say, 'That is Negin Khpalwak,' that gives me energy."

4. Pramila Jayapal

Elaine Thompson / AP

In 2016, Pramila Jayapal became the first Indian-American woman to serve in the House of Representatives. Before entering electoral politics she founded Hate Free Zone (now known as OneAmerica), an advocacy group for immigrants, and campaigned for the rights of immigrants, women, and people of colour.

5. Stephanie Murphy

Business consultant, professor, and politician Stephanie Murphy became the first Vietnamese-American woman to be elected to Congress in 2016. She was the first woman in her family to go to college and now has a role in Support Our Scholars, a nonprofit organization that helps economically challenged young women attend college.

6. Seyhan Arman


Turkish transgender rights activist and playright Seyhan Arman spoke out against the murder of Hande Kader in 2016 and aims to improve the lives of trans people in Turkey, which has the highest murder rate of trans people in Europe. She sees herself as an older sister to young trans women, and reassures them that "Life is good. Everything will be alright in the end."

7. Sonita Alizadeh

Bryan R. Smith / AFP / Getty Images

After escaping an arranged marriage at age 16 by uploading a rap video called "Daughters for Sale" and uploading it to YouTube, Alizadeh became a prominent Afghan rapper and activist working against her country's practice of selling child brides. She currently attends university in the US on a full scholarship, and starred in a winning documentary about her life at Seattle International Film Festival in 2016.

8. Chrissy Teigen

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Chrissy Teigen, an American model of Norwegian and Thai descent, is consistently speaking up about injustices in her industry. This year she discussed the pressure on women to lose weight after having a baby, fuelled by misleading celeb weight-loss stories. She also called out the lack of diversity in the Miss Teen USA pageant and generally had the best Twitter of all.

9. Muzoon Almellehan

Twitter: @ChimeforChange

After witnessing half of the 40 girls in her class at Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp drop out of school to get married, Syrian Muzoon Almellehan began campaigning to keep Syrian girls in school. She told The Guardian, "If your marriage isn’t working, education can be a weapon to escape. If you are not educated then nothing can protect you." Almellehan hopes to return to Syria after training as a journalist.

10. Asieh Amini

Atta Kenare / AFP / Getty Images

Asieh Amini is an Iranian poet, journalist, and women's rights activist who fights against honour killings and injustices towards women in Iran's judicial system. She founded the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign in 2006. After receiving death threats, Amini relocated her family to Norway, where she is continuing her writing and activism, and is studying for a master’s in equality and diversity.

11. In Gee Chun

Scott Halleran / Getty Images

In Gee Chun, a 22-year-old South Korean golfer, won the Evian Championship this year. Despite just becoming a full-time golf pro in 2016, she not only won with a score that broke the record for women but also broke the record for anyone ever.

12. Reshma Qureshi

Trevor Collens / AFP / Getty Images

Indian model, vlogger, and acid attack survivor Reshma Qureshi has been working with Make Love Not Scars, a nonprofit that helps with the rehabilitation of acid attack survivors, since 2014. In 2016 she walked the runway at New York Fashion Week. She said: "This walk was important to me because there are so many girls like me who are survivors of acid attacks, and this will give them courage."

13. Habiba Da Silva

Habiba Da Silva, a 22-year-old fashion designer of Lebanese and Brazilian descent, created a hijab line called Skin, in a range of nude colours complimenting all skin tones. She told BuzzFeed News: "I wanted to do something where everybody was [included] and I wanted to showcase different people together."

14. Amna Suleiman


In Gaza, where it is frowned upon for women past the age of puberty to cycle publicly, Amna Suleiman is leader of a cycling club for women. A Qur'an teacher and orphanage volunteer, Suleiman has collected a group who feel a shared defiance against the expectations of women. She describes how “riding a bike makes you feel like you are flying".

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