BBC 100 Women 2021: Who is on the list this year?
The BBC has revealed its list of 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2021.
This year 100 Women is highlighting those who are hitting "reset" - women playing their part to reinvent our society, our culture and our world. Among them are Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Samoa's first female prime minister Fiamē Naomi Mata'afa, Professor Heidi J Larson, who heads The Vaccine Confidence Project, and acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Women from Afghanistan make up half of this year's list, some of whom appear under pseudonyms and without photos for their own safety. The resurgence of the Taliban in August 2021 has changed the lives of millions of Afghans - with girls banned from receiving secondary education, the ministry for women's affairs being disbanded, and women in many cases told not to return to work. This year's list recognises the scope of their bravery and their achievements as they are forced to reset their lives.
The BBC's 100 women of 2021
Lima AafshidAfghanistan Poet
Award-winning poet and writer, whose poetry and articles challenge patriarchal norms in Afghan culture.
Lima Aafshid has worked as an independent reporter and social commentator for more than five years.
She is also a member of Sher-e-daneshgah, the Kabul Poetry Association, which held virtual poetry sessions during the pandemic to help its more than 200 members maintain a sense of community despite the health crisis.
*The fall of Afghanistan is like sinking back into the same mud we struggled with for 20 years. I am hopeful, however, that we can rise like a branch, reaching towards the light in the gloom of the forest.
Halima AdenKenya Humanitarian and former model
The first hijab-wearing supermodel, Halima Aden is a Somali by descent but was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. In 2017, she signed to one of the world’s biggest modelling agencies, IMG Models, adding a clause to her contract that she would not be asked to take off her hijab when modelling.
She was the first model to wear a hijab on the cover of British Vogue, Allure and Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition. Aden campaigns to improve awareness and visibility for Muslim women and was a Unicef ambassador for children’s rights.
In 2020, she stepped away from modelling as she found it incompatible with her Muslim faith, but she continues to make an impact within the fashion industry and beyond.
*We’ve seen our frontline workers go through extreme measures to keep us safe during the pandemic and I pray that we appreciate their sacrifices. We can reset the world by moving forward with gratitude.
Oluyemi Adetiba-OrijaNigeria Founder - Headfort Foundation
Criminal lawyer and founder of the all-women law firm Headfort Foundation, which offers pro-bono legal services.
Based in Lagos, the four-person legal team visits prisons to help poor and wrongly incarcerated inmates who are unable to get bail, as well as citizens enduring long pre-trial detentions (in Nigeria, those awaiting trial make up about 70% of the prison population). Oluyemi Adetiba-Orija and her team focus on under-age offenders, offering them another chance at life outside prison.
Since it started operating in 2018, the foundation has provided free legal assistance to more than 125 people charged with minor offences.
*For the world to be reset, we all have a role to play! Speak, advocate and support good causes, ensuring freedom and safety for the world.
Muqadasa AhmadzaiAfghanistan Social and political activist
She organised a network of more than 400 young women activists from Nangarhar province, in eastern Afghanistan, to travel to nearby districts and help survivors of domestic violence.
As a social and political activist, Muqadasa Ahmadzai has taken it upon herself to support women and their communities in the face of rampant disinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic. She is a former member of Afghanistan’s Youth Parliament, where she worked for the rights of women and children.
In 2018, she received an N-Peace award, given by the United Nations Development Programme to outstanding women in peace-building and conflict resolution.
*I never experienced such sudden change – as if no government existed before. Now our only hope is for the young generation to fill the gaps and reform the system, but that will only be possible with international support.
Rada AkbarAfghanistan Artist
Misogyny and the oppression of women are at the heart of this Afghan visual artist’s work. Rada Akbar has always used art as a medium to enable her to speak up and give women greater visibility in society.
Since 2019, she has been organising annual "Superwomen" (Abarzanan) exhibitions to mark International Women’s Day and to celebrate the central role that women have played in her country’s history. Until recently, she had been trying to set up a museum of women’s history in Kabul or elsewhere.
She believes her art helps denounce the social laws that condemn women in the name of political, economic and religious beliefs.
*Afghanistan and its citizens have been abused and violated by extremists and world leaders for decades. But we have never stopped working for a progressive country and we will live in a free and prosperous Afghanistan again.
Abia AkramPakistan Disability leader
An activist in the disability movement since 1997, when as a student managing her own disability she started the Special Talent Exchange Program (Step).
She is the first woman from Pakistan to be nominated co-ordinator for the Commonwealth Young Disabled People’s Forum. Akram is the founder of the National Forum of Women with Disabilities and has campaigned for the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Inclusive Development.
She is also working to include disability in the UN 2030 Agenda and its sustainable development goals.
*To reset the world after the Covid-19 pandemic, we must act jointly to improve all aspects of our societies on which the ‘new normal’ will be built, and we should see far more inclusive development as a result.
Leena AlamAfghanistan Actress
Award-wining TV, film and theatre actress and human-rights activist Leena Alam is renowned for her appearances in feminist television shows in Afghanistan, including Shereen and Killing of Farkhunda, which told the story of an Afghan woman who was falsely accused of burning the Quran and was publicly lynched by a mob of angry men.
Alam fled Afghanistan in the 1980s and now lives in the US but has continued to tell stories of her home country.
In 2009 she was appointed a peace ambassador for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
*It took us decades to rebuild with so much blood and sacrifice. Watching it all fall to the ground in the blink of an eye is heart-breaking, but the fight must continue, this time with stronger foundations.
Dr AlemaAfghanistan Philosopher and campaigner
A prominent scholar in philosophy and social sciences, Dr Alema was deputy minister for human rights and civil society in the State Ministry for Peace. She is also founder of the independent Women's Political Participation Committee and a women’s-rights advocate.
With a PhD in philosophy from Germany, Dr Alema has more than 20 years of experience in conflict analysis.
She has written books about German-Afghan international relations and women's empowerment in Afghanistan, and is also a professional trainer and moderator in humanitarian law with a focus on refugees, immigrants, and displaced people.
*My dream is for a free and democratic Afghanistan in which civil rights are protected based on a modern constitution, and where the right of women to participate in all spheres of life as equal citizens is guaranteed.
Sevda AltunolukTurkey Professional goalball player
Visually impaired since birth, Sevda Altunoluk is a professional goalball player (a sport in which teams of three visually impaired or blindfolded players throw a ball embedded with bells into their opponents’ net).
Often considered the world’s best goalball player, she has been top scorer at two Paralympic Games, two world championships and four European championships. Altunoluk helped the Turkish women’s team win Paralympic gold in Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.
Born in Tokat, Anatolia, she completed a degree in physical education in Ankara.
*Disability should not be seen as an obstacle, but as an opportunity for self-expression.
Wahida AmiriAfghanistan Librarian and protester
A librarian and book lover, Wahida Amiri is a law graduate and frequent protester. When the Taliban took power in Afghanistan and she could no longer work at her library, she took to the streets of Kabul. She was joined by countless other women in a collective march to ask the international community to support Afghan women’s rights to work and to an education.
Since the Taliban outlawed protests, Amiri has gathered with other women to promote reading and discussion.
Her library had been operating since 2017 and Amiri says that without her books, she has lost her identity.
*The world did not respect us as humans. But as Afghanistan goes through destruction, we revive hope through protests, demanding justice and encouraging book reading.
Mónica ArayaCosta Rica Emissions-free transportation advocate
As a climate expert working to accelerate the shift toward emissions-free transportation, Mónica Araya has guided sustainability campaigns in the Americas and Europe - including the citizen initiative, Costa Rica Limpia, which helped her home country consolidate its position as a world leader in renewable energy.
Araya is special adviser to the UN high-level champion for climate action on transport issues. She is also an adviser for RouteZero - a campaign to get zero-emission mobility - and is a distinguished fellow at the ClimateWorks Foundation.
Her TED Talks have almost four million views combined and have been translated into 31 languages. In 2016, Araya joined the world’s largest all-female expedition to Antarctica.
*It’s time for a reset of what we see as ‘normal’. Reducing our demand for petrol and diesel is critical and will help build political support for other much-needed societal transformations.
Natasha AsgharUnited Kingdom Member of the Welsh Parliament
She made history this year when she became the first woman of colour to be elected to the Senedd or Welsh Parliament since it was formed, in 1999.
A member of the Conservative party and regional member of parliament for South Wales East, Natasha Asghar is shadow minister for transport and technology. She hopes to launch a travel card which would encourage locals and tourists in Wales to use public transport and fuel economic growth.
Before joining politics, she worked as a banker, TV presenter and radio DJ, and she has written two books.
*United together, we must travel the difficult path to a new normal and grasp the opportunities presented to optimise the way we live and work from now on.
