21 Leaders for the 21st Century

WOMENSENEWS–From a pool of over hundreds of inspiring individuals–nominated by Women’s eNews readers, staff and board members–this year’s 21 Leaders for the 21st Century have emerged, shimmering with hope and promise.

From a young activist lawyer in San Francisco to a top executive in Dubai to a Nobel Peace Prize-winning environmentalist in Kenya, our leaders sound a global call for women’s autonomy, health and safety.

The 21 Leaders for the 21st Century honor was initiated in 2001 to pay homage to individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to durable change on behalf of women. Past honorees have been sports figures, leaders in business, grass-roots activists and educators. Every year, we honor our first man, the Rev. Carlton Veazey, a passionate activist for women’s reproductive freedom on behalf of the religious community.

“These leaders vividly illustrate the electric dynamism of the women’s push for change around the globe in every aspect of their lives, from the farms they cultivate to the economies of their nations,” says Rita Henley Jensen, editor in chief of Women’s eNews. “We are thrilled once again to honor such illustrious accomplishments on behalf of women and girls.”

Meet the Leaders

Without our readers and staff writers, we may never have discovered the work of Helen Miller, president of the Service Employees International Union’s Illinois Local 880 chapter, who is working to improve the treatment of and wages paid to home care workers throughout the United States, most of whom are women.

Estefania “Stephanie” Alves–who, at 18, is the youngest of our leaders–is co-founder of Radio LOG in Boston, a station that selects its music based on lyrics, including only those songs that convey positive messages about women.

Several of our leaders are working for women internationally. Most notably, Wangari Maathai, winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for four decades of helping African women plant seeds to reforest their communities and sustain their agriculture. Dr. Mary Lake Polan leads small teams of doctors on surgical missions to Eritrea, where women are suffering in large numbers from the medical condition reproductive fistula. Emilienne de Leon is the executive director of Semillas in Mexico City, an organization that provides grants to small, women-focused nongovernmental organizations throughout Mexico.

Two, Jane Randel and Meredith Wagner, have utilized the power of big-name corporations to spur social change. Randel, the vice president of corporate communications at Liz Claiborne, has helped generate awareness about domestic violence, while at the same time creating a system for reporting and dealing with the problem among Claiborne employees. Wagner, the executive vice president of public affairs and corporate communications at Lifetime Entertainment Services, has championed women’s causes ranging from breast cancer awareness to women’s political involvement.

Three of our other winners have chosen to convey the struggles and triumphs of women through a camera lens. Sharon Sopher, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and television journalist, is the winner of our Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism. Sopher turned the camera on herself after she found out she had AIDS, creating a documentary and a larger multi-media project to raise awareness of the spread of the epidemic among women in the United States. Lydia Pilcher, who owns her own production company in New York, has made a conscious effort to work with female directors and created during an election year “Iron Jawed Angels,” the story of how two upstart women put their lives on the line to gain women’s right to vote. Loreen Arbus is a vocal advocate for women in film, television and communications through her involvement with numerous organizations and guilds targeted for women.

Two of our leaders are academics. Vicki Ruiz and Virginia Sanchez Korrol, professors at universities on different U.S. coasts, have compiled the first encyclopedia to chronicle Latina women’s history.

Charon Asetoyer, a Comanche, has established a Native American women’s health center on a South Dakota reservation, while Lynn Paltrow is fighting to make sure that, among other things, pregnant women will no longer risk being arrested for choosing not to have a cesarean section. In California, Olivia Wang is using a range of legal strategies to change the way the state sentences domestic violence victims accused of killing their abusers.

Wilhelmina Cole Holladay is celebrating women in the arts through a national museum in Washington, while Barbara Lee is using her foundation to encourage women to enter into politics, both at the local and the presidential level.

Oman’s Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, an entrepreneur and minister of finance for the United Arab Emirates, is taking cracking the glass ceiling blocking Arab women from prominent business and political posts. Dr. Miriam Nelson is promoting strong women, literally, through her bestselling “Strong Women” book series and her innovative research highlighting the key connection between exercise and nutrition and women’s health.

In addition to the Rev. Veazey, others active in the realm of religion include Sallie Gratch, who founded Project Kesher to renew Jewish values and empower women living in the Former Soviet Union, and Anne Hale Johnson, who supports pro-women ministry through her philanthropy and her position as chair of New York’s Union Theological Seminary.

You can read about these pioneering individuals on the Women’s eNews Web site starting tomorrow as we tell these leaders’ fascinating stories in greater detail in three installments.

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