To celebrate International Women's Day, we have put together a list of 16 women to watch for 2016...
International Women’s Day is here and we could not be happier. The symbolic day unites women (and men) across the globe, celebrating how far we have come and raising awareness on how much further we still have to go. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up 16 inspirational women, from refugees and entrepreneurs to political advisors and Youtube poets, all of whom are doing amazing things in 2016…
Muzoon Almellehan This 17-year-old Syrian refugee is fast becoming known as the ‘Malala of Syria.’ She has risen to prominence campaigning against child marriage and fighting for girls’ education, recently addressing world leaders at a UN conference alongside Malala. Before accepting asylum in the UK, she spent three years in a refugee camp in Jordan, where she daily went from tent to tent, convincing families to educate their daughters rather than marry them off. She and Malala have joined forces on a number of occasions to speak about the importance of girls’ education, and 2016 looks set to be an important year for them both.
Haneefa Adam You may not know the London-based Nigerian student by name, but you will probably have heard of her 2016 creation: the world’s first hijab wearing Barbie, Hijarbie. In an effort to make UK toys more diverse, Haneefa set up an Instagram account featuring the modestly dressed doll wearing high fashion looks that she designed and created herself under the tagline ‘mini hijab fashion’. Speaking of her line Haneefah explained ‘I hope by updating the page, I’m able to inspire the Muslim girl child and the world at large and hopefully make a positive impact’. After its viral response she is now in the process of actually manufacturing a Muslim doll wearing couture tunics and glamorous hijabs to bring to the market. Hijarbie should be on her way soon, so listen out for Haneefah in 2016.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy The Pakistani filmmaker won an Oscar for best documentary short just weeks ago with her powerful film on honour killings in Pakistan, ‘A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness’. Seemingly a trend at this year’s Academy Awards (we’re looking at you Leo), she used her acceptance speech to advocate for a bigger cause, bringing attention to the urgent matter of honour killings, particularly in Pakistan. The crime is rarely prosecuted and therefore largely underreported, making it a difficult issue to combat. Apparently however, since Obaid-Chinoy’s speech, changes have already been made with several reports of people being sentenced for the crime surfacing already.
Savannah Brown Do you remember the viral YouTube video poem ‘I Am A Slut’ that slammed misogyny in November? This 19-year old poet was behind it. Savannah has a YouTube channel where she regularly posts inspiring and provocative video poems, calling out the double standards that women are routinely subjected to. Often dealing with sexuality, gender, mental health and sexism, her poem ‘What Guys Look for in Girls,’ has raked in over four million views. She’s releasing her first poetry book, Graffiti, this year, which promises to be just as inspiring.
Cameron Esposito This female stand up comedian is a rising star on the LA comedy scene and a keen LGBT advocate. Regularly using her sharp wit to highlight important issues, one of her stand up sketches went viral in January, cleverly slamming gun control. She’s been hailed as ‘the future of comedy’ and her debut stand up special, Marriage Material, is soon to be released in Spring 2016. Watch this space.
Phoebe Boswell An artist to watch for 2016: originally from Kenya, Phoebe lived in Oman and Bahrain before relocating to London. She draws on her expat history to tell stories of border identities within her art: her work often asks how we define ‘home’ and uses both traditional methods and digital technology. 2016 promises to be her year with big exhibitions coming up in Nairobi and Geneva.
Antonietta Ledezma Antonietta is the daughter of incarcerated politician, Caracas mayor, Antonio Ledezma, who was recently arrested on accusations of conspiracy. She has spoken out against her father’s politically motivated imprisonment, going on to campaign on behalf of 77 other political prisoners currently incarcerated in Venezuela. In February she gave a moving speech at the UN Geneva Summit where she vowed to keep campaigning to defend her father against the Venezuelan government. She told the audience ‘we learned what human rights were in Venezuela because we had to fight for them, and this is a fight that has no boundaries’.
Heather Keating After being diagnosed with cervical cancer earlier this year, Heather’s story went viral on social media. The 24 year old was too young to be offered a smear test (free to all women between the ages of 25 and 60) so her pre-cancerous cell changes were never picked up and her illness went undetected. Once diagnosed with the cancer, she shared her symptoms online to help those in a similar position to detect the signs early and avoid the preventable illness. By documenting the facts, Heather is saving lives, helping women to self-diagnose and turning a painful experience into an inspirational act.