Zuhal AtmarAfghanistan Entrepreneur - Gul-e-Mursal recycling
Afghanistan's first waste-paper recycling factory, Gul-e-Mursal, was founded by businesswoman Zuhal Atmar. With a background in economics and business, she set up a women-led factory in Kabul in 2016. It has created 100 jobs, 30% of which have gone to women, from the factory floor to marketing.
The factory collects waste and non-confidential papers from non-governmental organisations and processes almost 35 tonnes of paper a week, recycling them into toilet paper, which is then sold across the country.
Atmar has been vocal about how difficult it is for women to get the financial support they need to set up and run a business in Afghanistan.
*What does the future look like? The dreams, goals and hopes of the youth and women have been destroyed.
Marcelina BautistaMexico Union leader
A former domestic worker herself, Marcelina Bautista is director of Mexico’s support and training centre for domestic workers (CACEH), which she founded 21 years ago. She campaigns to secure rights, such as fair wages and sick leave, enjoyed by other workers, and to improve their social status.
Her initiative combines education for workers, employers and community members. Bautista was actively involved in negotiations that led the Mexican government formally to join an international labour agreement that protects domestic workers from exploitation, violence and unsafe working conditions.
She was awarded an international human-rights prize from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Germany in 2010.
*Changing the world means changing the conditions of millions of domestic workers, mostly women, who work at home while others develop professionally. This social inequality will only end when domestic work gets the recognition it deserves.
Crystal BayatAfghanistan Activist
Social activist and human-rights advocate Crystal Bayat figured prominently in protests against the Taliban takeover in 2021, helping organise one in Kabul on 19 August - independence day in Afghanistan.
Bayat had begun a PhD in political management before her studies were interrupted when the Taliban took control of the country.
She is currently based in the US, from where she continues the fight to preserve Afghan human-rights achievements. She also hopes to finish her PhD and write a book.
*Ultimately, I want to be part of any future democratic changes in Afghanistan. My dream is to speak at the UN because I believe the world needs to hear what real Afghans, especially women, have to say.
Razia BarakzaiAfghanistan Protester
After working for the government at the presidential palace for a number of years, in various capacities, Razia Barakzai found herself without a job once the Taliban took power in Afghanistan.
Since then, she has been actively involved in marches in Kabul, where countless women have demanded the right to work and receive an education. She was also one of the women behind the slogan #AfghanWomenExist, which highlights the fact that fear is driving Afghan women away from social media.
Barakzai has a degree in law and political science, and an MBA. In a letter she wrote for the BBC about her experience campaigning, she said: “Dying for freedom is preferable to living in slavery.”
*The educated and young of the country - especially the brave, warrior women of Afghanistan - one day will be the flag-bearers of freedom. I see this every day through the demonstrations in the streets.
Nilofar BayatAfghanistan Wheelchair basketball player
The captain of the national wheelchair basketball team and a prominent advocate for women with disabilities, Nilofar Bayat fled Afghanistan to escape the Taliban. She and her husband, Ramish - also a wheelchair player - both worked for the International Red Cross.
When she was two years old, a rocket hit her family home, killing her brother and damaging her spinal cord. Bayat played her first game of basketball in an open court in the middle of Kabul, a turning point for sportswomen in Afghanistan. She has become a voice for refugees fleeing her homeland, and she set up an association for Afghan women.
Bayat hopes to play basketball again.
*I hope it is game over in Afghanistan and we don’t pay the price of war for another second. I hope to see a real smile on the faces of my people.
Jos BoysUnited Kingdom Architect
Co-director of The DisOrdinary Architecture Project, which encourages innovation among disabled artists relating to access and inclusion in the design of our built surroundings.
Combining her work as an architect with her activism, Jos Boys co-founded the Matrix Feminist Design Collective in the 1980s and is one of the authors of Making Space: Women and the Man Made Environment. She has worked as an academic in many international institutions, exploring feminist spatial practices to creatively challenge assumptions in architectural design.
In a career spanning 40 years, she has raised awareness of how our everyday social and material practices can be used to support people with disabilities.
*We need to centre the diverse experiences of disabled and other marginalised people over the last year, recognising this as a creative generator to reset our built surroundings as spaces of collective care and interdependence.
Catherine CorlessIreland Local historian
The amateur historian investigated the deaths of 796 children at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Galway, conducting years of painstaking research that helped uncover a mass grave at the site of the former Irish institution for unmarried mothers, where hundreds of infants had disappeared, with no evidence of their burial, between the 1920s and the 1950s.
This year, a long-awaited report on these institutions, run mostly by Catholic nuns, found an "appalling level of infant mortality" from various diseases, leading to an apology from the Irish government.
Corless has received the Bar of Ireland Human Rights Award in recognition of her ‘exceptional humanitarian service’.
*If I could reset the world, I would obliterate the word "shame". The dictionary defines it as "a painful feeling of humiliation, a feeling that your whole self is wrong". It’s a five-letter word that wields atomic energy.
Faiza DarkhaniAfghanistan Environmentalist
One of few people working in the field of climate change in Afghanistan, Faiza Darkhani is an assistant professor and former director of the National Environmental Protection Agency in Badakhshan province. She is also a vocal advocate for women’s rights.
Darkhani graduated from the Universiti Putra Malaysia with a master’s degree in landscape architecture. She has written research papers on sustainable urban landscape management and innovative techniques, such as vertical farming for food production in densely populated cities.
She believes in raising public awareness about environmental protection and implementing female-focused sustainable programmes.
*Standing out from the crowd is a courageous decision. You must follow your dreams and turn them into realities, and my dream is having a clean and safe environment, free of war and all types of pollution.
Azmina DhrodiaCanada Safety policy lead - Bumble
An expert on gender, technology and human rights, Azmina Dhrodia currently works as safety policy lead for dating app Bumble. She organised an open letter in July 2021, signed by more than 200 high-profile women, calling for concrete action to tackle abuse on social media.
She is also the author of Toxic Twitter: Violence and Abuse Against Women Online, a report on gender-based abuse and its intersection with class and race.
Dhrodia previously worked on gender and data rights at the World Wide Web Foundation and with various tech companies to create safer online experiences for women and marginalised communities.
*I want a world where online spaces consider the experiences of women in their design: a world where women, particularly women with overlapping and intersecting identities, can use online spaces equally, freely and without fear.
Pashtana DurraniAfghanistan Teacher - Learn Afghanistan
Founder and executive director of Learn Afghanistan, Pashtana Durrani is a teacher dedicated to innovation in education with a focus on girls’ rights. Learn has established schools in Kandahar and provided teacher-training and student mentorship.
Through the Rumie app, which allows learners to consume six-minute, mobile-first experiences, the organisation helps girls access academic resources, videos and educational games. It is also training women in rural areas to serve as midwives.
Durrani is an Afghan Youth Representative to the UN and a recipient of the Malala Fund Education Champion Award for her efforts to facilitate access to education for Afghan girls.
*It's amazing how much the world wants to put us down for who we are. But no matter how hurt, scarred and wounded we are, we will persevere - no matter how long the road is.
Najla ElmangoushUnited Kingdom Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs
Libya’s first female foreign minister, appointed this year, is also a diplomat and lawyer. During the Libyan Revolution in 2011, Najla Elmangoush was part of the National Transitional Council, and worked on building links with civil society organisations.
She was Libya’s representative at the United States Institute of Peace and has worked on peace-building and law programmes at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution. Political infighting in her country has put pressure on her career and she has recently been barred from travelling.
She has a law degree from Benghazi University and a PhD in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University, in the US.
*The world has evolved greatly in 2021 - I want the world to start over, to bring meaning and purpose to our lives, and to better serve humanity as a whole.
Shila EnsandostAfghanistan Teacher
Raising awareness of the rights of women and girls to education is Afghan teacher Shila Ensandost's priority.
Ensandost, who has a degree in religious studies, has been active in promoting women’s roles in political and civil affairs and appeared on Afghan media to speak about women’s rights to work and learn. She recently took part in a public demonstration in Kabul, where she wore a shroud-like white fabric to protest against the oppression of women in her country.
As well as being a teacher, she has been an active member of various women’s associations in Afghanistan.
*I want to see women be included in political, social, and economic affairs, a woman's right to an education to be upheld, and violence and inequalities against women and minorities to be eradicated.
Saeeda EtebariAfghanistan Jewellery designer
An entrepreneur and an internationally renowned jewellery designer and maker.
Saeeda Etebari's work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian in Washington and is inspired by the traditional styles of her Afghanistan homeland, using local gemstones and motifs.
She became deaf when she was only a year old, after contracting cerebral meningitis in a refugee camp, and graduated from a school for deaf people, which her father had helped found. Etebari then joined the Turquoise Mountain Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture, specialising in jewellery design.
*Women are now unemployed and only men can work. Now the regime has changed, my hopes for a better future for Afghanistan have turned to despair.
Sahar FetratAfghanistan Feminist activist
The force behind numerous protests aimed at tackling gender stereotypes, feminist activist Sahar Fetrat was a young refugee in Iran and Pakistan during the first Taliban regime. She returned to Kabul in 2006 and embraced feminist activism as a teenager.
