21 Leaders for the 21st Century


Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Economy and Planning Minister, United Arab Emirates; Chief Executive Officer, Tejari

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi is breaking down barriers in the Arab business and political communities, two traditional worlds run largely by men.

In November, Al Qasimi was appointed Economy and Planning Minister by the United Arab Emirates. She is the first woman to hold a ministerial post as part of a cabinet reshuffle orchestrated by President Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

She has also been chief executive officer of Tejari, the Middle East’s premier business-to-business online marketplace, since it launched in 2000. She rose to that position after seven years as senior manager of the information systems department at the Dubai Ports Authority.

Al Qasimi believes that her success is an example of what women in the Arab world can accomplish. “I see my job as being a bridge and a change agent for a lot of young women who are coming behind me,” she said in a September interview with Wf360, a New York-based organization that provides access to business leaders and ideas through interactive multimedia formats such as Web casts, live forums and video.

Though she comes from a wealthy background, Al Qasimi says she always knew she wanted to work, and she saw her contribution to the workforce as a way to help build the history of her relatively young country.

But she also acknowledges that balancing her business work and her government duties with her public persona–which she says means appearing feminine and fulfilling social obligations–takes a lot of stamina.

Above all, Al Qasimi believes it is her “personal mandate” to share her experiences with other women, especially those in the United Arab Emirates and other Arab nations. “Arab women are now making significant contributions in so many fields,” she told Arabian Woman magazine when she first arrived at Tejari. “What we may see is a more external, public role for Arab women–the Internet and media today turn a powerful spotlight on the achievements of Arab women so that there is greater understanding of the roles that they are playing.”

In March, Al Qasimi will be one of three keynote speakers at the Women As Global Leaders conference in Dubai. The conference aims to connect “the emerging generation” with prominent female leaders, according to its official Web site.

Jane Randel, Vice President of Corporate Communications,
Liz Claiborne, Inc.

Jane Randel

Jane Randel is an accidental activist.

The vice president of corporate communications at Liz Claiborne joined the company in 1992 as a public relations associate. Three years later, she took charge of the company’s award-winning, cause-marketing program aimed at generating awareness among and educating the general public about violence against women.

“I just got really lucky,” she says, about her appointment as director of the program and her subsequent appointment to the Liz Claiborne Foundation’s board of directors. “I found my voice” at the company, she says.

Randel made herself heard by spearheading many of the company’s initiatives as it became a pioneer in the effort to prevent gender-based violence.

Liz Claiborne’s program involves both public awareness campaigns and also internal efforts to create a safe environment in which employees can report abuse and receive counseling. It was started in order to give back to its employees, who are 78 percent female.

“The ‘Liz’ name made the issue safer to talk about,” Randel said. “We wanted to send the message out to all corners of society: ‘Love is not abuse.'”

Since she arrived, the company has issued public service announcements and a handbook series for employees about domestic abuse. Under Randel, the company recently created a Domestic Violence Response Team that centralizes the reporting of abuse so that the company’s legal and security teams can start addressing the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible. In 2001, only one case of abuse was reported, but between 2002 and 2004, more than 40 cases were reported, says Randel, who views the increase as a testament to the success of the Response Team. Silence, she says, is the enemy to be fought.

Randel, who also leads corporate, business and crisis media relations, doesn’t claim to be a domestic violence expert. Instead, she says, the company is most effective when it acts as a “conduit to people who can help those who work there.”

The next step, she says, is continuing efforts to get other companies involved in the fight against domestic violence.

“It’s naive to think that what goes on at home stays at home,” she says. “Corporate America needs to recognize this issue as one they can really have an impact on.”

Vicki Ruiz, Author and Professor, University of California Irvine; Virginia Sánchez Korrol, Author and Professor, Brooklyn College

Virginia Sanchez KorrolVicki Ruiz

Vicki Ruiz and Virginia Sánchez Korrol may live on opposite coasts, but their shared passion for history and their desire to tell the stories of Latina women of the past and present have caused their paths to merge.

“We’re like sisters,” Ruiz said of her friend of more than 20 years, recalling how she and Sánchez Korrol were often the only two Latinas at history conferences.

Ruiz is a Mexican-American professor of history and Chicana-o studies at the University of California, Irvine. Sánchez Korrol is a Puerto Rican professor of history at Brooklyn College. Both are prolific writers, focusing on the history of Chicana and Latina women.

In 1998 they joined forces and embarked on an ambitious history project: “Latinas in the United States: An Historical Encyclopedia.” The two-volume tome, to be published next fall by Indiana University Press, will contain 588 entries and 300 photographs documenting the experiences and contributions of Latina women from the 16th century to the present.

