After deciding to forgo university in 1971, Margot Franssen's first job was as a clerk in a brokerage house. When she requested training to become a stockbroker she was told, "We don't pay for women. They couldn't pass."
The next few years brought similar experiences and the future seemed blocked. Born in the Netherlands, Franssen was 2 years old when her parents immigrated to Canada with $100 and unable to speak English. Yet, like many such families, they expected the best through hard work and a positive attitude. Now Franssen was confronting, for the first time, a different point of view than she was brought up with.
Deeply frustrated Franssen enrolled in business school only to experience boredom. She changed her major to philosophy and never looked back. Franssen worked her way through school as a part-time secretary for an artist and devoted feminist. She found herself listening to amazing women planning the women's movement and Kant's categorical imperative never seemed so right: "Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, never as a means, but always as an end."
Her boss gave her a graduation present, a Body Shop gift basket from London, a company that would become her future. Franssen brought the brand to North America, opened 130 Canadian stores as well as 50 in the United States.
"It was heaven" says Franssen. "I found myself completely surrounded by women, my customers and my staff. I decided there and then to use my business as a platform for social change."
In looking back she now recognizes that "early gender discrimination in the business world was the best training ground for owning a company that respects and helps women."
Under Franssen's leadership the Canadian operation ran the annual Stop Violence Against Women campaigns. The United Nations recognized the company for bringing a topic of importance to the attention of the public, as over $1.3 million was raised for prevention and recovery programs and 192,000 hours of community work was performed in women's shelters at the company's expense.
Franssen received the Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honor, for combining her principles with her profits.
Today she is co-chair of the National Task Force on Human Trafficking of Canadian Girls, the Canadian Women's Foundation Endowment Campaign, the Major Gifts Campaign and is a founding board member of Women Moving Millions, a breakthrough philanthropic initiative to raise millions for women and girls around the world.
--By Jenna McGuire
For almost 30 years, Deloris Jordan has shared her superstar son with the world. Yet, Michael Jordan and his siblings are not the only ones who refer to her as "Mama Jordan." An advocate for women, children and families from Kenya to North Carolina, Jordan is a global voice for motherhood.
President and co-founder of the Michael Jordan Foundation since 1989, renamed the James R. Jordan Foundation in 1997 in memory of her late husband, Jordan is currently working with a group of global partners to develop the Kenya Women's and Children's Wellness Center, the first establishment of its kind in the country.
"I want to train women about prevention, not focus on disease or illness, but to help them find their voice and be heard," she says.
Jordan grew up in Wilmington, N.C., the youngest of four siblings. She says she always knew she wouldn't be the type to wait in line.
"As a child, I was told I had the voice of a leader," she says. "At first, I wanted to be a nurse so I could take care of everyone."
Those strong maternal instincts were fully realized when she met future husband James at--where else?--a basketball game. The couple had five children.
As her youngest son Michael Jordan slam-dunked his way into U.S. sporting history, Jordan says she saw a platform to speak out on behalf of women and families.
"I wanted to mentor women, help them be more assertive and enable them to be self-sufficient," she says.
In 1993, Jordan flew to Kenya to lead a group of American students on an educational excursion. For 14 days, they lived in the bush with the Maasai Mara tribe. Grief stricken by the lack of resources and oppression of women there, it was an experience that altered her life. "From that moment, I knew I had something to contribute," she says.
Over the past 10 years, Jordan has made three trips back to Kenya, where she is greeted by villagers as "Mama Jordan." She says the most challenging aspect of her work is to keep young women feeling positive about themselves.
Jordan has authored several books, including "Family First," and served on multiple boards, including University of Chapel Hill School of Social Work in North Carolina.
For years, Michael Jordan has accredited his success to the support of his family and his mother.
"He always wonders where I get my energy," she says. "But I tell him I've made a commitment and as I continue to slow I hope the next generation will be there, ready to pick up the pace," she says.
-- By Claire McCormack
Musimbi Kanyoro lives with knowledge of the vulnerability of being a woman and has the courage to keep going. She hopes her work encourages others to do the same.
"It is up to us as female leaders to pass our knowledge down, promoting the education of girls," says Kanyoro, "and supporting them in their awareness of their rights that already exist in law."
With over 30 years of experience managing international nongovernmental organizations, global programs and ecumenical agencies across cultures, Kanyoro, president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, is a global champion for women and girls' health and human rights and women-centered philanthropy.
At the Global Fund, a San Francisco-based foundation providing grants to women-led organizations, Kanyoro emphasizes the importance of providing resources for women's education, technology and communication for advocacy.
Born in Kenya, she says she thought she would be a pilot because she was born with an unusual plane-shaped mark on her hand.
