Manal al-Sharif took a major stand for women last year when she defied the female driving ban in Saudi Arabia by posting a YouTube video of herself driving through the streets of her country. Her courageous act and subsequent jail time sparked a movement that has encouraged Saudi Arabian women to get behind the driver's seat.
Photo courtesy of Manal al-Sharif
Ai-jen Poo is an advocate for the "expendables" in this country, especially women, as the codirector of advocacy coalition Caring Across Generations and the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Her hard work on behalf of others has resulted in New York passing the first-ever Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and an expansion of labor laws to protect more than two million home-care workers.
She's only 25 years old, but Samira Ibrahim has already inspired us all with her stand against male-dominated military forces in Egypt. After she was forced by Egyptian soldiers to take a "virginity test," Samira sued the military over the horrific experience. A judge ruled that virginity tests were illegal, but then last month a military tribunal acquitted the doctor who allegedly performed them. Samira's not done fighting, and she's not alone.
In 2009, political economist Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for her studies on the misuse of common property like air, water, and public spaces. At 78 years old, Elinor's work over the last 50 years has helped protect the Earth's resources by bringing to light the ways our society damages the environment.
The first female chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, has managed to make her way to the top in a highly patriarchal Indian society. And she's led her Trinamool Congress Party to end more than three decades of communist rule.
Planned Parenthood's President Cecile Richards is a well-spoken advocate for women's health and family planning. And in the midst of the war on women — as politicians and political groups attempt to defund her organization — Cecile is willing to fight for the reproductive rights of women.
As CEO of Brazil's Petrobras, Maria das Graças Silva Foster has taken charge in a male-dominated industry. Maria's the first woman to run a major oil-and-gas company, and she's so tough her nickname is Caveirao, Brazilian slang for armored police cars.
Cami Anderson has taken on children's education in this country by reforming the system in New York City's District 79 and beyond. Having exceeded expectations in the district by raising student achievements, graduation numbers, and GED completion rates, she's now continuing on her mission for change, bettering the lives of future generations.
French lawyer Christine Lagarde is the first woman to become managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and in her previous position as France's finance minister she led the country through the financial crisis. With her impressive background, some even believe she could become the first female president of France!
In 2006, Portia Simpson Miller became the first woman to be elected prime minister of Jamaica, and she was just reelected in December. And she's devoted to getting civil rights for the homosexual community, which is a daunting task considering the country has a history of violence against gays and lesbians.
Amidst the violence of the Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan, Maryam Durani is taking a stand with her radio station dedicated to women's issues. Despite numerous assassination attempts for being outspoken regarding the treatment of women in her society, Maryam has persevered. And in March, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton presented her with an International Women of Courage award.
Award-winning novelist Ann Patchett took matters into her own hands when she noticed a lack of independent bookstores in her hometown of Nashville. In a story that seems straight out of You've Got Mail, she took on the corporate bigwigs by opening her own small bookstore, Parnassus Books, which harkens back to the days before Kindles and iPads.
In June, Fatou Bensouda will take office as chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), becoming the first African woman to lead an international tribunal. She's on a mission of justice, hoping to prosecute those responsible for genocide and war crimes, including the Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony of the Kony2012 campaign.
Brazil's first female president is Dilma Rousseff, and before that she was the first woman to become chief of staff of Brazil. Dilma has been jailed and tortured in her fight against the military dictatorship, but it hasn't stopped her quest to stop social inequality and injustice in her country.
As an undocumented Latina woman with an electrical-engineering degree, Dulce Matuz, 27, is the face of a generation of hardworking student immigrants. And she's willing to do whatever it takes to fight for her fellow undocumented students, organizing protests and even being arrested in the process.
Source: Facebook User Dulce Matuz Undocumented
Pakistan won its first Oscar with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's documentary Saving Face, which brought awareness to the country's acid-related violence against women. Her film is a moving and educational look at the survivors of acid violence, and it's become a campaign that gives a voice to the voiceless.
Last year, Ginni Rometty made history in the tech industry when she became the first female CEO of IBM. The 30-year company veteran is committed to corporate responsibility and boosting small business.
Photo courtesy of Asa Mathat / Fortune Live Media