She incorporates feminism in storytelling, through writing and film-making, such as her documentary on street harassment, Do Not Trust My Silence (2013). Fetrat worked with the education unit of Unesco in Afghanistan and with Human Rights Watch.
She has a master’s degree in critical gender studies from Central European University and is currently studying at King’s College London's Department of War Studies.
*I hope to see a day when girls’ access to education is a basic right, not something to fight for. I hope to see Afghan girls fighting for dreams that are higher than the motherland’s mountains.
Melinda French GatesUS Philanthropist and businesswoman
Philanthropist, businesswoman and a global advocate for women and girls. Melinda French Gates sets the direction and priorities of one of the world’s largest philanthropic organisations in her role co-chairing the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
She is also founder of Pivotal Ventures, an investment company working to drive social progress for women and families, and author of best-selling book The Moment of Lift.
French Gates has a degree in computer science and an MBA from Duke University. She spent a decade developing multimedia products at Microsoft before leaving the company to focus on her family and philanthropic work.
*The Covid-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated deeply entrenched inequities around the globe. Putting women and girls at the centre of our recovery efforts will both alleviate suffering in the present and build a stronger foundation for the future.
Fatima GailaniAfghanistan Peace negotiator
One of four female peace negotiators to sit with the Taliban in 2020, trying to seek a "fair political settlement". Fatima Gailani is a prominent political leader and activist, who has been involved in humanitarian work for the past 43 years.
She was one of the female faces of the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and a spokesperson for the Afghan Mujahideen from her exile in London. She returned to Afghanistan following the US-led invasion of 2001 and helped write the new Afghan constitution.
From 2005 to 2016, she was president of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, on whose board she still sits.
*I hope for a meaningful national dialogue that results in real nation building.
Carolina GarcíaArgentina Director - Netflix
Director of original series at streaming giant Netflix, Carolina García was born in Argentina and raised in California. The trained dancer and singer worked her way up through the entertainment industry after starting as an intern at 20th Century Fox.
As creative executive, she has overseen various hit series for Netflix, including Stranger Things, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, 13 Reasons Why, Atypical and Raising Dion.
As one of the few Latinas in leadership roles in Hollywood, García works to increase on-screen representation of the Hispanic or Latino population and highlight their stories, as the ethnicity now represents nearly one in five of the US population.
*These last few years have rocked us all, but life is short - why spend our precious time in fear? As my grandma says, 'life must be lived', and it's time we listened to my grandma.
Saghi GhahramanIran Poet
Iranian-Canadian writer, and co-founder and president of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO).
Based in Toronto, the organisation works to safeguard the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals living in Iran or forced into exile, and also monitors violations of gay rights in Iran.
Ghahraman founded Gilgamishaan Books in 2010, focusing on Iranian "queer literature". An internationally acclaimed editor and writer of four volumes of poetry, as well as numerous articles, Ghahraman’s work is known for challenging heteronormativity - the idea that gender roles are defined by biological sex and heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation.
*When the world resets, it must include every one of us. The world can only be Covid-free if "we" reset to include queer people in all the privileges non-LGBTQIA+ people have taken for granted.
A talented singer, songwriter and composer, Ghawgha has worked in the music industry for more than five years. Her songs - often about girls and women in Afghanistan - have a loyal fanbase and her lyrics protest against the current situation in the country.
In 2019, she put to music the poem I Kiss You Amid the Taliban, by Ramin Mazhar. It immediately went viral online. Her most recent single, Tabassum, is dedicated to "the children who had their dreams erased by war".
Ghawgha says she writes music because “the unending wars in my country never allow me to find peace”. And her lyrics reflect this suffering.
*The sky of my motherland is adorned with as many colourful kites as there are missiles. I think of my people, especially women and children, every minute of every hour. Fear for their safety is my constant companion.
Angela GhayourAfghanistan Teacher and founder - Herat Online School
Almost 1,000 students and more than 400 volunteer teachers are now part of The Herat Online School, founded by teacher Angela Ghayour. She decided to act when the Taliban instructed Afghan girls and young women to stay at home, and her online school now offers more than 170 different classes via online programs Telegram and Skype, from maths and music to cooking and painting.
Ghayour herself fled to Iran from Herat in 1992 when civil war broke out, and she missed five years of school because of the family's temporary visa status.
She later qualified as a secondary school teacher, migrated many times and has now settled in the UK.
*I refuse to recognise the so-called necessity of evil. Perpetual happiness will be realised when the world stops the vicious circle of the banality of evil and so does not recognise the Taliban or any other evil.
Jamila GordonSomalia Chief Executive - Lumachain
A leading figure in the world of artificial intelligence (AI), Jamila Gordon is the founder of Lumachain, a pioneering platform which uses AI to connect broken links in global food-supply chains.
Born in a Somali village, she was sent by her family to Kenya while still a teenager to escape a civil war in her home country. She then moved to Australia and developed a love for technology. Before launching Lumachain, Gordon served as a global executive for IBM and group chief information officer for Qantas.
She was Microsoft's global awardee at the 2018 International Women's Entrepreneurial Challenge and was named Australia and New Zealand’s 2021 innovator of the year in the Women in AI awards.
*I believe passionately in the power of artificial intelligence to make it possible for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to earn their rightful place in society, while also helping transform businesses.
Najlla HabibyarAfghanistan Entrepreneur
To help Afghan women set up weaving businesses and sell their goods abroad without having to go through expensive middlemen, Najlla Habibyar founded Blue Treasure Inc and Ark Group. She has led projects for USAID and the World Bank, focusing on women's empowerment and climate change in relation to businesses.
Between 2012 and 2015, Habibyar served as chief executive for the government’s Export Promotion Agency, helping to increase Afghan exports to the world.
She has also worked in the not-for-profit sector for more than 13 years, supporting education for girls and founding the Afghan Veracity Care for Unsheltered Families Organization.
*Despite the miseries that I have experienced as an Afghan woman, I hope to be able to contribute to ending the inheritance of war for our next generation.
Laila HaidariPakistan Founder - Mother Camp
With Kabul’s drug rehabilitation centre, Mother Camp, Laila Haidari has helped nearly 6,400 Afghans since 2010, despite taboos concerning drug users. She established the camp using her own savings and financed it by opening a restaurant, run by recovering addicts, which had to close after the fall of Kabul.
Haidari’s family is originally from Bamyan but she was born a refugee in Pakistan. A former child bride, married at 12, she is a vocal advocate of women’s rights.
She features in the acclaimed documentary Laila at the Bridge (2018), about her struggles to keep her centre open despite threats and opposition.
*I hope that awareness will spread, so that we can have a more moral and humane world. We live in an interconnected world where the vote of an American citizen can fundamentally change the fate of an Afghan.
Zarlasht HalaimzaiAfghanistan Chief executive - Refugee Trauma Initiative
A former refugee from Afghanistan herself, Zarlasht Halaimzai is co-founder and chief executive of the Refugee Trauma Initiative (RTI), an organisation that provides psychological support to refugees and helps them deal with the emotional impact of violence and displacement.
Before founding the RTI, she worked along the Syrian border with Turkey, helping vulnerable children gain access to education, and advising non-governmental organisations on refugee education and well-being.
Halaimzai was one of the inaugural Obama Foundation fellows in 2018 - a group of 20 global leaders in civic innovation, sponsored by former US President Barack Obama.
*My hope for the future is an end to the cycle of violence that continues to shatter the lives of the people of Afghanistan.
Shamsia HassaniIran Street artist
Bringing colour to a city devastated by conflict, Shamsia Hassani is Afghanistan’s first female graffiti and street artist. She uses Kabul’s abandoned or damaged buildings for her murals portraying women as confident, powerful and ambitious.
Born in Iran to Afghan parents, Hassani studied visual arts in Kabul, has taught at Kabul University and has created murals in at least 15 countries. She was named one of the top 100 global thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine and features in the best-selling Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2, a compilation of profiles of trailblazing women.
Despite the Taliban invasion, Hassani continues to post her art on social media.
*Over the last 15 years, whenever I have been hopeful for my country, things have always changed for the worse. I have no more hope for a brighter Afghanistan - better not to hope than to become hopeless.
Nasrin HusseiniAfghanistan Veterinarian
On her veterinary medicine course at Kabul University, Nasrin Husseini was one of only two women in a class of around 75 students. She grew up in Iran as a refugee but returned to Afghanistan for her studies and later moved to Canada with a scholarship to study animal health at the University of Guelph.
Husseini is now working in the immunology lab and volunteers in her spare time with Canadian Hazara Humanitarian Services, helping fellow Hazaras and other marginalised members of society from Afghanistan who are looking to resettle in Canada.
She also collaborates with the Bookies youth programme, which promotes reading and storytelling among Afghan children.