“Our project took this long because it took this long to establish the field,” Sánchez Korrol says. “The histories of individual communities–Puerto Rican, Chicano, Mexican American–had to be resurrected and as they were they became stepping stones for us.”

In addition, Ruiz adds, people tend to think of the early Spanish explorers and figures like Pancho Villa when they think of Latino history. Even after Latino historiography really started in earnest, in the mid-1970s, “there was still an emphasis on the masculine ‘o’,” she says.

In anticipation of the encyclopedia’s release, Oxford University Press plans to release another book by Ruiz and Sánchez Korrol in February. “Latina Legacies: Identity, Biography and Community,” is a collection of 15 essays that expand upon certain entries in the encyclopedia.

“Latino Studies is still finding its own grounding,” says Sánchez Korrol. “There are still questions: How do all the different groups fit in? How do you make this a universal field of study?”

With these projects, she adds, “we’re offering one way to make that happen.”

Sharon Sopher, Documentary Filmmaker, Television Journalist, AIDS Activist, Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism

Sharon Sopher

At 59, Sharon Sopher thought her “women’s lib” days were behind her, but she has found herself spearheading her own feminist movement among the rapidly expanding community of women with HIV/AIDS.

Sopher, a longtime television journalist, became a member of that community when she diagnosed herself with AIDS in July 2000. After being misdiagnosed 27 times over a five-year period, she says she realized she must be HIV positive after matching her symptoms to descriptions of the disease’s symptoms on the Internet.

The journalist in her immediately saw the larger implications of her story.

“It was my toughest assignment because I knew I was dying” she says. “The challenge was how to stay alive long enough to tell the story.”

Sopher combined her love of filmmaking with her need to shed light on the harsh realities facing women with AIDS here in the United States. The result: “HIV Goddesses: A Women’s Wellness and Empowerment Project,” a multi-media endeavor with the slogan: “An educated woman is the best prevention there is.”

The largest part of the project is “HIV Goddesses: Stories of Courage–Diary of a Filmmaker,” the first film to be produced and directed by a woman with AIDS, Sopher says. The film premiered in September in New York City and in it Sopher tells her own story.

“The different parts of [the Goddess project] form an arsenal,” she says, referring to the film, a black-and-white photo exhibit and a bookmark with gender-based facts. “They are tools you can take out and use to educate people.”

Sopher entered the world of journalism in 1969 with a public television prime-time special about a school sex-education controversy in the heartland. She soon moved to CBS, where one of her projects was a live, in-studio show called “Woman!” which was the original network show to focus on women’s issues, she says. In 1973, she was hired at NBC and went on to produce the first report on vaginal self-exams, enabling her to assemble the first ever all-female news crew.

After 13 years at the network, she spent about a decade as a television producer and filmmaker in various parts of Africa, where she made her first independent documentary and where she believes she may have contracted HIV from a dirty needle in a medical facility.

Her many award-winning and award-nominated documentaries and television specials have prepared Sopher for the challenge ahead: using her voice to shatter the silence surrounding women and girls with AIDS.

“This is the one women’s disease that is 100 percent preventable,” she says, but only with a lot more education about the risks, symptoms and available treatments. “There needs to be a global sisterhood.”

Reverend Carlton Veazey, President and Chief Executive Officer, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

Rev. Carlton Veazey

Like many religious leaders in the months following the 2004 election, the Reverend Carlton Veazey has a lot to say when it comes to the nation’s “moral values.”

But these are not the “moral values” that oppose reproductive choice or same-sex marriage.

“The religious right claims a monopoly on moral values these days,” says Veazey, a Baptist minister and president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an increasingly influential voice for reproductive rights and a leader in bringing cultural diversity to the pro-choice movement. The leadership of the coalition, however, believes that moral values extend to health care, education, unjustified war. “And the right is not articulating those values.”

A pastor for over three decades at the Zion Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., Veazey was approached in the mid-1990s by members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice who were seeking more access to the African American religious community.

Veazey joined the Coalition in 1996 and one year later became its president. He says he agreed to assume the post once his colleagues agreed to expand the organization’s focus beyond a woman’s right to choose.

“The black community especially needs to address issues such as teen pregnancy, sexual orientation, sexual education and HIV/AIDS,” he says. “The Coalition needs to look at issues other than abortion, from child care to health care to the international HIV/AIDS crisis.”

Since then, the Coalition has not only broadened its focus, but also its influence. As the only inter-faith organization with the mission of protecting a woman’s right to choose, the Coalition now has 40 religious groups as members and 25 advocacy group affiliates across the country, with two more in formation, Veazey says. It has also initiated a program among churches in Capetown, South Africa, to address teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS prevention.