Anne McClain, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Christina Hammock Koch and Jessica Meir These four women are training to become the first NASA astronauts to walk on Mars. They make up 50 percent of the official team, the first equal gender split in NASA history. It’s set to take at least 15 years of training and more, before they’re ready to head to the red planet, but these women are undeterred and they can’t wait to get started. McClain stated: ‘If we go to Mars, we’ll be representing our entire species in a place we’ve never been before. To me it’s the highest thing a human being can achieve.’ You go girls.
Dr. Laura Stachel, founder of We Care Solar Laura is the founder of We Care Solar, a company promoting safe motherhood. Her inspiration came from a 2008 trip to Nigeria where she witnessed women being turned away from emergency surgery due to bad lighting and for the lucky ones, having night time caesareans meant surgery in the pitch black, lit by a phone torch. Shocked by the scenes she witnessed in the state hospitals, she invented a transportable light designed to help women give birth and undergo operations safely in developing countries. Within one year, the initial hospital she approached saw their female mortality rate drop by 70%. We Care Solar has now developed regional programmes across Africa, Nepal, and the Philippines.
Ola Sitarska and Ola Sendecka The UK Founders of Django Girls, a non-profit organisation and community that organises free programming workshops for women, providing tools, resources and support. It’s an entirely volunteer run organisation aiming to bring more women into technology. Since 2014 they’ve been to 129 cities and 58 countries, teaching women how to code, and in turn helping them to set up their own projects and start-ups. So if you want to start coding, book a place on one of their workshops immediately. You can also check out Ola Sendecka’s YouTube channel @Codingisforgirls.
Reverend Cynthia Meyer The female Kansas priest came out as gay to her congregation in January – and is now facing a church trial. Meyer declared that after 25 years as a pastor, it was time to serve as her ‘genuine self, a woman who loves and shares my life with another woman’. Meyer has said that her congregation have been incredibly supportive of her decision. However, a complaint has been filed against her, and is now under review as is apparently standard when ‘a violation of church discipline’ has been alleged. Meyer told her supporters she hopes that her honest admission will challenge and eventually change the Church’s stance on gay priests.
Yana Kudryavtseva This Russian rhythmic gymnast will be making her Olympic debut at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. At the 2015 World Championships, Kudryavtseva became the youngest to win three world all-around titles at 17 years of age. Despite all her success, she remains refreshingly humble, explaining ‘when you’re on the victory podium, you’re a queen, but when you come down from it, you’re nobody. You cannot be too proud of yourself’. Well, we’re proud of her and will be watching out for her in Rio 2016.
Jai Latto This Scottish transgender beauty queen won Miss Transgender UK in September 2015, but in February was stripped of her title and prize for ‘not being transgender enough’. The accusation came after the director of the pageant received footage of Latto in boxer shorts, and accused her of living as a gay male. Latto has spoken out about the discrimination and severed all ties with the pageant, which she claims tries to force transgender women into ‘a female stereotype’. She now plans to hike 30 miles in high heels to highlight the issues faced by those awaiting gender transition.
Huma Abedin Huma Abedin is the woman you haven’t heard of who, right now, is everywhere – as Hillary Clinton’s right-hand woman and long-time aid. Described as ‘Hillary’s Secret Weapon,’ Clinton has praised her colleague and companion, ‘I am lucky to have had her on my team for a decade now’. Abedin is an inspiration, a practising Muslim who started out as a White House intern and is now credited with overseeing the Clinton campaign right down to 15-minute daily intervals. A true asset to Clinton’s team, it’s exciting to think where 2016 might take her.
Jamala (Susana Jamaladinova) Jamala is Ukraine’s entry to the Eurovision song contest this year, representing her country with ‘1944’, a song about Stalin’s mass deportation of 240,000 Crimean Tatars. The song’s political focus goes against contest rules and its sobering subject differs from the usual sugary Eurovision pop. ‘The main message is to remember and to know this story,’ explained Jamala, ‘when we know, we prevent’. The song holds personal significance for the singer, five of her family members being deported. We can’t wait to see her using the Eurovision stage to highlight such an important episode in history and making sure that the horrific chapter is not forgotten.
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Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.
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