*Afghan women and girls are terrified and the current situation seems hopeless, but there is always a way. As Bob Marley said, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.”
Momena IbrahimiAfghanistan Policewoman
Three years after joining the police force, Momena Ibrahimi, known as Momena Karbalayee, was sexually abused by her senior. She decided to speak out at the time about her experience, as well as about other allegations of abuse in the Afghan police force.
Since then, she has fought for justice for herself and other survivors of rape and sexual abuse, despite receiving threats. "I believed someone should speak up and I thought that person could be me, even if it cost me my life," she told the BBC.
Ibrahimi is one of thousands of people evacuated to the UK after the Taliban returned to power last August.
*I wish all the women who fought for years, studied and made careers for themselves could return to work and be free from a force that is using its power against the people.
Mugdha KalraIndia Co-founder - Not That Different
An autism-rights activist and mother to a 12-year-old who is on the autism spectrum, Mugdha Kalra co-founded Not That Different, a child-led movement that focuses on inclusion and understanding "neurodiversity". She is behind a one-of-a-kind comic strip aimed at helping all children better understand autism and making them allies of their neurodiverse friends.
Kalra has more than two decades of experience in the broadcasting industry and is a TV presenter, documentary film writer and a diversity and inclusion coach.
She is also chief content strategist at Bakstage, an interactive live podcasting app.
*The pandemic has made seven billion people live through a common reality, alone in their worlds but bound to each other through similar suffering. I'd like this shared experience to inspire greater empathy for our fellow humans.
Freshta KarimAfghanistan Founder of Charmaghz mobile library
Turning buses into mobile libraries, Kabul-based NGO Charmaghz has toured the city’s neighbourhoods to bring books and art activities to hundreds of children.
Children’s-rights activist Freshta Karim founded Charmaghz in 2018, after graduating with a master's degree in public policy from Oxford University.
She began at the age of 12, hosting children's television and producing reports about the state of children’s rights in Afghanistan, and she has continued to work in the field ever since.
*I work with children because I see them as ‘cycle breakers’ for Afghanistan, disturbing the vicious circle of oppression and violence and creating a space for healing, new narratives and new politics.
Amena KarimyanAfghanistan Astronomer
A civil engineer and an instructor at Herat Technical Institute, Amena Karimyan was one of the first women in Afghanistan to focus on the development of astronomy in the country.
She is chief executive and founder of Kayhana Astronomical Group, launched in 2018, which encourages young people to learn about astronomy.
In July 2021, Karimyan and her astronomy group, all of them girls, won an award from the World Astronomical Union at the International Astronomy and Astrophysics competition.
*As the Taliban deny girls the right to education, we have to stay more connected than ever - the Kayhana Astronomical Group meets online every night. My only hope is to pave the way for my homeland’s youth.
Aliya KazimyAfghanistan Educator
Aliya Kazimy was involved in education and human rights before the Taliban took Kabul. She worked with the Red Cross as a volunteer for three years, launched a confectionery and bakery business for women and graduated with a master’s degree in business management in 2020. She taught at several universites and wanted to become a lecturer.
After the Taliban takeover in 2021, she moved to the US and is now planning to study for a PhD.
She has written a letter for the BBC, arguing passionately for women's freedom to choose, especially when it comes to how they dress.
*My only hope for Afghanistan is peace. Peace is what we need the most.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QCUnited Kingdom Director - International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute
A Scottish barrister known for defending the rights of women and minorities, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC has practised criminal law for 40 years. She is director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, which has recently been assisting women at risk in Afghanistan.
She was principal of Mansfield College at the University of Oxford for several years and was responsible for creating the ground-breaking Bonavero Institute of Human Rights there.
Baroness Kennedy has published various books on the justice system's impact on women and in 1997 she was made a Labour peer in the House of Lords.
*Our human rights are meaningless unless there are lawyers to argue our cases and independent judges - women as well as men - to try them.
Hoda KhamoshIran Period campaigner
"Menstruation is not a taboo" was the awareness programme that women's-rights activist Hoda Khamosh ran in Afghan schools to promote open conversations about periods.
Born in Iran to displaced Afghan parents, she returned to Afghanistan as a child and had the support of her mother to study, against the views of more conservative relatives. Also a poet and journalist, Khamosh became a radio presenter in 2015 highlighting injustices against women, and also started a literacy programme for women in her village.
Since the Taliban takeover, she has been running educational sessions for girls in 7th grade and above who are no longer allowed in schools.
*Despite all its darkness, 2021 is the year women stood against whips and bullets and claimed their rights directly from those who had taken them away. I name this year the year of hope.
Mia Krisna PratiwiIndonesia Enviromentalist
The eco-activist is working to resolve the plastic waste crisis on the island of Bali, through the non-profit Griya Luhu. Together with the local community, her organisation developed a "digital waste bank", an app-based system to better collect and process waste, and to gather data to support further change in waste management.
With a degree in environmental engineering from the Institut Teknologi Bandung, Mia Krisna Pratiwi works as operations manager, overseeing the day-to-day activity of the local waste bank.
She is also an environmental analyst at the Environment Agency of Denpasar City, in Indonesia.
*In the spirit of the Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana, let's bring back the balance and harmony to our Mother Earth. Maybe we were the cause of the pollution problem, but we could also be the solution.
Heidi J LarsonUnited States Director - The Vaccine Confidence Project
An anthropologist and director of The Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Professor Heidi J Larson leads research that focuses on social and political factors affecting health interventions. Her current academic interests centre on risk and rumour management and how to build public trust in vaccines.
She is the author of STUCK: How Vaccine Rumors Start – and Why They Don’t Go Away, and she is principal investigator for a global study on acceptance of vaccination during pregnancy.
Professor Larson was awarded the 2021 Edinburgh Medal in recognition of her scientific work on the contagion of misinformation.
*The pandemic landed in an already polarised world. No vaccine will save us from deeper issues that divide us; only our actions as individuals and communities, as leaders small and large, can help reset the world.
Iman Le CaireEgypt Founder - Trans Asylias
A contemporary dancer at the Cairo Opera House and a choreographer, Iman Le Caire had to flee Egypt because of police persecution as an LGBTQ+ person. She moved to the US in 2008, was granted asylum and now lives in New York as a dancer, actor and LGBTQ+ activist.
Le Caire is Arabic relations manager and a board member of TransEmigrate, a European organisation that helps transgender people relocate to safer countries.
In March 2021, she launched her own foundation, Trans Asylias, whose mission is to "transplant trans asylum seekers to trans-friendly territories" and provide emotional support.
*The pandemic put transgender people, already the most vulnerable on Earth, in even greater danger by sometimes forcing them to stay secluded within abusive families. As the world shut down, their screams for help became heartbreaking. Now the world has to save them and help them heal.
Sevidzem Ernestine LeikekiCameroon Climate activist
Using beekeeping as a strategy to control bushfires, the organisation that Sevidzem Ernestine Leikeki founded has trained more than 2,000 bee farmers in honey production, quality control and beeswax extraction, and has planted more than 86,000 "bee-loving" trees to fight deforestation.
Leikeki is a founding member of Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch, which focuses on the country’s environmental issues and especially the role of women in natural resource management.
She believes forests can be conserved through community-wide efforts, such as the 20,000-hectare Kilum-Ijim Forest project in the north-west of the country.
*I want a world where the ecological and socio-economic rights of women in forest conservation and livelihood initiatives are given full consideration.
Elisa Loncón AntileoChile President - Constitutional Convention
Elected in 2021 as one of 17 representatives of native peoples to write Chile’s new constitution, Elisa Loncón Antileo is a linguist, teacher and academic. She leads the Constitutional Convention, the first time indigenous Chileans have participated in public office as representatives of their nations.
Loncón belongs to her country’s largest native community, the Mapuche, and advocates a "plurinational state" which affords autonomy and rights to indigenous communities and recognises their cultures and languages.
Despite growing up in poverty and facing ethnic discrimination, she has a PhD in humanities and is now a professor at the University of Santiago.
*After seeing death up close every day during the pandemic, it is imperative to guarantee equal rights to human and non-human beings. Our lives depend on Mother Earth’s resources – from water and forests to bees and ants.
Chloé Lopes GomesFrance Ballet dancer
Chloé Lopes Gomes joined the prestigious Staatsballett Berlin in 2018, as its first black ballerina. But the dancer, a former student of Moscow’s Bolshoi academy, faced racial discrimination and denounced discriminatory practices in the ballet world, which she described as "closed and elitist".
After she made her allegations public, many black and mixed-heritage ballet dancers expressed their support.
Lopes Gomes began legal action after her contract was not renewed by the Staatsballett in 2020. As a result, the company launched an internal investigation into racism among its staff, apologised and awarded the dancer compensation in an out-of-court settlement.