In 1997, Veazey created the Coalition’s Black Church Initiative. It assists African American clergy, laity and youth in breaking the silence about teen childbearing, sexuality education and reproductive health issues within the context of African American religion and culture. The initiative’s “Keepin’ It Real” program has expanded to 25 states and involves over 500 churches nationwide, Veazey says.

With an anti-choice president in the White House and many anti-choice politicians filling the seats of the House and Senate, Veazey believes his and the coalition’s work “is even more critical.”

“Our goal is to increase our presence on Capitol Hill,” he says. “We will network with pro-choice members of Congress and help them articulate and frame the issue of choice. We will watch judicial nominations carefully and we will energize our base.”

Meredith Wagner, Executive Vice President, Public Affairs and Corporate Communications, Lifetime Entertainment Services

Meredith Wagner

Meredith Wagner knows television can be a reflection of social realities.

The challenge for her–as Lifetime Entertainment Services’ executive vice president of public affairs and corporate communications–is to create television programs with the potential to improve those realities.

She joined little-known Lifetime in 1987 and since then she has helped shape the network for a female audience into an instrument for activism and social change. The network now serves 88 million households nationwide and is one of the top-rated basic cable networks.

One of the Network’s proudest achievements is its work on a law to speed the arrest of rapists.

The Debbie Smith Act; signed into law on Nov. 1, after extensive lobbying by Lifetime and other organizations, will eliminate the backlog of DNA evidence from crime scenes and could potentially put tens of thousands of rapists behind bars, Wagner says. The law, now in effect, is named after an outspoken rape survivor and will also provide funding for training Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners, for training prosecutors and law enforcement in using and gathering DNA evidence and for establishing a national standard for the collection of DNA evidence.

The public outreach campaigns that Wagner has created, known as “Our Lifetime Commitment” campaigns, take many forms. They can take the shape of original television programming, public service announcements, online content, community outreach and advocacy for national legislation. They aim to inform and support women on a range of issues affecting them and their families, Wagner says.

The network’s activism is “a very natural extension of our focus on women,” says Wagner. “Women and AIDS was our first big issue, back when no one thought AIDS affected women, and then our focus grew as the issues evolved and changed over the years.”

Wagner serves on the boards of nine organizations and institutions, ranging from the National Domestic Violence Hotline to the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Olivia Wang, Activist Lawyer and Co-founder, Habeas Project

Olivia Wang

Through her work with female domestic violence victims and female prisoners–and many who fall under both
categories–Olivia Wang has come to realize that, for women, incarceration often does not start with prison walls.

The 28-year-old activist-lawyer recalls a conversation with a female prisoner. “She said that incarcerated domestic violence victims were already prisoners before. They were abused and victimized outside prison and they are abused and victimized inside prison; same dynamic, different batterer.”

Wang’s involvement with such women began while she was completing graduate work at University of California Berkeley’s School of Law, Boalt Hall in the late 1990s. After graduating in 2001, Wang was awarded a two-year fellowship to work with battered women in prison in California. During that time, she was also the coordinator and director for a California grassroots group called Free Battered Women, which strives to improve the conditions for incarcerated survivors of domestic violence.

As soon as she started working with domestic violence victims, Wang says, she realized, “Oh man, this is it!” She soon discovered that “battered women in jails are the forgotten group within the domestic violence community and that resources were mainly going towards shelter work and services for women in the free world.”

Through her work with Free Battered Women, Wang co-founded the Habeas Project in 2002, which assists battered female prisoners under a 2002 California law that allows some battered women who killed their abusers before 1992 to challenge their convictions.

On Sept. 17, the Habeas Project scored a huge victory when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law an expansion of the 2002 law, allowing survivors who committed any violent felony (not just murder) before 1996 to petition for relief. Wang and her colleagues are hard at work developing the screening process for prisoners who want to take advantage of the law and Wang has started receiving calls from groups around the country who want to replicate her efforts in other states.

“The legislation really is the first of its kind,” Wang says. “Initially no one wanted to get behind us, and we were young, flat broke and working in a state with a huge prison population and a huge geography. But we did it, and I have no doubt people could do it in every other state.”

With the Habeas Project and her current position as staff attorney for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, where she continues to work with many battered women, Wang hopes to shed light on the needs of those who are often overlooked.

The next step is to take these issues to a more national level,” she says with excitement. “I anticipate working on this for years down the road. I’m hooked.”

Robin Hindery is a writer for Women’s eNews in New York City.

For more information:

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi–Tejari:

Jane Randel–Liz Claiborne, Inc.:

Rev. Carlton Veazey–Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice:

Meredith Wagner–Lifetime Television
Our Lifetime Commitment:

Olivia Wang–Free Battered Women
The Habeas Project:

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