21 Leaders 2009

(WOMENSENEWS)–This year’s 21 Leaders for the 21st Century have devoted themselves to bringing the season’s buzzword–change–to women and girls all over the world, from the Congo to Mexico City, and in each of the 50 states.

These leaders–20 women and one man–have pushed for gender parity in the business world and crusaded against sexual violence in middle and high schools. They have demanded and provided reproductive rights for women in the developing world and stood up for equal pay in the United States. They have trained young women in Brooklyn to express their concerns through art and stood up for the human rights of women in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Above all, the leaders have shown courage, vision and unstoppable determination in their efforts to improve women’s lives near and far.

During a year full of uplifting, exciting and sometimes nail-biting political drama, Women’s eNews had some tough decisions to make as well. As always, the nominations for inspiring leaders flowed into the office from locations around the globe on paper, phone and e-mail. The board and staff carefully and thoughtfully considered all of the candidates and were truly awestruck and humbled by the commitment our 21 Leaders demonstrated to women’s equality.

"None of us can be discouraged about what the future holds after we are introduced to these Women’s eNews 21 leaders for the 21st Century 2009," said Rita Henley Jensen, editor in chief of Women’s eNews. "Each and every one is unstoppable, innovative, dedicated with a will of steel. From the Congo to Washington, D.C., from Rhode Island to Mexico City, they are making change happen. I feel proud to know them and I know you will be too."

Documenting Our History

Paula J. Giddings shined a literary and journalistic spotlight on Ida B. Wells, a giant of women’s and African American history, in her biography "Ida: A Sword Among Lions." Wells was a passionate crusader against the rash of lynching across the United States, an advocate of civil and women’s rights, and a fearless writer and speaker. Giddings, the Elizabeth A. Woodson 1922 Professor in Afro-American Studies at Smith College, Northampton, Mass., has written a definitive account of this woman’s life and times, and so it is only fitting that she receive the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism from Women’s eNews.

Pushing for Workplace Equality

Lilly Ledbetter has become synonymous with the slogan "equal pay for equal work." After an unflinching, decade-long struggle in the courts to secure the equal pay denied to her by a Gadsdenm Alabama Goodyear Tire plant, Ledbetter’s name now adorns a prominent bill that has galvanized women’s rights activists and high-profile politicians alike.

Nancy Hopkins has gained national and international fame for challenging subtle and overt gender bias in academia and the lack of tenured women in the sciences. Her pioneering report on gender discrepancy at MIT, in Cambridge, Mass., and her later challenge of Harvard President Larry Summers’ statements about women in science have resulted in soul-searching and concrete change across the nation’s campuses.

A supporter for the most invisible women, Malaak Compton-Rock offers opportunities in her home state of New Jersey to those leaving the welfare rolls who needed help preparing for job interviews and travels to South Africa to assist grannies caring for AIDS orphans.

After climbing the ranks in the male-dominated record industry, Johnnie Walker formed and presides over the New York-based National Association of Black Female Executives in Music and Entertainment, whose members now number over 3,500. Walker wants to "infiltrate" the industry leadership from within and make it accessible to women who dream of making music.

Speaking of infiltrate, as a strategy to land more women on corporate and advisory boards New York’s Susan Schiffer Stautberg founded a variety of programs from the Belizean Grove to the On Board Boot camp. They are designed to provide women training, mentoring and networking opportunities, preparing them to take seats at the table of power.

Another business powerhouse Roxanne Mankin Cason is a longtime advocate for women’s advancement. She introduced the first college course in California to teach women how to handle money. In the 1990s, she turned her focus to girls’ education, teaming up Educate Girls Globally, a San Francisco nonprofit, and Save the Children, an international humanitarian organization headquartered in Connecticut and in Washington D. C. Both have a focus to enroll and retain more girls in school in developing countries. She currently serves on the board of trustees at Save the Children and as its Vice Chair of the International Education Advisory Board.

Cason is also chair of the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, an invitation-only group of women in government, business and the nonprofit sector.

Jacki Zehner blazed a trail as the first female trader at Goldman Sachs, the most powerful, and some say macho, Wall Street bank. Mindful of those that followed her, she became an active member of Golden Seeds, an investing network supported by Goldman focused on investing in women-led ventures across the globe.