*Unfortunately, we are not all born equal in this world and our chances at success depend on ethnicity and social status. I want to live in a world where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential.
MaheraAfghanistan Medical doctor
Dr Mahera is still busy seeing patients in the gynaecology hospital where she works.
She must now travel to districts where the health services have been disrupted since the Taliban takeover, providing front-line care and offering consultations with patients in need.
She previously worked with survivors of gender-based violence, but this work also stopped when the Taliban came to power.
*Although there may be less hope now, Afghanistan’s women are not who they were 20 years ago and they can defend their rights to an extent. My main concern is that schools remain closed to girls for ever.
Maral’s family didn’t want her to get involved in women’s-rights activism or be part of civil-society groups. They felt that, as a woman, she should not be going to work. But she did it anyway.
Since 2004, Maral has been trying to engage women in local areas and encourage them to learn about their rights, to go out to work and gain financial independence.
She also works with women in rural areas who have experienced domestic violence, making sure they have shelter and helping them seek justice.
*I thought we had lost everything and felt hopeless, but when I remembered everything we had done, I regained the courage to continue. I won’t give up – the future belongs to those who want peace and humanity.
MasoumaAfghanistan Public prosecutor
As a female prosecutor in Afghanistan, Masouma worked in the judiciary gathering evidence and building legal cases. The law graduate was one of many women to be educated in the last 20 years and she was proud to serve her people, working more than five years in the attorney general’s office.
When the Taliban took control of the country in August they freed prisoners, including thousands of hardened criminals and Islamist militants. International rights groups have reported extra-judicial killings and abductions, despite an amnesty declared by the Taliban for government workers.
Masouma is now in hiding and does not know what the future holds.
*Women and girls represent half of the world's population. And if they are given opportunities, women can serve their people and country, just like men.
Fiamē Naomi Mata’afaSamoa Prime minister of the Independent State of Samoa
The first female prime minister of Samoa and leader of the Faʻatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (Fast) party. Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa entered politics at the age of 27 and has also served as deputy prime minister, minister of women, community and social development and minister of justice.
She is also a high chiefess and an inspiration to Samoan women aspiring to political office.
Her agenda has a strong environmental focus: to fight against the climate emergency in one of the regions of the world most vulnerable to global warming.
*Where there is unity, there is hope for our future generations.
Salima MazariIran Politician and former district governor
One of only three female district governors in Afghanistan, Salima Mazari grabbed headlines this year as the fearless leader of a pro-government militia, fighting the Taliban on the front line.
Mazari earned her degree in Iran when she was a refugee before returning to Afghanistan. In 2018 she became governor of Charkint district in Balkh province, where she negotiated the surrender of more than 100 Taliban insurgents. Her district put up significant resistance to the Taliban in 2021 and until the fall of Kabul, hers was one of the few to remain unoccupied.
She had been presumed captured but was able to escape to the US, where she is awaiting resettlement.
*I hope the day will come when being a woman, a Hazara, a Shia, and a Persian speaker - which are all part of my identity - will not be a crime in my homeland.
Depelsha Thomas McGruderUnited States Founder - Moms of Black Boys Utd.
Her coalition brings together "concerned moms of black sons" from all over the US. Depelsha Thomas McGruder is founder and president of the nationwide Moms of Black Boys United and the related MOBB United for Social Change, which focus on changing policies and perceptions that affect how black boys and men are treated, particularly by law-enforcement bodies.
She is currently chief operating officer and treasurer of the Ford Foundation, overseeing global operations and finance.
McGruder spent 20 years in the media and entertainment business, working as a broadcast journalist and in senior leadership positions at MTV and Black Entertainment Television.
*My hope is that coming out of the pandemic, the world will be more compassionate, that people will realise how interdependent we are and be more sensitive to other people's plights and unique challenges.
Mulu MesfinEthiopia Nurse
A nurse for more than 10 years, Mulu Mesfin currently works at the One Stop Centre in Mekelle, the regional capital of Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region. The centre offers medical, psychological and legal services to victims of sexual abuse and violence.
Three years ago, Mesfin started campaigning for an end to violence against young girls and women in Tigray, an issue that has become increasingly pressing since the current civil war began in late 2020.
Despite suffering trauma herself, nurse Mesfin wants to continue her work in the hope that peace will one day be restored.
*I want to reset the world to put an end to all conflicts, to get countries working for peace rather than negotiating weapons sales, and to enforce laws that punish rapists and abusers of young girls and women.
Mohadese MirzaeeAfghanistan Pilot
As Afghanistan's first female commercial airline pilot, Mohadese Mirzaee took the controls of a Kam Air Boeing 737 for her country’s historic first flight with an all-female crew earlier this year. She became a commercial pilot in September 2020.
When the Taliban entered Kabul, Mirzaee was already at the airport preparing for a flight that never took off. Instead, she flew as a passenger, leaving her country behind. Mirzaee says she “stands for equality in a society where women and men can work together side by side".
She hopes to be flying again soon.
*Don’t wait! No-one will come and give you your wings if you don’t stand strong. I fought for mine; you will fight for yours, and together we are unstoppable.
Fahima MirzaieAfghanistan Whirling-dervish dancer
Afghanistan’s first and only female whirling-dervish dancer - practising a dance that is part of the Islamic Sufi Sama ceremony. Fahima Mirzaie founded a mixed-gender Sufi dance and performing arts group called Shohood Cultural and Mystical Organization, which means The Intuition of Mystics.
She sees dance as way to create a space for herself in a deeply traditional and religious society, where mixed-group activities are still considered taboo. Through organising events across the country, she hoped to promote tolerance in Afghanistan.
In 2021, she was forced to flee as the Taliban consider Sufi whirling dervishes to be heretical and against Islamic law.
*I believe in putting my spirituality first: we have to try to find peace within ourselves and then this inner peace will spread to the whole world.
Tlaleng MofokengSouth Africa UN’s Rapporteur on the right to health
Affectionally known as Doctor T, she is a medical doctor and rights activist for women’s sexual and reproductive health, who advocates for universal health access, HIV care and family-planning services.
Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng is currently the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health - the first woman, the first African, and one of the youngest people to hold this position. She is also the best-selling author of Dr T: A Guide to Sexual Health and Pleasure.
Mofokeng was one of the 2016 winners of the 120 Under 40 award for young champions of family planning, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health.
*How do I want the world to reset? (By) practising self-care as community love.
Tanya MuzindaZimbabwe Motocross athlete
Taking on the male-dominated world of motocross, or off-road motorcycle racing, Tanya Muzinda has become her country's off-road circuits champion. She is the first Zimbabwean woman to win a motocross championship since the competition started in 1957.
Inspired by her father, a former biker, she started training when she was five. Now 17, Muzinda hopes to be the first black African to win a women’s motocross world championship. In 2018, she was crowned junior sportswoman of the year by the African Union.
With her motocross earnings, she engages in charitable work, paying tuition for around 100 students to attend school in Harare.
*I don’t want to reset the world - it was never perfect. There was always some good and some bad. Let’s fix the present so future generations don’t have to fight for the same things we fight for.
Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieNigeria Writer
An acclaimed Nigerian author and feminist icon whose work has been translated into more than 30 languages. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie moved to the US at the age of 19 to pursue a degree in communication and political science.
Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, published in 2003, won a Commonwealth Writers’ prize and in 2013 her novel Americanah was named one of The New York Times's top 10 books.
Adichie’s landmark TED Talk in 2012, We Should All Be Feminists, started a worldwide conversation about feminism and was published as a book in 2014. She recently wrote Notes on Grief (2021), a very personal tribute to her father after his sudden death.
*Let's use this moment to start to think about health care as a human right everywhere in the world - what a person deserves simply by virtue of being alive, not when you can afford it.
Lynn NgugiKenya Journalist
Award-winning journalist Lynn Ngugi is known for her work on the Tuko digital news platform, where she covered a wide array of inspiring human-interest stories.
She first worked as a volunteer, caring for cancer patients, and in 2011 she began a media career with Kiwo films and later with the Qatar Foundation. Ngugi is also regarded as a social-media influencer and a celebrated media personality in her own country.
She won the Cafe Ngoma humanitarian journalist of the year award in 2020 and this year’s iChange Nations community ambassador award.
*I’d like the world to reset as a place where everyone feels safe.
Amanda NguyễnUnited States Social entrepreneur
She is the chief executive of Rise, an organisation that protects the rights of people who have been raped or sexually assaulted.
A civil-rights activist and social entrepreneur, Amanda N Nguyễn founded Rise after she was raped in 2013 while studying at Harvard University and was told she had only a six-month window to press charges before the evidence would be destroyed. She helped draft the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, which safeguards a rape victim’s right to preserve evidence.
In 2021, her video on anti-Asian hate crimes in the US went viral, a pivotal moment for the Stop Asian Hate movement.
*No-one is powerless when we come together. No-one is invisible when we demand to be seen.
