21 Leaders


An African American daily newspaper columnist openly discusses being in an abusive relationship; a girl who picked cotton alongside her parents in South Carolina now fights for the government benefits owed to female veterans; a professional football player turned film star now raises awareness about the cost of family violence; an art collector and psychologist combines her two passions to advocate for women’s health issues; and a Haitian expatriate who returned home organizes other women to press for their rights. These are just a few of the inspirational women (and one man) named as Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century 2006.

Out of a pool of hundreds of impressive candidates nominated by Women’s eNews readers during the past several months, these 21 determined and passionate trailblazers stand out for their extraordinary visions and commitment to working on behalf of women.

"In a year where many believe there has been a profound scarcity of leadership, it is thrilling to once again find so many women and men who are dedicated to expanding values that cherish the lives of women," says Rita Henley Jensen, editor in chief of Women’s eNews. She describes each award recipient as having a combination of innovation, dedication and energy in her or his commitment to women.

Now in its fifth year, Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century 2006 will be honored during a gala evening in New York City on May 16. Readers can look forward to learning about these remarkable people in a series of profiles to be published over the next three days.

Creativity Mixed with Activism

Three leaders have used their artistic natures to further women’s well-being. Creative dynamo S. Renee Mitchell, named the winner of the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism, is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated columnist, poet, playwright, teacher, publisher and single mother who uses her artistic energy to encourage women to find emotional healing through writing. As an art collector and psychologist, Helen Kornblum combines her two fields to encourage dialogues about women’s health issues such as breast cancer and eating disorders through her thought-provoking art exhibitions. Artist and activist Willa Shalit helped spur the creation of V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls, and is forging a relationship between Rwandan basket-weavers who were widowed by genocide and the retail giant Macy’s to provide the women with a lucrative market for their products.

Women’s Safety A Priority

Recognized for their profound efforts to call attention to and fight the epidemic of violence against women, three of the 21 Leaders are developing unique ways to enhance women’s safety. Mary Kay’s vice president of government relations, Anne Crews, has led her company to lobby Congress for passage of the Violence Against Women Act, committed $3 million to domestic violence shelters and safe houses across the country, and underwritten two PBS documentaries on domestic violence. Former Miami Dolphin and current Hollywood star Victor Rivas Rivers manages the pain of growing up in a brutally violent household by serving as the first male spokesperson for the National Network to End Domestic Violence. And Oglala Lakota Nation’s Karen Artichoker was instrumental in the creation of the nation’s most comprehensive domestic violence program, Cangleska Inc., and serves the women and families living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Getting and Using Clout

A player in electoral politics nationwide every election cycle, Ellen Malcolm founded the country’s largest grassroots political network, EMILY’s List. Supporting pro-choice Democratic candidates to win political office, Malcolm’s brainchild has contributed to the election of over 70 female members of Congress, eight female governors and hundreds of women to state and local offices. Darlee Crockett is proud to call herself a Republican, but she is undaunted by her lifelong party’s anti-choice stance. She raises money for women’s reproductive health care as the national co-chair of Planned Parenthood’s Republicans for Choice. As a young woman in San Diego, she was inspired to advocacy by observing scores of women heading to Mexico for abortions.

Anita L. DeFrantz, president of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles and a 1976 Olympic Games bronze medalist, was the first U.S. woman and first African American in history to serve on the International Olympic Committee. She is now a champion of equal opportunity for women in international sports.

Seeking to make the votes of female union members count too, Anna Burger heads the newly formed Change to Win Federation of labor unions and represents over 5.4 million workers. She has become the "most influential woman in the U.S. labor movement" and is committed to ensuring that unions evolve to address the needs of women workers and to see more women take up leadership positions. Powerful, truthful and vivid films focused on women’s lives are the trademark of HBO’s Sheila Nevins. She uses her gut and her leverage to ensure women are heard and seen in her often controversial award-winning documentaries produced during her almost 30-year career in the cable television industry. And ensuring that the experiences of women are recorded and preserved, the founder of the Jewish Women’s Archive in Brookline, Mass., Gail Twersky Reimer, commits her life to ensuring that Jewish women of the past and present are recognized for their contributions and achievements and that their stories are preserved in history.

Transforming Economics

Women’s eNews is also recognizing three for the work they’ve done, and will do, to help women around the world achieve economic parity. In London, Arab International Women’s Forum founder Haifa Fahoum Al Kaylani uses her multicultural background and expertise in economic development to build mutually productive relationships between businesswomen in the Arab and Western worlds. Carol Bernick, chair of the board of Alberto-Culver, a global personal care and household products company, is blazing the way for female-friendly workplaces by instituting a number of cultural changes designed to assist employees to balance the needs of their careers and families. Cindy Hounsell, founder of the Washington-based Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, works to ensure that women of all ages and economic backgrounds have access to solid financial and retirement planning.

College student Elizabeth "Bibi" Schweitzer uses her presidency of Wharton Women, an undergraduate network of over 400 aspiring businesswomen at the University of Pennsylvania, to expand the club’s reach to low-income teens living near the Philadelphia campus, providing training in basic business skills.

Reaching Out to Women in Danger

Working to improve the lives of women in the developing world is the lifeblood of three of Women’s eNews leaders. Josette Perard, as co-founder of the Lambi Fund in Port au Prince, Haiti, helps poor women create economically and environmentally sustainable communities throughout that country. Esther B. Hewlett began her philanthropic career in 1987 by pairing her lifelong interests in foreign cultures and women’s issues to become a founding donor of the San Francisco-based Global Fund for Women. She has not stopped working to improve women’s lives and circumstances ever since. After Eva Haller lost her brother in the Hungarian resistance during World War II, the philanthropist has dedicated her life to working on behalf of the underdog–with a special focus on women. As leading member of the board of directors for Washington-based Women for Women International, which helps women in war-torn regions rebuild their lives, Haller does the work that needs to be done, even if it means digging a latrine.

Working Within for Women

Irene Trowell-Harris is a cotton farmer’s daughter who went on to become the first African American woman to serve as a general officer in the National Guard. Today she is the director of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs’ Center for Women Veterans, where she works to make the male-centric bureaucracy more responsive to the needs of female veterans.

Dr. Donna J. Nelson, the first tenure-track female professor hired into the University of Oklahoma’s chemistry department, observed that minority and female students in the white male-dominated world of math and science were being discriminated against. But as a scientist, she needed the data to prove her theory. She began counting the numbers of female and minority faculty members at the top 50 departments in 14 science and engineering disciplines and created the database that confirms that women and minorities are relatively rare and earning less than their white male counterparts.

In the next three days, Women’s eNews will publish fuller profiles of these remarkable 21 Leaders for the 21st Century. Please enjoy them and print them out to read them whenever you need inspiration.

Karen James is a Women’s eNews intern and master’s candidate at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].