(WOMENSENEWS)–Women’s eNews’ 21 Leaders for the 21st Century 2010 have been selected to celebrate the changes made in the lives of women and girls and the changes so many are still fighting for.
The 20 women and one man made it through a labor intensive selection process that began with our readers’ nominations, moved through our board of directors and received final approval from the editorial staff. All are dedicated to making women’s equality tangible and their well-being paramount, be it in media, religion, law, transportation, art, hip-hop, or maternal and reproductive health. All have a focus on justice.
As another year of gains and losses in women’s rights comes to a close, we hope you’ll join us in congratulating these 21 for their work.
Caring About Health
Health care was one of the hottest news topics last year, as the U.S. Congress fought to redraw the lines of care across the country. Maternal mortality, HIV-AIDS and reproductive health have been central to the health care debates and our leaders have joined other women and stood up to fight for their health and freedoms.
Cecilia Boone is a national catalyst for women-centric philanthropy and policy. Chairing the National Planned Parenthood Action Fund, fighting for women’s needs in health care reform and raising $18 million as the head of the Dallas Women’s Foundation, she combines the need to provide direct service to women, through Planned Parenthood, with the opportunity to reduce women’s vulnerability to violence and poverty through the Dallas foundation and as a member of the Women Moving Millions campaign.
Tonya Lewis Lee created a youth-to-youth peer educator model to instill lasting healthy lifestyle habits for good maternal health in young African American women. She began this journey when she discovered that black women were three to six times more likely to die during pregnancy and the six weeks after delivery than U.S. women who are white–regardless of class or prenatal care. Lee created the Preconception Peer Educator Program in 2008 for college students and pioneered a youth-to-youth model to address the issue. The program is part of her work as the national spokesperson for "A Healthy Baby Starts With You," a campaign by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health that’s dedicated to improving maternal health and reducing infant mortality rates.
EngenderHealth’s Chief Executive Officer Dr. Ana Langer’s policy and research understanding, grounded in her experience as a doctor specializing in caring for premature infants, made her a prime candidate to fund and support programs that directly aid women’s health in the developing world. These programs focus on saving women’s lives by ensuring they receive basic care during pregnancy and birth, as well as get the information they need about controlling the size of their families.
Jennifer Blei Stockman has focused her considerable energy to support pro-choice Republican candidates who pledge to vote for safe and legal abortions for women across the country. She became co-chair of the Republican Majority for Choice, the largest pro-choice and pro-stem cell advocacy group within the GOP, to make a difference to the party she supports.
Eveline Shen works alongside women of color, low-income women and young women, who she says bear a great burden in life, to help lift some of the weight off their shoulders. She empowers young women to take control of their lives through Sisters in Action for Issues of Reproductive Empowerment and is instrumental in efforts to reduce violence against women, secure rights for immigrants and seek racial and environmental justice through the Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice.
Pernessa Seele taps her faith to address the disproportionally high rates of HIV-AIDS in the African American community. The founder of Balm of Gilead, Seele began a conversation where many people of color feel safest and most accepted–in their churches–to help reverse the spread of HIV among African American women, whose HIV-AIDS rate is 22 times higher than that of U.S. women who are white.
Standing for Safety
Gender violence is a persistent problem, crossing cultures, borders and communities, so commonplace it often lapses from media attention. From the sexual violence and mutilation suffered since 1993 by hundreds of women in Juarez, Mexico, to domestic violence that is still kept behind closed doors, our leaders have worked to bring attention to and improve the safety of women.
Andrea Arroyo, a Mexican-born artist, has used art to reengage the public and seek justice for the 400 women and girls murdered or abducted in Juarez. Simple and striking white lines on black paper signal the missing and dead in Mexico, a stark reminder of the fragile balance of women’s safety.
Oraia Reid launched RightRides, a car service in New York City that offers free transportation to women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people and gender nonconforming individuals on Friday and Saturday nights. The service ensures a safe commute in high-risk areas throughout the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. It provides safety to women in a city that is still not safe for more than half of its population
Manhattan-based lawyer Michael Dowd made his name synonymous with the defense of women who face criminal charges for striking back against their abusers. Taking note of the ravaging effects of domestic violence on women’s minds as well as their bodies, Dowd has worked to carry others down the path of learning he followed after his first domestic violence defense case more than 30 years ago.
