21 Leaders for 21st Century 2002

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For the second year, Women’s Enews has selected 21 Leaders for the 21st Century. As we pored over nominations from our writers and our readers, we were humbled and proud to have a chance to honor such remarkable, dedicated women.

21 Leaders for the 21st Century

(WOMENSENEWS)–Shifting through the chaos and horror of the past 12 months, Women’s Enews editors, reporters and readers found hundreds of women who stood for hope, for justice and for an equity that could lead to peace. On this first week of the new year and the first week that Women’s Enews operates as an independent news service, Women’s Enews names these 21 leaders with the full knowledge that so many others deserved the recognition as well.

Together, our leaders signify the breadth, the depth, the expertise and the impact of the millennial women’s movement.

Women’s Enews inaugurated this list last year to pay homage to women who have made extraordinary contributions to durable change on behalf of women. This year was the first time we asked for nominations from our readers and one of the great joys of the selection process this year was reading the nomination email we received from our readers. The most touching was from a husband who had found himself reading his wife’s email, came across our request for nominations, and submitted her name for being a women’s health care activist. The most surprising were the numbers of women who nominated their bosses. We did not name the spouse or the bosses, but we saved the email and hope to use many as jumping off points for news stories later in the year.

The greatest difficulty in the process came when the Women’s Enews team gathered to add and subtract from the final list. The team–Women’s Enews staff and reporter Chris Lombardi and New York University intern Allison Steele–pored over the lists over and over again until we reached a consensus. When the team agreed to delete a name from the list, the disappointment was softened a bit knowing that Women’s Enews will do it again next year and the next year and the year after that–without any danger of running out of wonderful nominees.

Women’s Enews asked its readers to help the team do its work by recommending leaders to be considered. The team read each email that came in, recommending more than 100 nominees and a majority of those named. In the process, we learned that our readership is as diverse as we had hoped. The nominations came from the tiny towns in the Midwest and from the urban centers; they came from women of extraordinary power–members of the New York Women’s Bar Association–and from college students who wanted to honor a dedicated professor; they came from readers with different religious and cultural beliefs and national heritages.

Without our readers, we might never have found: Midori Ashida, the journalist who lobbied to reverse Japan’s ban on some contraceptives; Shirley Jackson, the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York and the first African American woman to receive a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Wall Street’s Janet Hanson, founder of the first women-owned mutual fund and developer of the means for women in the financial world to mentor one another.

The Feminist Majority’s activist twosome, Eleanor Smeal and Mavis Leno, were suggested by staff and readers alike for their passion and hard work on the Taliban’s treatment of women. Their continuing commitment to international issues are likely to be all the more urgent in the light of the events of 2001.

While Smeal and Leno campaigned for greater U.S. support for international women’s rights, Charlotte Bunch, director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, is working tirelessly to codify those rights.

Among those named this year are two for whom religion played a significant role in their call to leadership: Shafiqa Habibi, an Afghan journalist who organized other women in broadcasting and who covered women’s rights there, telling the world of the Taliban’s edict that silenced her for five years and Christine Vladimiroff, a Catholic nun who was forced to challenge the Vatican by merely insisting that a member of her order be permitted to attend a conference on women in the priesthood.

Here are more examples of how the world is different, thanks to these 21 leaders:

Thanks to Midori Ashida, low-dose birth control pills are now legal in Japan, and she is laying the groundwork for the nation’s women to seek further health, economic and social gains.

One determined and astute reformer, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, undertook to change New York state’s court system, once known for being Byzantine and inefficient. The state’s justice system is now a national leader in innovative, "problem-solving" courts that confront the realities of domestic violence and custody battles.

San Francisco’s Tracy Gary was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and a love for justice in her heart. She has used both to spawn more than a hundred women’s foundations, created in the last 15 years, that funnel millions of dollars to projects that benefit women and girls.

Another woman who was born with tremendous advantages, Dina Merrill, uses her wealth and her movie star-charm to provide an ideological resting place for those Republicans committed to supporting women’s right to reproductive health care, including abortions.

Pat Summitt, now in her 28th season as coach of University of Tennessee women’s basketball team, inspires female college athletes to reach for the Olympic gold and stands unmatched for victories on the court and commitment to seeing that college women enjoy the fruits of federal laws requiring they have equal opportunities to play the game.

Our leaders also include two MacArthur "genius" award winners: Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation and an accountant from Montana whose suit against the Department of the Interior has made history, and Allison Anders, the visionary filmmaker whose bravery about her childhood rape became a film that healed her and millions of viewers.

We also have three leaders from California, the most populous and the most diverse state, who push for the inclusion of women of color in the circles of power: African-American Dezie Woods-Jones and Latina Susan Sifuentes-Trigueros who lead grassroots organizations that train and support women of color candidates running for elective office and Elizabeth Martinez, the teacher and founder of the Women of Color Resource Center, which played a decisive role in ensuring the participation of American women of color in the Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing in 1995.

Two of the 21 are health activists: Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, former president of the American Heart Association consistently pushing for more recognition of the deadly role of heart disease plays in women’s lives and Chicago’s Jessica Halem, a stand-up comedian who stood up to cancer and organized Lesbian Community Cancer Project.

The editors paid special attention to journalists advancing the cause of women’s empowerment. That’s why out of all the inspiring Afghan women leaders coming out of hiding to lead their country, Shafiqa Habibi of Radio Afghanistan was named. Joining her are Gail Evans, the powerhouse former vice president who helped the Cable News Network grow from a startup to the highly credible and popular source for news and Wanda Rapaczynski, whose leadership of Polish media is bringing about real change when the government cannot do so.

Women’s Enews will list all those named today and publish their biographical sketches throughout the rest of this first week of 2002.

21 Leaders For the 21st Century

Women Who Used Their Lives to Change Ours
Midori Ashida, founder, Women’s Coalition for Sexuality And Health, Japan; Charlotte Bunch, director, Center for Women’s Global Leadership; Elouise Cobell, founder, Blackfeet National Bank; Tracy Gary, founder and executive director, Changemakers; Shirley Jackson, president, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Judith S. Kaye, chief judge of the State of New York; Eleanor Smeal, president, Feminist Majority.

Women Who Changed the Rules for Nations
Allison Anders, filmmaker; Shafiqa Habibi, journalist, Radio and TV Afghanistan; Janet Hanson, chief executive officer, Milestone Capital Management; Mavis Leno, chair, Campaign Against Gender Apartheid; Susan Sifuentes-Trigueros, Hispanas Organized for Political Equality; Pat Summit, inspirational college basketball coach; Dezie Woods-Jones, Black Women Organized for Political Action.

Women Who Made Their Voices Heard for All of Us
Gail Evans, author and former vice president, CNN; Jessica Halem, executive director, Lesbian Community Cancer Project; Elizabeth Martinez, director, Institute for MultiRacial Justice; Dina Merrill, founder, Republican Pro-Choice Coalition; Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, former president, American Heart Association; Wanda Rapaczynski, president, Agora International; Christine Vladimiroff, prioress, Benedictine Sisters of Erie.

Chris Lombardi is a freelance writer in New York. She coordinated Women’s Enews Fall 2000 election coverage and the United Nation’s conference in New York on women’s rights, Beijing + 5. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine, the Progressive and Inside MS.

Allison Steele will graduate from New York University in May. She served as an intern at Women’s Enews and has worked as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, the Kansas City Star, and the New York Times. She hopes to apply her background in journalism to a career in social work and legal defense.

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