"My grandparents told me the mark was a symbol that I would fly," she says.
And fly she did. After earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Nairobi, Kanyoro flew to the U.S. to undertake a doctoral program in linguistics from the University of Texas, Austin. For her second doctorate, Kanyoro studied feminist theology at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. She was also a visiting scholar of Hebrew and the Old Testament at Harvard.
From 1988 to 1997, Kanyoro directed the Department for Women in Church and Society of the Lutheran World Federation, Geneva. There she strengthened gender awareness, catalyzed the adoption of women-centered policies and established a strong collaboration with women's global movements
In 1998, Kanyoro became the first woman from the developing world to be appointed as the general secretary of the World Young Women's Christian Association. The international YWCA reaches 25 million women and girls.
Almost a decade later, Kanyoro became the director for population and reproductive health at The David and Lucile Packard Foundation in Northern California.
"Women's dignity and security from violence are the most important women's issues today," Kanyoro says. "When a woman's womanliness is violated in sexual abuse it ruins the woman's spirit."
A published author and popular public speaker, Kanyoro has been the recipient of several accolades, including a leadership award from the government of her home country, Kenya, which she calls "the greatest moment of my life."
Next, Kanyoro aims to take her career full circle and do work on the grassroots level.
"I want to keep my hands on the ground because you can't understand advocacy until you start moving the blocks in front of you," she says.
--By Claire McCormack
As a child fleeing communist Lithuania with her parents in the 1940s, Jurate Kazickas developed a profound appreciation of the importance of political freedom. As an adult, she has consistently used the freedom of expression to advocate for the rights of women and girls around the world.
As a former board member and now commissioner for the Women's Refugee Commission, she has traveled to Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to raise awareness of the plight and potential of women and girls. Kazickas also served as a board member for Women's eNews from 2005 to 2009.
Kazickas was a volunteer teacher in Kenya, right out of Trinity College. Working with girls in a Kenyan village made her intensely aware of how women are the backbone of their communities. If their access to education improved and the traditions that discouraged them from going to school faded, they could lead their villages to a new day, she came to realize.
"They are crucial," Kazickas says, with a heavy emphasis on "crucial."
In 1967, Kazickas landed in Vietnam as a rare female freelance journalist and saw how discrimination affected her personally when male officers denied access to female reporters to the front lines. She returned to the United States and began covering the women's movement for the Associated Press.
"I realized I was one of them" she says. "Feminism is simply a right for a woman to choose her own life and destiny."
Returning to her homeland Lithuania in 2008, Kazickas worked with the International Women's Media Foundation to hold the first convening of female journalists from the former Soviet republics. More than 40 participants discussed openly the role of journalists in society, how to lead change in newsrooms and the perception of female journalists in these new countries. As president of the Kazickas Family Foundation, she has supported numerous educational and social organizations in Lithuania .
Coming full circle, Kazickas is now envisioning a way to support teachers in the remote areas of Kenya, because, as she says, the education of and improvement in the welfare of women and girls in developing countries is essential for world progress.
--By Rita Henley Jensen
For some countries, the agenda on gender equality might be separated from its primary international goals. Not so in Norway. The nation's leadership ensures that the rights of women are both a specific priority and seamlessly integrated into its foreign policy.
Gry Larsen, as deputy foreign minister of Norway, implements the country's goal to advocate for the political, economic and health rights of women and girls around the world.
"We have mainstreamed [the] work," Larsen says, emphasizing how crucial it is to make sure "gender is mainstreamed in everything."
Born in 1975, Larsen is a 2002 graduate of the University of Oslo. She became active in the Labor Youth League -- the largest political youth organization in the country -- when she was 16. She served as president of the organization after college until 2006. Larsen has also lived abroad, spending two years in Kenya, one year in Namibia, as well as time in Uganda.
Before accepting her current post at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Larsen was a political adviser to the previous Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre.
In 2005, Norway made women's rights and gender equality a top priority in its foreign policy.
"There are so many issues concerning women that don't get the international attention as they should," Larsen says, by way of explaining the nation's commitment to gender equality. She adds that maternal health, a "strong priority" for Norway, also remains an international problem.
The country is specifically focused on "making sure that gender and women's issues are central for Norway in political debates in international forums" such as the U.N. In 2011, for instance, during the high-level meeting on Libya only four countries, including Norway, specifically addressed the importance of gender equality in their statements.
The nation also supports on-the-ground implementation. To combat sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, Norway has financially supported the building of hospitals that address the physical and psychological effects of violence. One recently opened center offers free treatment to survivors of sexual violence. Norway also supports a program focused on men's attitudes towards violence.
Norway can't accomplish its goals unilaterally, Larsen emphasizes. "The most important thing is what we can do together, getting international support for the work," she says.
