21 leaders logo

(WOMENSENEWS)–A Nobel Peace Prize winner who fights for women’s rights in Iran; an actor famous for taking on tough roles and even tougher women’s issues; a California-born Latina who devised an organization to help women gain a foothold in the world of high-tech entrepreneurship; a Wall Street trader who revolutionized the personnel practices of one of the most powerful investment banking firms.

These are just four of the forceful and mold-breaking women named today as Women’s eNews’ 21 Leaders for the 21st Century 2004.

Women’s eNews sought leaders whose battles for women’s rights have been beacons; leaders who have used their prestigious names and influence to give back; leaders, who despite obstacles of age or fortune, found the means to make the lives of women around the world a little brighter; leaders who refuse to accept anything less than first-class treatment of women regardless of ethnicity or religion.

“These 21 leaders exemplify the global and unstoppable and constantly innovative force for changing women’s lives, in business, in sports, in education, in philanthropy, in justice systems and of course, in journalism; everywhere and in every arena where women are not fully equal,” said Women’s eNews’ Editor in Chief Rita Henley Jensen. “Reading about these women’s lives and accomplishments is both inspiring and humbling. I believe each one is a role model for all those seeking to improve women’s lives. Certainly, they are for me.”

The annual award is now in its fourth year. During the autumn, Women’s eNews readers deluged the editorial staff with hundreds of nominations of outstanding women around the world. Women’s eNews’ board of directors took on the difficult task of narrowing the list to 21–but they couldn’t quite do it. The list includes two women who worked as one team. Moreover, the board and staff, disappointed that some wonderful nominees did not make the final list, have stored away several names for next year’s consideration.

Women’s eNews will honor each of the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century at its annual celebratory dinner, to be held in New York in May. Over the next three days, Women’s eNews will publish brief biographies that cover some of the remarkable achievements of these leaders.

Meet the 21 Leaders

Women’s eNews honors Shirin Ebadi, Iranian women’s rights defender and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, for her tireless crusade for women’s rights in Iran. After winning the Nobel Prize, Ebadi delivered an eloquent pledge to continue pressing for women’s rights worldwide and vowed to fight even harder for women’s rights in her own nation.

Women’s eNews also names Iranian journalist Shadi Sadr as a 21 Leader and recipient of the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism for taking the risk to confront the often brutal inequality of women in Iran through her writing and her Web site (Womeniniran.org) that gives thousands of Iranian women, both nationally and abroad, information available nowhere else and a voice to express concerns and achievements previously muted.

Women’s eNews 21 Leader Jane Fonda, known for her calorie-burning workout videos and international movie-stardom status, is now directing her limitless energy to fighting for the reproductive rights of women nationally and abroad. Women’s eNews also honors as a team Lois Abraham and Jane Roberts. They responded to the White House refusal to pay a pledged $34 million to the United Nations Population Fund to help women around the world access life-saving health services by creating the 34 Million Friends of UNFPA campaign and vowing to raise the $34 million one dollar at a time.

Three trailblazing women cut a path towards gender, racial and religious equality. Two-time Olympic gold medal winner Donna de Varona continues her efforts to level the playing field for female athletes with her commitment to retain and enforce Title IX, the law that requires schools that receive federal funds to provide equal opportunities to all students, regardless of gender. Byllye Avery, founder of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, has spent her life fighting to improve the health of African American women and now is broadening her vision to include all people of color. Blu Greenberg is daring to prove that Jewish Orthodoxy and feminism do mix through her writing, dialogue and organizing.

Pakistan’s Shahnaz Bukhari experienced police raids, imprisonment, death threats and ridicule as she shed light on cases of severe violence against women in Pakistan, while Tillie Black Bear, a survivor of domestic abuse, helped thousands of Native American women and children find their own way out by offering counseling and shelter services at the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society in South Dakota.

Three enterprising women are helping women and girls in war-torn nations rebuild their social and economic lives. Sixteen-year-old high school student Clotilde Dedecker, upset with the lack of education for girls in Afghanistan, helped raise over $15,000 to build a girls’ middle school in this nation beset by war. Connie Duckworth’s passion for economic empowerment compelled her to lead Goldman Sachs investment bankers to dramatically change the firm’s policies to make it more woman-friendly and now has spurred her to help Afghan women market rugs to attain economic independence. Meanwhile, Anne Glauber, a New York-based public relations executive, chairs the New York-based Business Council for Peace and led the effort to market thousands of dollars worth of baskets for Hutu and Tutsi widows, survivors of the Rwandan genocide.

Three powerful women are making women’s money work for women’s causes.

Abigail Disney, president of The New York Women’s Foundation, heads one of the oldest and most influential of the philanthropic organizations dedicated to economically empowering women and their families. Christine Grumm, executive director of the Women’s Funding Network, encourages positive social changes for women and girls by supporting and coaching members of the network about how to raise money and how to give it away to benefit women. Helen LaKelly Hunt, president of The Sister Fund, has helped establish several foundations dedicated to providing support for organizations that assist women and girls. The Sister Fund is focused on fostering the spiritual, economic, social and political growth among women and girls. (The Sister Fund is a supporter of Women’s eNews.)

Two pioneering women push women into arenas traditionally dominated by men. The AFL-CIO executive vice president Linda Chavez-Thompson boosts women up the rungs of the labor ladder, while Margarita Quihuis, co-founder of the Open Capital Network, ensures women are always part of the equation as she comes up with new technologies and investment opportunities for developing countries.

Two savvy women have made it their mission to ensure that women are always brought to the forefront of the conversation. New York City Commission on Women’s Issues Chair Anne Sutherland Fuchs pushes through women’s agendas daily, while Faye Wattleton, president of the Center for the Advancement of Women, ensures that the right questions are asked of women and their responses are made known.

Two have spread the word about women’s economic equity globally. Christina Bruning, president of the Women’s Business Exchange, is using her networking skills to form links among business women nationally and abroad. Philippine-born Irene Natividad multitasks to mingle business women, nongovernmental organizations and government ministers from all corners of the earth at an annual three-day summit promoting cooperation in the global marketplace. Natividad is also past president of the National Women’s Political Caucus.

Carline Bennett, a free-lance writer in New York, is a former intern at Women’s eNews.