Basira PaighamAfghanistan Gender-minorities activist
Working for LGBTQ+ rights in Afghanistan is fraught with difficulty but despite the challenges, Basira Paigham has been a gender-equality and gender-minorities activist for the past eight years.
She has delivered workshops on gender and sexuality awareness and, with colleagues, has provided advice and financial support for the medical treatment of members of the LGBTQ+ community who had been victims of abuse. They also helped ensure access to psychotherapy for LGBTQ+ people considered at risk of suicide.
Now living in Ireland, she continues to campaign for recognition of Afghanistan’s LGBTQ+ community and their human rights and freedoms.
*Afghanistan is suffocating, let it breathe; it will breathe when everyone from different genders, religions and tribes can live freely and happily there.
Natalia Pasternak TaschnerBrazil Microbiologist and science communicator
She has brought crucial, life-saving scientific information to millions of people in Brazil during the Covid-19 pandemic, through her press columns, radio and TV appearances.
Natalia Pasternak is a science writer and microbiologist, with a PhD in bacterial genetics from the University of Sao Paulo. The quality of her work led to her being invited to Columbia University, in New York, by world-renowned neuroscientist and science writer Stuart Firestein.
Pasternak is also founder and current president of Instituto Questão de Ciência (Question of Science Institute), a non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of scientific evidence in public policies.
*As a granddaughter of the Holocaust, I know what authoritarian governments can do to people. Speaking up for science in Brazil during the pandemic was my contribution to keep the "Never Forget" alive.
Monica PaulusPapua New Guinea Campaigner against sorcery violence
To help victims of sorcery accusation-related violence, human-rights activist Monica Paulus co-founded the Highlands Women Human Rights Defenders Network. The organisation provides shelter and legal advice to women accused of witchcraft and reports their cases to the UN and other international organisations.
Their efforts led the government of Papua New Guinea to set up sorcery-related violence committees.
In 2015, Paulus was one of the UN's Women of Achievement and received a Pride of Papua New Guinea Award for Women for her courage. Amnesty International Australia described her as one of the bravest women in the world.
*We need to reset and remember we are all part of the human race, and gender should never hold us back or be held against us.
Rehana PopalAfghanistan Barrister
An immigration and civil-law specialist, Rehana Popal is currently working to support Afghan interpreters, translators and others left behind following the Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Popal was the first Afghan woman to practise as a barrister in England and Wales. She came to the United Kingdom as a refugee child at the age of five, read international politics and law and now works as a human-rights barrister.
In 2019, she was named barrister of the year at the Inspirational Women in Law Awards.
*I hope that in the future, women and girls in Afghanistan can have the freedom to be educated, employed and live without fear.
Manjula PradeepIndia Human-rights activist
Lawyer and activist for the rights of India’s most deprived communities. From a Dalit family from Gujarat, Manjula Pradeep is known for her work against caste and gender discrimination. She served as executive director of the Navsarjan Trust, India’s largest organisation for the rights of Dalits (formerly known as untouchables).
This year, she co-founded the National Council of Women Leaders. She also founded Wise Act of Youth Visioning and Engagement, which seeks to empower the country’s marginalised youth.
She has been a member of the International Dalit Solidarity Network, highlighting Dalit rights at the UN World Conference Against Racism.
*I want the world to be reset to have compassion and love, where women from underprivileged communities lead the path towards a peaceful and just society.
An accomplished musician, Razma plays an instrument that is usually reserved for men. A graduate of music and arts from a family of musicians, she has performed with prominent artists across Afghanistan and internationally.
She says she had hoped to show a new side of Afghanistan to the world through her music, but instead it has been the “darkest year” for Afghan women. As a musician who can no longer sing or play with others, it has been particularly devastating.
Music was banned when the Taliban ruled the country from 1996 to 2001 and Razma fears history is repeating itself for Afghanistan’s musicians.
*Thinking about a society without music and songs makes me more depressed than ever. I hope the dormant voices of our country's women can be transformed into a rallying cry.
Schoolgirl Rohila has been affected by the exclusion of girls from Afghan secondary schools since the return of the Taliban. Her favourite subjects are science and English, and she longs to be able to join her brothers on the school run each morning.
Rohila says that very few girls in her friendship group have access to the internet and she is struggling to learn without a teacher.
Her dream is to study psychology and win a scholarship to study abroad.
*Afghanistan is now cut off from the world, and my dreams of pursuing my education feel futile. I hope the international community does not forget us, and our years of hard work do not go to waste.
Alba RuedaArgentina Trans activist
The first trans person to hold a senior government post in her country, Alba Rueda is Argentina’s under-secretary of diversity policies in the ministry of women, gender and diversity.
An activist and academic, she is the face of Trans Women Argentina, an organisation which campaigned for a trans labour quota bill that reserves 1% of public-sector jobs for transgender and transvestite people. The groundbreaking bill received overwhelming support in congress and became law in June 2021.
In 2019, Rueda sued a Catholic archbishop who refused to change her church records to match the name and gender on her national identification document.
*2021 has demonstrated the huge impact of economic policies on the reproduction of inequalities. (We should promote) policies with a transfeminist perspective that allow us to build other kinds of relationships and develop collective and community care.
Dr Ruksana is a surgeon and assistant professor. She is founder of an organisation that provides basic healthcare to patients who have been displaced from other Afghan provinces due to the conflict.
She has worked in hostile environments during various periods of fighting, delivering medical assistance to the most vulnerable. She is a volunteer with the National Cancer Control Programme and is currently running a breast-cancer awareness drive.
She is passionate about the work she is doing in surgery and hopes to be a source of inspiration for Afghan medical students.
*Every major change is the result of the commitment and dedication of a leader. I may not be a leader, but I will stay in Afghanistan to bring change to the paralysed and corrupt healthcare system here.
Halima Sadaf KarimiAfghanistan Politician and former MP
A lawmaker and former member of the Afghan Parliament from the northern Jowzjan province, Halima Sadaf Karimi is an experienced politician.
She was one of nearly 70 female MPs in her country, and the only woman from the Uzbek minority in parliament, where she fought to advance the rights of her community. She has a degree in political science and economics. A prominent campaigner for women’s rights, Sadaf Karimi received repeated threats from the Taliban and had to move house several times.
In 2020, her younger brother, a university student, was killed by Taliban forces.
*Selfish regimes have always faced early failures. My hope is that Afghan women will acquire their human rights through participation - political, cultural, economic and social - and in doing so, will prevent a humanitarian crisis.
Roya SadatAfghanistan Film-maker
The first female director to emerge from the Taliban era in Afghanistan. For two decades her films have featured the voices of Afghan women, their lives and the restrictions imposed upon them.
Her 2017 film A Letter to the President was submitted for consideration as the Afghan entry for best foreign-language film at the 90th Academy Awards.
Sadat is president and co-founder of Roya Film House, an independent film company, and she is credited with establishing the International Women's Film Festival in Afghanistan, which she also serves as president.
*During the first five years under the Taliban, I hoped that it would end and the gates of my school would open for me. Today I still believe the voice of freedom, of the people, will win out.
Shogufa SafiAfghanistan Orchestra conductor
As a conductor of Zohra, Afghanistan's first all-female orchestra, Shogufa Safi leads a group of 13-to-20-year-old musicians, some of whom come from poor homes or are orphans.
The Zohra ensemble is named after a Persian goddess of music and plays a mixture of traditional Afghan and Western classical music, and has been performing on national and international stages since 2014.
The Afghanistan National Institute of Music, where Safi once practised, has closed down since the Taliban took power. After managing to escape to Doha, she and some of her colleagues - who had to leave their instruments behind in Afghanistan - long to be able to play together again.
*Hope never fails. Even in the total darkness, I believe my baton will be a beacon of hope and light for Afghanistan.
One of the many young women who want to play football in Afghanistan but are no longer able to under Taliban rule. For the last few years, Sahar played for a local football team and met many friends through playing sport.
When the Taliban took over the country this year, she went into hiding with her family before being flown to a new country.
She still fears for her fellow female players left in the country but hopes she can now realise her dreams of going back to a football pitch.
*I want to continue my education and try hard to reach my goals to make my family - and myself - proud of my achievements. I want success so that nobody can say that girls cannot play football.
Soma SaraUnited Kingdom Founder - Everyone’s Invited
Viral Instagram account and website Everyone’s Invited, a platform for survivors of sexual abuse, was founded by Soma Sara in June 2020. It provides scope for victims to share testimonies of sexual assault anonymously, to condemn sexism and help eradicate "rape culture" in UK schools and universities.
The project has collected more than 50,000 stories since it began, gaining prominence after the murder of Sarah Everard, who was kidnapped from a London street in March 2021.
Sara hopes to expand her campaign beyond academic institutions, to target misogyny, too.
*I want the world to listen to, support and believe survivors of sexual violence.