Pushing for Peace
It is often mentioned that there will be no end to wars or suffering worldwide unless women are brought to the table, their voices heard and their views incorporated into discussions. Our leaders celebrate, engage and give agency to women of the world to make a peaceful future more realistic.
Patricia Gruber and her spouse Peter award one group and/or one woman a cash prize of $500,000 each year to commend their work to date and to provide them with the resources they need to continue forward. This money and recognition helps take the work of these women who are changing the world and circumstances of women and girls globally to new heights.
Edit Schlaffer founded Women without Borders and Sisters Against Violent Extremism, or SAVE, to challenge women to become active participants in their lives and their communities. Together with SAVE, Women without Borders is starting new conversations and debates about terrorism, linking the collective female know-how to create a new sisterhood for a world without violent extremism.
In Texas, the Vivian Anderson Castleberry Peace Center signals Vivian Castleberry’s commitment to making the world a better place. A groundbreaking journalist responsible for some of the Dallas Herald Times’ first stories on child abuse, birth control and prostitution, she launched Peacemakers Incorporated after retiring from journalism to sponsor international women’s conferences on peace and to set the stage for a different future.
Leading Young Women
More than ever this year a focus has been put on the lives of young women, on their education and empowerment to change the next generation and make women’s equality a reality. Many of our leaders have in some way reached out to girls and young women to help them build a future they can be proud of.
Kathy Cloninger has used her position in the Girl Scouts of the USA to help expand the "girl energy and sisterhood" she experienced when in the Scouts into a pathway to leadership for young women. Her mission is to make the Girl Scouts into a movement to increase the number and diversity of girls in the leadership pipeline.
Salome Chasnoff works on amplifying young women’s voices and images through the creative arts and technology. Giving pregnant teens the tools to tell their stories and providing a space in Chicago for free programs where young women can grow and learn is her gift to the coming generations of leaders and change creators.
In Brazil, Maria do Socorro Melo Brandão works with volunteers to help women, starting in their early teens, improve their economic and psychological situation through their creative abilities. Melo Brandão’s company Seed of Life utilizes recycled and often thought-to-be worthless materials to make clothing and jewelry, transforming the materials and the lives of women.
Equality is the word of the women’s movement, the tool that is required to change the lot of women in whatever walk of life they find themselves. Our leaders have stood up to be counted in the moments that matter through defining the role of women in religion to be as significant as men’s roles, lifting workplace barriers for women and removing the bias that undermines women’s accomplishments.
Dr. Sarwat Malik would like to see the return to gender equality in Islam, to help Muslim women and girls reclaim their faith based human rights in Islam to become educationally and economically empowered. As a co-founder and vice-chair of the Muslim Women’s Fund, Malik provides financial support for programs to reform madrassas in Pakistan, or Islamic schools, and in Africa’s regions where female genital mutilation is still the norm.
Jen Taylor Friedman disregards discrimination in the established gender roles in much of the Jewish community. She taught herself the skills to become the first woman to complete a Torah scroll in the modern day. Now a leader and a teacher of other women who wish to take an active role in their religion, Taylor Friedman is clearing the path to change for Jewish women.
Martha Diaz confronts the misogyny and gang culture of mainstream hip-hop to send a message of solidarity and social justice. She has promoted the role of women in hip-hop, connected female artists, activists and entrepreneurs and established the Ladies First Fund to encourage young women of color in New Jersey to step up to their futures and become leaders for those that follow them.
Nell Merlino, chief executive officer of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, uses her big thinking to set equality and women’s worth at work in stone. Outside of moving money, Merlino noticed the importance of establishing women’s profiles and through Take Our Daughters to Work Day sent a clear message to the young women and girls on their way up that they too could be successful in business and other professions.
Ilene Lang uses her senior role at Catalyst to help redefine women’s roles in the workplace and move them forward toward a balanced work force. Overcoming career barriers for women in tech, Lang has worked to change the way companies work, not the way women do.
Robin Abrams acts as the link between women and technology, speaking out repeatedly on how technology can and should be of service to women. A former CEO for major technology companies, she is now ensuring others will pick up the latest communication tools and use them on behalf of women worldwide.
Charlotte Cooper is Women’s eNews’ director of marketing.
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