The pages of history are full of celebrated people whom we are taught to admire and emulate from a very early age. We grow up idolizing these people and basing our lives and principles on them. Though she was a great lady, there is more to life than Mother Teresa and I wish to God people would say some other name in beauty pageants. The irony of life is that while in life one is ignored for not being glamorous enough, death, especially untimely death, catapults one into echelons of fame. Today we admire suffragists, first wave feminists, poets, writers, scientists and others who lived centuries ago and dedicated their lives to bettering that of those around them. Yet the same heroes who do that today are persecuted, jailes, prosecuted and vindictively become victims of media and governments. Here is a list of top ten women in the world who are very much alive and in the prime of their life. They have been doing tremendous good work for years and will continue doing so. Let’s not wait till they die to glorify their achievements. Let’s not look into how glamorous lives they lead in order to validate their good work. Let us teach children, and ourselves, to be like them from now on itself. The world is a better place for them being around.
10. Sheryl Sandberg
The Chief Operating Officer of Facebook since 2008, Sheryl Sandberg is an icon to working women everywhere who are constantly made to feel guilty and less of themselves as mothers and wives because they want to have a career too. Women in the workforce face tremendous sexism and unfairness and this is too much for many to handle, especially since they worry about missing the childhood of their children or not managing the home front securely enough. Sandberg addressed all these issues in her book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” in which she details how hard it was to ascend the corporate ladder, especially while being discriminated against for being a woman. In 2012 she became the first female board member of Facebook. Sandberg says that a truly equal world would be where, “Women Ran Half Our Countries And Companies And Men Ran Half Our Homes”. Words to live by.
9. Erin Brockovich
Here is a woman who proves that determination and faith is all you need to have to achieve anything, even the impossible. And the impossible she did achieve when in 1993, without any kind of a legal background, she was quintessential in defeating the corporate giant Pacific Gas And Electric Company, California. The subsequent film that followed was based in her fight against PG&E and how a lone woman brought justice to those wronged, at significant risk to herself and her three little children. Since then she has been an active advocate for environmental campaigns justice demands. Since then she has hosted two eye opening shows, “Challenge America With Erin Brockovich” and “Final Justice”.
8. Mukhtaran Mai
Mukhtaran Mai’s brother was accused of consorting with a girl of higher caste in Pakistan, a grave sin in the eye of village elders. As retribution, a gang of men dragged the young Mukhtar into a stable and raped her till she could fight back no more. Apparently this is a common system of justice in rural Pakistan. Many women have suffered the same fate and they all committed suicide later to restore honour to their family’s name. Mukhtaran refused to be such a good little girl. She went to the highest courts of Pakistan demanding justice for real. Though the media had a lot of sympathy for her, the strict Islamic society condemned her actions to be shameful. A woman brandishing her dishonour for the world to see was evil, according to them. She and her family were stigmatized and ostracized beyond belief. Instead of buckling to the pressure and giving in, she went international where even more people could her story. She was named Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year and several other accolades that befitted her true courageous grit. Mukhtaran is fighting to ensure that no other girl suffers the horrific fate that was thrust upon her in the name of honour and justice.
7. Sunitha Krishnan
America had slavery before Abraham Lincoln sacrificed his life to put an end to that terrible practice. In the modern day world, slavery might be illegal but it exists in a far more sinister form and it is thanks to Lincolns like Sunitha Krishnan that there is some measure of hope for its eradication. The trafficking of women and young girls and forcing them into prostitution is a bitter truth of modern day society. In spite of the police and government’s efforts to control it, the traffickers have been running a smooth operation in third world countries. Girls as young as three, four and five are kidnapped and smuggled. Defenceless young women don’t stand a chance. Krishnan founded the NGO Prajwala in Hyderbad that is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating these girls into society. She aims to equip them with decent education and jobs so that they can lead lives free of stigma and pain. Her works have angered many a crime lords whose main source of income is exploiting little girls. She has been warned and almost beaten to death many times. Yet she does not let this come in the way of her vision. It is because of women like her, that women like me find inspiration to keep working in a world so full of hate.
6. Queen Rania
Queen Rania of Jordan is an inspirational woman who has been uplifting the lives of her citizens ever since her ascension to the throne in 1999. A commoner by birth, she used to work in Apple Inc. before she met King Abdullah at a party and captivated his heart. She uses her influential position to advocate intensely for high degree of education for Jordanian children. She believes that education is the answer to all problems of the world and does her part to ensure that children not only from Jordan but all over the world have access to this basic right. While abroad, she campaign for the second Millennium Development Goal to be fulfilled. She also focuses on health, community empowerment, youth forums, microfinance and women’s rights. If every Middle Eastern country had a female leader like her, then the story would be far different indeed.