Mahbouba SerajAfghanistan Women's-rights activist
After 26 years in exile in the US, Mahbouba Seraj returned to her native Afghanistan in 2003. Since then, she has co-founded and led a number of organisations fighting for women's and children’s rights - including the Afghan Women’s Network, a cornerstone of the country’s fledgling women’s movement.
She has dedicated her life to empowering victims of domestic violence, fighting for children’s health and education, and fighting corruption. When the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, she stayed with her people and still courageously voices the concerns of Afghan women in local and international media.
Time magazine named her one of its "100 Most Influential People" of 2021.
*Peace is my number one wish for my country. I don't want to see the look of terror in the eyes of my sisters and daughters for an unknown future awaiting them. Enough is enough.
Elif ShafakFrance Novelist
Award-winning Turkish-British author and advocate for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.
Elif Shafak has published 19 books, including 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and The Forty Rules of Love, chosen as one of the BBC’s 100 Novels that Shaped Our World. Her work has been translated into more than 50 languages.
Shafak has a PhD in political science and has taught in universities in Turkey, the US and the UK. In 2021, she was awarded the Halldór Laxness International Literary Prize for her contribution to "the renewal of the art of storytelling".
*East and West everywhere, we stand at a major crossroads. The old world is no more - instead of trying to go back, we can build a better and fairer world where no-one is left behind.
Anisa ShaheedAfghanistan Journalist
One of Afghanistan’s most high-profile reporters, for more than a decade Anisa Shaheed covered stories about human-rights abuses, politics and corruption. She worked for Tolo News, one of the most influential television news channels in the country, and covered breaking news from the field.
Shaheed received threats as both a journalist and a woman and had to flee after the Taliban takeover on 15 August. Reporters Without Borders, which attempts to defend media freedom, recognised her "courageous" reporting during the coronavirus outbreak.
In 2021, she was named journalist of the year and "the face of freedom of speech" by Afghanistan's Free Speech Hub network.
*At the peak of displacement and despair, I hope to see Afghanistan in peace. I hope to see women and girls smiling. And I hope I can return to my homeland, my home, and my work.
Mina SmallmanUnited Kingdom Priest and educator
She became the first female Church of England archdeacon from a black or ethnic-minority background in 2013. Now a retired Anglican priest and schoolteacher, Mina Smallman has been campaigning to make UK streets safer and to reform the police.
Two of her daughters were murdered in 2020: Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry were stabbed to death by a 19-year-old man in a London park. Smallman criticised the police’s handling of the initial missing-persons call and said her two girls might have been victims of "racial profiling" and "classism".
She says she has forgiven her daughters’ killer: "When we hold hatred for someone, it’s not only them who are held captive, it’s you, because your thoughts become consumed by revenge. I refuse to give him that power."
*As a teacher and a priest, I have dedicated my life to raising boys and girls that people looked down on. I’m asking each of you to speak up when you hear discrimination. We CAN change.
Barbara SmolińskaPoland Founder - Reborn Sugar Babies
Hyper-realistic "reborn" dolls help some women process a miscarriage or the loss of a child, and for some they assist in dealing with anxiety, depression, and fertility issues. Polish artist Barbara Smolińska is a doll designer and maker, creating life-like baby dolls that may be used as therapeutic aids.
A former musician, she has professional training in cosmetology and is the founder of her company, Reborn Sugar Babies. Her handmade dolls have been used in films and to train doctors, nurses and midwives in medical institutions.
Smolińska is passionate about her art and believes that her creations give hope to women and improve their mental health.
*I would like people to become more empathetic, more open and tolerant of what is different, as is the case with the reborn dolls therapy, which can help so many women.
Ein Soe MayMyanmar Pro-democracy activist
After being arrested by Myanmar’s military junta, Ein Soe May (not her real name) remained behind bars for six months until she was released under a recent amnesty. She was held in one of the many military interrogation centres and the notorious Insein prison, and she describes her time in detention as extremely difficult and alleges she was physically and mentally tortured.
Since her student days, the young activist has been involved in many campaigning and grassroots activities. After the military coup on 1 February, Soe May became part of a movement actively opposing the country’s military, including the "pots and pans" protest in February and the "silence strike" in late March.
Since her release, she has resumed her political activities.
*If only the world could be reset… We want to successfully overcome the epidemic and build a peaceful society. We hope that all dictatorships in the world will be overthrown and a true and peaceful democracy will be established.
Piper Stege NelsonUnited States Public Strategies Officer - The Safe Alliance
At The Safe Alliance in Austin, Texas, chief public strategies officer Piper Stege Nelson works with the community to stop child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence and sex trafficking.
The organisation counsels young victims of rape who can no longer access abortion services, as a new state law bans terminations as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
Stege Nelson has dedicated her life to advancing the rights of women and girls. She has worked with Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative and for Annie’s List, a political action committee dedicated to increasing the number and success of women in politics.
*Covid-19 has already created a social-change reset - people feel empowered to speak out about what is important. The challenge now is to educate every man, woman and child about the importance of bodily autonomy and consent.
Fatima SultaniAfghanistan Mountaineer
After she started mountain climbing as a hobby in 2019, Fatima Sultani made it her mission to encourage an interest among Afghan girls in mountaineering.
When just 18, she became the youngest woman to climb to the summit of Noshakh - the highest peak in Afghanistan, at 7,492m (24,580ft). She was part of a team of nine young Afghan mountaineers, three of them women.
A keen sportswoman, Sultani has been a member of the national team for boxing, taekwondo and jiu jitsu for the past seven years.
*Afghan women have fought for their freedom and rights for 20 years. They climbed high mountains and made a name for themselves. I hope they are free to climb high mountains again, inside and outside the country.
Adelaide Lala TamChina Designer
An artist and food designer whose work explores the lifestyle choices we make, especially in terms of our modern relationship with food.
Born in China, Adelaide Lala Tam later became a permanent Hong Kong resident and currently lives and works in the Netherlands. Her art critically analyses industrial food production and urges consumers to re-evaluate what they eat and their own responsibility in its production.
In 2018, she won both the jury and public prizes at the Future Food Design Awards, with a mixed-media installation reflecting on the cow-slaughtering process. She is one of 2021’s "50 Next", an industry list highlighting people who shape the future of gastronomy.
*The world has changed a lot in 2021. Now I want the world to have more empathy for what we eat and how that comes to the table.
Sister Ann Rose Nu TawngMyanmar Catholic nun
The Catholic nun became a symbol of Myanmar’s protests following the military takeover when she knelt in front of police to save protesters taking shelter in her church.
The photo of her with her arms spread wide facing heavily armed police officers went viral on social media in March 2021, and won her widespread praise.
Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng has openly spoken of protecting civilians, especially children. She has trained as a midwife and has led a life of service for the past 20 years, recently looking after Covid patients in Myanmar’s Kachin state.
*I have witnessed with a broken heart what happened in Myanmar. If I were able to do something, I would release all people detained in prisons without justification and would make people equal without any discrimination.
Emma TheofelusNamibia Politician
She became one of Africa's youngest cabinet ministers - aged 23 at the time of her appointment - last year. Emma Inamutila Theofelus is a member of parliament and deputy minister for information and communication technology, with the task of leading the country's official Covid-19 communication efforts.
Before that, she was a youth activist, campaigning for gender equality, children’s rights and sustainable development, a speaker in the youth parliament and junior mayor of the City of Windhoek, where she was born.
Theofelus holds a law degree from the University of Namibia and a diploma in African feminism and gender studies from the University of South Africa.
*The world can reset through acceleration: we need to accelerate the implementation of all the plans that have been in the pipeline for years. There’s no time for delays. In fact, we have run out of time.
Sara WahediAfghanistan Chief executive - Ehtesab
She is founder of Afghan technology start-up Ehtesab, whose first product is an app to deliver real-time security, power and traffic alerts to Kabul residents. The app has proved critical in providing Afghans with information on the nature and extent of danger around them, by sharing reliable information on improvised-explosive-device (IED) attacks, public beatings and house raids.
In 2022, Sara Wahedi hopes to launch an SMS alert function, allowing people in rural areas to access the service.
The tech entrepreneur is one of Time Magazine’s 2021 "Next Generation Leaders" and is currently studying human rights and data science at Columbia University.
*It is inevitable that Afghans will rise in unison, demanding free and fair elections and agency to rebuild our country. To get there, resilient activism in fighting for universal education and health for both girls and boys is imperative.
Vera WangUnited States Fashion designer
A prominent bridalwear designer who has been at the forefront of fashion since the 1970s, Vera Ellen Wang has expanded her business to include fragrance, publishing, home design and more.
She was born in New York to Chinese parents and was a senior fashion editor at Vogue and then a design director for Ralph Lauren. She is also a talented figure skater and competed professionally throughout her teens.
She is a member of the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America, which honoured her with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.
*We’re all vulnerable to the exact same things. The sooner we can all work together to try to save the planet - and in a more intellectual and existential way, our lives - the better.