Larsen is often asked, in light of her long history with the Labor Youth League, whether she has lost any of her former idealism. "I'm telling them, especially young people, I am even more [idealistic]. I see that politics matters every day," she says. "There's a huge task to make sure that we use all political opportunities to make sure that women and this situation for women is on the table."
--By Samantha Kimmey
Heidi Lehmann creates programs for survivors of sexual and physical violence in some of the most dangerous conflict and natural disaster settings in the world.
As director of the Women's Protection and Empowerment Team at the International Rescue Committee, Lehmann believes it's not enough for women and girls to be safe from violence. She says safety from violence is a large part of the change she has dedicated her life's work to, but the complete picture is to ensure that women and girls are safe to live their dreams, whatever they may be.
With 15 years of experience in Africa, Asia and the United States, Lehmann leads work on key policy, programming and advocacy issues related to violence against women and girls.
Growing up in Fremont Ohio, Lehmann was the first in her family to attend college. Lehmann entered the Peace Corps, volunteering in Ghana for three years, before earning a graduate degree in public health, with a focus on women's studies, from the University of South Florida. It was there she launched her work in the anti-violence movement, working at one of the largest domestic violence shelters in Florida. Lehmann also facilitated batterers' intervention groups, including one of the first for the LGBTQ community in Southern Florida.
Lehmann joined the International Rescue Committee 10 years ago and within a few weeks of being hired was on her way to a war zone.
"When I first arrived in Sierra Leone, I remember standing in the refugee camp and thinking how are we going to help these women and girls heal from this violence. Women supporting each other while they shared stories that no one thought they would tell. It is an image that has stuck with me throughout my entire career," she says.
During these initial years, Lehmann helped conceptualize, fund and start up one of the first sexual assault referral centers in West Africa.
From Darfur to Liberia to Haiti, Lehmann says her greatest challenge is making the world see that dealing with violence against women and girls in emergencies is not optional. While progress has been made, Lehmann still spends much of her time convincing people that keeping women and girls safe in emergencies is as essential as providing food, water and shelter.
Lehmann feels a strong sense of solidarity with women and girls all over the world and understands her liberation is tied to theirs. "It is the absolute strength of the women and girls I work with that keeps me inspired."
"Fifty years from now, I want survivors to know I worked side by side with them, helping them tell their stories on their own terms," she adds. "These women and girls refuse to give up so I can't either."
-- By Claire McCormack
For Christine Mau, design can change the world. In the most recent demonstration of her belief, Mau led a team dedicated to using marketing strategies to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault.
As global design director at Kimberly-Clark, soon to be in charge of its European branding, Mau's work for the company is celebrated for sending a strong feminist message to women and girls all over the planet. With brands like Kleenex, Scott, Huggies, Pull-Ups, Kotex, Poise and Depend, Kimberly-Clark holds the No. 1 or No. 2 brand share in more than 80 countries.
"I am a woman, I am powerful and, yes, I prefer bright turquoise tampons," Mau says.
Mau is known for bringing radical and stylish looks to older generic products, such as the U by Kotex that features a neon rainbow line of feminine care products.
"The idea is to be proud, bold and in your face. A hot pink, lime green or orange tampon is unapologetic. Yeah, girls menstruate. There it is," she says.
A native of Wisconsin, she is a survivor of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Mau decided in her late teens that she "would have options and control over my life with the ability to support myself so that I didn't have to accept abuse from anyone."
Fascinated by the art of greeting cards, children's books and indeed Kleenex tissue boxes, Mau used her love of design to win a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. She also completed, with sponsorship from Kimberly-Clark, the certificate program "AIGA: Business Perspectives for Design Leaders" in Executive Education at Harvard Business School.
In 2010, Mau was invited to join a small group of leaders in the anti-violence movements with one big idea: to end domestic violence and sexual assault.
Mau was instrumental in defining the mission, creating the brand and commercializing the project. Their work evolved into the creation of the NO MORE symbol, designed to galvanize change and radically increase the awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault. NO MORE campaigns will be launched simultaneously by a host of activist organizations this spring.
"I equate the idea behind NO MORE with 'Horton Hears a Who,' when all the Whos sang in unison they were heard," she says. "When organizations come together under one powerful symbol we can create a deafening voice."
The recipient of multiple industry awards, including the highest honor of the global Diamond Pentaward, Mau was named in Advertising Age's 25 Women to Watch 2010 and listed as one of Graphic Design USA's People to Watch 2011.
"It is unacceptable that 1-in-6 women are survivors of sexual assault," says Mau. "We wouldn't stand for this figure if it represented bankruptcy or being struck by lightning."
-- By Claire McCormack
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