5. Aisha Bibi
Few women have faced a fate as brutal as Aisha Bibi and then lived to tell the world about it. The horrific fate of this woman lead her to being featured on the cover of Time Magazine with the tag line stating that this is why we can’t leave Afghanistan. This is in reference to the US troops in the country. Married off at age seven into a Taliban family so her father could pay off a debt, she had been serially emotionally and physically abused at the hands of her husband and in laws. When she could bear it no longer, she attempted to escape. This, in Afghanistan, is a crime punishable by imprisonment or death. When the authorities caught her, her husband’s family hacked off her nose ears. Then they left her for dead in the roadside. She was miraculously rescued by US soldiers and secretly smuggled to the America. Here she received pro bono treatment to put her face back together. She displayed tremendous fortitude and bravery in holding onto the last vestiges of life when every ounce of willpower was being beaten out of her. We know that Afghanistan is a terrible country to be a woman, but Aisha tells us exactly how terrible.
4. Arundhati Roy
The booker prize winning author of, “God Of Small Things” is a firebrand crusader for social causes that the government tends to ignore or violate for its own benefits. She is a fierce spokesperson for tribal rights, land preservation, human rights, and poverty and child rights. Her tireless activism has brought to light issues concerning the evils of living in a corporate era where everyone and everything can be bought, provided the price is right. She adapts to the lives of the people she is defending, no matter how downtrodden they may be or how hard their lives. She could have easily lived a life of literary fame. Instead she invites censure upon her head everyday but does not let the ensuing dangers of her work deter her.
3. Angelina Jolie
Being a glamorous Hollywood star, the world was at her feet. Yet Angelina’s Jolie’s penchant for helping those less unfortunate than her and making a mark in a different kind of world has makes her one of the most remarkable women alive today. She has adopted bereaved children from poverty stricken countries around the world. She tirelessly journeys to the most gruesome destinations in the world to offer help and relief to people ravaged by war, poverty and hunger. She is a dedicated UNICEF goodwill ambassador and champions the cause of the trampled tirelessly. And earlier this year she shocked and surprised people when she admitted she had undergone double mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting cancer. In the plastic world of Hollywood where people pride themselves on their looks and bodies, she did not hesitate to admit a difficult truth knowing that millions of women around the world will be inspired by this piece of information. Angelina Jolie is a true embodiment of the perfect role model that young women admire worldwide.
2. Amina Tyler
As we progress in time, instead of becoming better, the tortures against women seem to increase in brutality. Concepts of honour killing did not even exist a century back. Today they are at the forefront of crimes being committed against women. Worse, in most Asian and Middle Eastern countries, these are taken to be the norm rather than an atrocity. In that context, what Amina Tyler did is heroic beyond belief. In the fiercely patriarchal and misogynistic culture of Tunisia, the nineteen year old posted a semi naked picture of herself on the internet. On her body, written in Arabic was that her body belongs solely to herself and is not the source of anybody’s honour. Since then she has been raped, drugged, tortured abused, lashed and disowned by her own family. Yet she tirelessly carries on the crusade to grant the women in her country the most basic human rights.
1. Malala Yousuf
The top spot on this list belongs to a lioness who has not reached adulthood yet. Malala Yousuf is just fifteen years old and already there are talks of her being the next recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. A native of Pakistan, Malala was on the Taliban red list for a number of reasons. She has been writing about the inherent dangers that her people faced living under the Taliban thumb, especially young girls and women, since she was eleven years old. She dared to go to school. The Taliban had come into her house and expressly warned her to not go to school. They deem education for women unconstitutional. Despite this, she trudged on bravely to the little mud room in the village that passed for a school. When her identity as the BBC blogger was revealed then the Taliban shot her in the head as a warning to those who would dare to defy them in the future. Though she hung on precariously between life and death for a long time, she fought on and emerged a winner. Today she fulfils her dream of going to school. The Pakistani government sponsors her education in a top school in UK. But she is sad because her friends in Pakistan have no access to such opportunity. She has become a mouthpiece for millions of these unfortunate girls all over the world and plans to dedicate her life to uplifting their lives.