The road to gender equality has proven to be an arduous one, but it’s always been paved by incredible women doing equally incredible work. By railing against the systems that have traditionally kept women under thumb, exceptional writers, activists, scientists, and politicians have made it their mission to call these systems into question, and ultimately undermine them.
To honor these amazing monuments to solidarity and strength, the United Nations dedicates March 8 to the annual celebration of International Women’s Day. We have a long way to go, but these women prove that we’re in powerful, capable hands.
1. Roxane Gay
This professor, activist, and best-selling author has dedicated her life to deconstructing systems of oppression as related to gender, sexuality, class, and race, and she’s revered in social justice circles for her nuanced understanding of the complex intersections between them. You’ve probably heard of (and hopefully read) her book Bad Feminist, and if you want to learn more about Roxane Gay, be sure to check out her website and follow her on Twitter.
2. Reshma Saujani
As the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, Saujani has made it her mission to flip the script on the male-dominated tech industry by empowering young women and helping them close the gender gap in STEM research and education. Saujani’s passion is fueled by the prospect of gender parity in tech-related fields.
3. Hillary Clinton
While feelings are largely mixed across the political spectrum in regard to Hillary Clinton, I’d be remiss not to include the first woman in American history to stand within arm’s reach of the Oval Office. To learn more about her campaign, pay her site a visit.
4. Bree Newsome
As an activist and filmmaker, Bree Newsome works tirelessly to point out the oppressive nature of historical narratives that we’re told to accept without question. She remains focused on bringing issues of race, class, and gender to the forefront and subverting oppressive forces in the process.
5. Lady Gaga
While the Queen of Pop has always been a proponent for social change, Lady Gaga’s most recent endeavors have brought much-needed attention to the issue of sexual assault. A survivor herself, the Born This Way Foundation co-founder has recently used her platform to cast the ugly truth about sexual abuse in glaring, fluorescent light. By working with activists from It’s On Us and End Rape on Campus, she hopes to change the damaging rhetoric surrounding sexual assault to help survivors heal.
6. Carolyn Rodz
Carolyn Rodz founded the organization Circular Board, which helps women think outside the box when it comes to creating their own businesses. Beyond helping burgeoning entrepreneurs raise necessary funds, Rodz provides them with an immersive, collaborative experience by allowing them to participate in cohorts designed with business development in mind.
7. Kathryn Finney
As the co-founder of digitalundivided, Kathryn Finney works to help Black and Latina women gain solid footing in Silicon Valley. Her sentiments mirror Reshma Saujani’s in many ways, but her organization takes things one intersectional step further by focusing not only on getting women into STEM fields, but helping women of color — who are even less represented in tech — gain access to the opportunities and funding they need to break down barriers in the industry.
8. Laverne Cox
This actress and activist stands at the helm of many issues in the trans community. As a trans woman of color, Cox is another celebrity who uses her platform to open the eyes of the mainstream media in regard to violence toward and oppression of trans folk. For decades, this group has gone unprotected, unheard, and unrepresented. Laverne Cox uplifts trans voices from around the world.
9. Malala Yousafzai
Since the horrific shooting that almost robbed the world of this incredible mind, Malala Yousafzai has used her struggle to empower girls across the globe to demand their educational rights. The Nobel Prize winner is wise beyond her years, and when it comes to fighting for women’s education, she shows no signs of stopping.
10. Gloria Feldt
Feldt co-founded Take the Lead, which is an organization centered around helping women navigate leadership roles in arenas ranging from business to politics. Feldt and her team provide women with access to the resources and educational tools they’ll need to power past the 18-percent stake women currently hold in top leadership positions on the road to gender parity.
11. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
She’s always been incredible, but Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent work to maintain women’s reproductive rights during the 2016 campaign season brings her genius and passion to the mainstream media’s attention once again. She’s someone who has made a career out of embodying what it means to be a strong woman, and she works tirelessly to ensure that all women have the opportunity to do the same.
12. Neha Gupta
At 17 years old, this amazing young woman founded Empower Orphans — an organization that she actually ideated when she was only nine. Gupta and her team work not only to provide basic means of sustenance to orphans around the world, but also to equip them with the tools they’ll need to succeed later in life. She recently won the International Children’s Peace Prize for her efforts.
Women today sit at an interesting, contentious juncture between past and present — between the problematic narratives that we’ve been fed and the new stories we strive to tell. While this is just a small sampling of inspirational women to watch in 2016, their passions are indicative of the new battles we face as we move toward full equality. Luckily for us, there’s no shortage of dazzling people leading the way.