After leaving the bank in 2002 she became a founding partner of Circle Financial Group, a New York firm to help women manage their family assets and charitable giving.

She is also active in the Women Moving Millions campaign launched by the Women’s Funding Network, a San Francisco-based coalition of 130 women’s organizations where she serves on the board of directors. Zehner also serves on the boards of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the Center for Work-Life Policy.

Offering Hope to the Vulnerable

Sara Gould is taking the Ms. Foundation for Women to the next level, expanding its focus on economic independence and self-support for women on the margins. Among her many achievements was starting the Collaborative Fund for Women’s Economic Development, a program that supports female entrepreneurs.

A Manhattan-based lawyer at a global white-shoe firm, Sharon Katz has spents hundreds of otherwise billable hours, her skills and expertise to women in New York who are too often ignored by the system–either in prison or in the maze of the immigration system–through volunteer work with the Incarcerated Mothers Project and the Sanctuary for Families’ U-Visa program for battered immigrant women.

Fighting for Women’s Health

Dr. Linda Randolph has fought to improve access to preventative and regular health care for women of color and low-income women. As head of the District of Columbia Developing Families Center she works to "de-medicalize" the birth process and care for expectant moms and has reported dramatically improved maternal and infant health outcomes.

Maria Luisa Sanchez Fuentes has gotten the world’s attention as a stalwart, unyielding champion for abortion rights in her native Mexico. Her organization, GIRE–the Information Group on Reproductive Choice, a Mexico City-based nonprofit–led the charge toward legalizing abortion in Mexico City, one of the few places in Latin America where safe abortion is available to women and the only place in Mexico.

A major force in international reproductive rights advocacy, Anika Rahman, head of Americans for UNFPA, a New York-based nonprofit, creates crucial support for the United Nations Population Fund. She’s spent a career working to secure women’s rights and improving the reproductive health care provided to them.

Nurturing New Leaders

Believing that full participation in society is central to self esteem and social change, Dusti Garrison Gurule’s Denver-based Latina Initiative has gained attention for a voter-education program that informs young Latinas about the political issues and engages them with policies that directly affect their lives.

Amy Sananman’s Groundswell mural project involves young women from low-income communities in researching, designing and painting meaningful murals across New York City, as a way of building confidence and a broad set of skills, from library use to negotiating censorship.

High school senior Nadia Farjood of San Diego has built bridges between young women in the United States and Iran by leading her high school’s Girls Alliance club to raise money for Omid-e-Mehr, a program for Iranian and Afghan girls who have been affected by poverty and violence.

Because tech geekery is too often considered a male domain, Seattle’s Cathi Rodgveller saw an opportunity to change that. She founded the IGNITE program, Inspiring Girls Now in Technology Evolution, which uses technology, math and science training to give young women a true chance to wade into male-dominated fields and find a safe space to be themselves.

Standing Up Against Violence

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch spearheaded the Lindsay Burke Act, in memory of a young woman killed by a former partner. His initiative put relationship violence prevention and education programs in front of every public school student in the state.

Now, as president of the National Association of Attorneys General, he ushered through in June 2008 a unanimous resolution that all 50 states endeavor to enact similar laws.

After a congregant came to her for help, Rabbi Diana S. Manber began her campaign to call attention to relationship violence in her community and replicate her efforts in the community at large by training fellow rabbis how to respond to domestic violence. She is now the director of Dayenu, the domestic violence initiative of the New York Board of Rabbis, named for the Hebrew word for "enough." The organization works with clergy and congregational leaders of all faiths to prevent violence and bring the issue to the surface in order to evoke change.

Marilyn Smith has been a tireless activist against dating violence and sexual assault in the deaf community, founding and directing Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services in Seattle and training deaf women around the country to do similar work in their communities.

Christine Schuler Deschryver witnesses unspeakable gender atrocities in her homeland, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and responded by dedicating herself to ending the violence. She is the Congolese representative of V-DAY, a New York-based organization that fights gender violence. Deschryver is taking the lead in the creation of the City of Joy refuge, a shelter for female victims of rape and torture, that is also supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund and the Panzy Hospital in Buvaku.

Sarah Seltzer is a freelance writer in New York City.

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For more information:

Seven Who Break the Barriers of Bias

Seven Who Stretch the Possible

Seven Who Redraw the Boundaries

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