Nanfu WangChina Film-maker
Originally from a remote village in China, award-winning film-maker Nanfu Wang currently lives and works in the US.
Her 2016 debut film, Hooligan Sparrow, was shortlisted for a "best documentary feature" Academy Award. She also directed One Child Nation (2019) and In the Same Breath (2021), which looks at how the Chinese and American governments reacted to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Wang grew up in poverty but has three Master’s degrees, from Shanghai, Ohio and New York universities. She was awarded the MacArthur genius grant in 2020 for "creating intimate character studies that examine the impact of authoritarian governance, corruption, and lack of accountability".
*The whole world seems eager to return to a feeling of normal, but the circumstances that we considered normal were what created the crisis we’re living through now.
Roshanak WardakAfghanistan Gynaecologist
A former member of parliament and a qualified gynaecologist, Dr Roshanak Wardak has provided medical services for women for more than 25 years, even working during the Taliban’s first spell in power as the only female doctor in her home province of Maidan Wardak.
She became a member of parliament after their fall in 2001. Her district has been under Taliban control for almost 15 years and, like many rural areas, endured heavy fighting involving Nato forces.
She told the BBC the Taliban takeover and the end of war had felt like a dream. "I was waiting for this day to remove these corrupt people from power," she said. But recently she’s focused on trying to get schools reopened, and broken Taliban promises have made her an outspoken advocate for girls’ education.
*My only hope is for Afghanistan to make the leaders of the government over the last 40 years accountable for their actions against the nation.
Ming-Na WenMacau Actress
The voice of Fa Mulan in the animated feature films Mulan (1998) and Mulan II (2004), Ming-Na Wen has also starred in popular American medical drama ER and in Inconceivable, one of the few US television productions with an Asian-American lead actor.
Currently she is playing Fennec Shand in the hit Disney+ series The Mandalorian, and she’ll also appear in the forthcoming series, The Book of Boba Fett. In 2019 Ming-Na was named a "Disney Legend".
She will be receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2022.
*Resetting isn’t a real option, so why bother to go backwards? I believe everything happens for a reason. Each new day is a reset. So live for today with gratitude.
Rebel WilsonAustralia Actress, writer and producer
Hollywood megastar: actress, writer, producer and director – and a law graduate. Her acting career began on Sydney stages, where she often wrote her own work, and she made a name for herself in Australian comedy before moving to the US in 2010.
For her Hollywood debut, she joined the cast of female-led comedy hit Bridesmaids. She had a role in the Oscar-winning Jojo Rabbit but is perhaps best known as Fat Amy in the box-office hit musical trilogy Pitch Perfect.
In 2022, Wilson will be directing her first feature film.
*Diversity, respect and inclusion should be non-negotiables in all areas of life.
Benafsha YaqoobiAfghanistan Disability activist
Yaqoobi who is visually impaired, founded the Rahyab Organisation in 2008 with her husband, to provide education and rehabilitation to visually impaired people in Afghanistan. Human-rights activist Benafsha Yaqoobi also served as a commissioner in the country’s Independent Human Rights Commission, focusing on educating blind children.
Following the Taliban invasion, she was forced to leave the country but remains a vocal advocate for the rights of disabled people, who she fears will face discrimination from the Taliban.
Accessibility and discrimination remain serious issues in Afghanistan, which has one of the world’s largest populations, per capita, of people with disabilities, partly because of its decades of conflict.
*If there is any hope, it will be for me to see my country again with much more freedom, and more inclusion for all of us Afghans to work for its development.
Malala YousafzaiPakistan Co-founder, Malala Fund
The youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani girls’ education activist and UN messenger of peace. She has spoken up for the right of young women to an education since she was 11.
Her activism began with blogs for the BBC about living under Taliban rule in Pakistan and the ban on girls attending school. In October 2012, a gunman boarded her bus, looking for her, and shot her in the head.
Following her recovery, she has continued her work as co-founder of the non-profit Malala Fund, aiming to build a world where every girl can learn and lead without fear.
*Hundreds of millions of girls are out of school today. I want to see a world where every girl can access 12 years of free, safe, and quality education; where all girls can learn and lead.
She was forced to leave Russia following the backlash to her participation in a supermarket advert that featured her family in a celebration of gay pride last August. A psychotherapist and LGBTQ+ activist, Yuma is currently living in Spain.
Yuma (who has asked to keep her surname private) became an activist after Russia passed a "gay propaganda" law in 2013, banning "the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations to minors".
She provides psychological assistance to LGBT people from Chechnya who say they were tortured by Russian police in 2017-2018. She also supports LGBT festivals and events within Russia.
*Forced isolation has shown how important close relationships are. It makes sense to look at what we are doing in the world that we would like to do for our loved ones.
Zala ZazaiAfghanistan Policewoman
The first female deputy chief in the police’s criminal investigation department in Afghanistan’s Khost province, a region that became increasingly destabilised by the activity of insurgent groups. Second Lieutenant Zala Zazai was one of about 4,000 female police officers in the country and received professional training from Turkey’s police academy.
During her service she faced intimidation from her male colleagues, as well as death threats from insurgents.
Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, Zazai was forced to flee her country. She has since voiced concern for the safety of other female police officers forced into hiding in Afghanistan.
*My dream in the future is to wear my uniform again, challenging a traditional and patriarchal society. I want to work for Afghan women again in a remote place where women do not have the right to work.
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How were the 100 Women chosen?
The BBC's 100 Women team drew up a shortlist based on names gathered by them and suggested by the BBC's network of World Service languages teams. We were looking for candidates who had made the headlines or influenced important stories over the past 12 months, as well as those who have inspiring stories to tell, achieved something significant or influenced their societies in ways that wouldn't necessarily make the news. The pool of names was then assessed against this year's theme - women who are hitting "reset", playing their part to reinvent our world after the global pandemic has forced so many of us to reassess the way we live. It was also measured for regional representation and due impartiality, before the final names were chosen.
This year BBC 100 Women made the unprecedented decision to devote half of the list to women from one country - Afghanistan. Recent events in the country have made headlines and left millions of Afghans questioning their future, as rights groups have spoken up in fear that women's freedoms could be eroded for the foreseeable future under the Taliban. By dedicating half of the list to women who are from or work in the country, we wanted to highlight how many of them have been forced to disappear from areas of public life, as well as to share the voices of those who are being increasingly silenced or who are part of a new Afghan diaspora.
On 3 December, the Taliban did issue a decree in the name of their supreme leader instructing ministries "to take serious action" on women's rights. The decree sets out the rules governing marriage and property for women, stating that women should not be forced into marriage and should not be seen as "property". But this declaration has been criticised by human rights organisations and observers as it fails to mention girls' secondary education and women's curtailed rights to employment.
Some of the Afghan women on the list are anonymous to protect them and their families, with their consent and following all BBC Editorial Policy and safety guidelines.
Produced and edited by Valeria Perasso, Amelia Butterly, Lara Owen, Georgina Pearce, Kawoon Khamoosh, Zuhal Ahad, Haniya Ali, Mark Shea, Stephanie Bailey, Lara Hartzenbusch. BBC 100 Women editor: Claire Williams. Production by Paul Sargeant, Philippa Joy, Ana Lucía González. Development by Ayu Widyaningsih Idjaja, Alexander Ivanov. Design by Debie Loizou, Zoe Bartholemew. Illustrations by Jilla Dastmalchi.
Photo copyrights: Fadil Berisha, Gerwin Polu/Talamua Media, Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images, Netflix, Manny Jefferson, University College London (UCL), Zuno Photography, Brian Mwando, S.H. Raihan, CAMGEW, Ferhat Elik, Chloé Desnoyers, Reuters, Boudewijn Bollmann, Imran Karim Khattak/RedOn Films, Patrick Dowse, Kate Warren, Sherridon Poyer, Fondo Semillas, Magnificent Lenses Limited, Darcy Hemley, Ray Ryan Photography Tuam, Carla Policella/Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity (Argentina), Matías Salazar, Acumen Pictures, Mercia Windwaai, Carlos Orsi/Questão de Ciência, Yuriy Ogarkov, Setiz/@setiz, Made Antarawan, Peter Hurley, Jason Bell, University of Sheffield Hallam, Caroline Mardok, Emad Mankusa, David M. Benett/Getty, East West Institute Flickr Gallery, Rashed Lovaan, Abdullah Rafiq, RFH, Jenny Lewis, Ram Parkash Studio, Oslo Freedom Forum, Kiana Hayeri/Malala Fund, Fatima Hasani, Nasrin Raofi, Mohammad Anwar Danishyar, Sophie Sheinwald, Payez Jahanbeen, James Batten.
What is 100 Women?
BBC 100 Women names 100 influential and inspirational women around the world every year. We create documentaries, features and interviews about their lives - stories that put women at the centre.