1. Pooja Taparia
The World Health Organization reports that India has the highest number of sexually abused children worldwide. That’s why in 2007 Pooja founded Arpan, an organization to prevent child sexual abuse and heal those who have been affected by abuse and exploitation. So far, she and her colleagues have directly helped 50,000 children and adults.
2. Edna Adan Ismail
Edna started a hospital in her home country of Somaliland, which has the highest rate of maternal and infant mortality in the world. Diane Lane has called Edna her personal hero, but Edna isn’t resting on her laurels. Her next goal is to dispatch 1,000 life-saving midwives throughout the country.
3. Lydia Sasu
Lydia takes women’s empowerment head on as she organizes farmers, fish producers, and other women across Ghana. The farming co-operative she started works in 50 rural communities to promote female leadership, as well as access to land, education, technology and other resources to empower women and their communities.
4. Neema Namadamu
Neema heads up the organization Maman Shujaa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In the DRC, it’s common for girls to believe their calling is to serve men. But Neema sees wider horizons for the country’s girls, which is why she works to inspire women leaders. She has an ambitious plan for girls in her country: “I’m not interested in making a little noise—I’m looking to CHANGE THE PARADIGM!”
5. Dr. Christine Dranzoa
War may have ravaged her native Uganda, but Christine is a professor with a mission. She serves on the executive board for the Forum for African Women Educationalists, which advocates for girls’ education in 32 African countries. Coming from humble beginnings, Christine credits determination for her success so far. “I was very hard working. Very disciplined. High integrity. And setting for myself goals. And no one could derail me from them.”
6. Ruwani Renuka
Women make up 52 percent of Sri Lanka’s population, but only 2 percent of elected officials. Ruwani and her colleagues at the Social Transformative Action Network for Development (STAND) want women to be more involved in decision-making processes and make their voices heard. Even in the face of persistent poverty and inequality in Sri Lanka, STAND is helping women open doors to expanded economic and leadership opportunities in their communities.
7. Suraya Pakzad
Despite the personal danger, in 1998 Suraya founded the organization Voice of Women in Afghanistan to educate women and advocate for women’s rights. She now runs a range of projects that support disadvantaged and oppressed women, and was even named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 people who most affect our world.
8. Linda Chukwunyere
As Chief Operating Officer of the African Youth Development Foundation, Linda dedicates her days to transforming the lives of women and children in rural communities of Nigeria. Her mission is to change attitudes about women as local economies grow, including helping widows to get back on their feet.
9. Maria Alicia Calles
Maria Alicia founded Unión de Mujeres Campesinas Hondureñas to fight for agriculture reform so that men and women farmers have equal footing in her native Honduras. Despite only having a limited education, this activista Hondureña works tirelessly to make sure that the voices of rural women are part of important decision-making throughout the country.
10. Dr. Sakena Yacoobi
Defying all odds, Sakena founded the Afghan Institute of Learning in 1995 to provide Afghan girls with education and access to better health services. It began with two schools in refugee camps and by 2001 had reached 1.4 million women and children, including 80 underground homeschools inside Afghanistan. Today, her organization reaches over 400,000 women and children annually through learning centers, schools, health programs and training.
11. Renee Marcelle
Human trafficking and sex slavery in Nepal take a devastating human toll. In 2010, California native and lawyer Renee Marcelle took action to combat the practice, co-founding the Journey Home Foundation. She spends her days providing pro bono legal support for low-income women and children.
12. Jamila Afghani
Jamila is the founder of Noor Educational & Capacity Development Organization in Afghanistan. Jamila has survived polio and a gunshot wound to the head, but still dedicates her life to empowering women and building their capacities for a strong, peaceful, and prosperous nation.
And two pretty fierce men, too…
13. Sirajul Islam Rony
Sirajul is the president of Bangladesh National Garments Workers Employees League, which advocates for economic and human rights for garment workers—no small feat, as Bangladesh’s garment industry is the second largest in the world and employs about 4 million people. Considering that 80 percent of garment workers in the country are women, he’s doing some serious work expanding their rights.
14. Juhudi Mbwambo
Juhudi founded Elimu Community Light to empower marginalized groups, especially young girls, in his home country of Tanzania. In Tanzanian culture, girls are not given the same access to education as boys because they have more domestic duties at home. Why is helping girls so important to Juhudi? “I believe women are the center of societal change,” he’s said.
15. Want to meet more inspirational women?
Visit Women Thrive Worldwide online.