The time of the year for "best of" lists has arrived. Whether it is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year award (LeBron James) or a myriad of other categories, these lists ask us to look back and recount the people and events who have impacted our lives.
This year, a number of millennial women have made an impact on the fight for gender equality. Here are the top five millennial women who have made heroic real and symbolic efforts in the fight for women's rights.
1) Malala Yousafzai: fighting for the right to an education.
Malala Yousafzai is a 15-year-old Pakistani student and education activist. While returning home on a school bus on October 9, 2012, Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen. This callous and criminal offense sparked a worldwide movement: “I am Malala.”
World leaders and entertainers rallied to support Yousafzai and her efforts to fight for Muslim women's right to an education. Yousafzai’s dream was to establish the Malala Education Foundation, which would help poor girls go to school, and she was well on her way to realizing her dream when the Taliban carried out their attempt on her life. Desmond Tutu nominated her for the International Children's Peace Prize, and she was awarded Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize.
Yousafzai is currently rehabilitating and her progress has been slow and but steady. She is able to walk, and has regained her vision and hearing.
2) Samira Ibrahim: fighting for human rights and women's dignity.
Samira Ibrahim is a 24-year-old activist fighting for women’s rights in Egypt. On March 9, 2011, she participated in a sit-in at Tahrir Square in Cairo. The military violently dispersed protest participants. Samira and other women were beaten, given electric shocks, strip searched, and videotaped by the soldiers. They were also subjected to virginity tests. The tests were allegedly carried out to protect the soldiers from claims of rape.
Ibrahim filed a lawsuit against the military leaders who ordered the examination. The Egyptian court ruled against Ibrahim, setting off a wave of protests throughout Egypt. Ibrahim is continuing her pursuit for justice, telling the Daily Beast that she is “in the process of taking the case to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.” Human rights violations against women in Africa are widespread and varied, including everything from rape to female circumcision.
Ibrahim has become a leading voice in the fight against sexual harassment and abuse in conservative Egypt. She said “Women’s rights are being violated by those currently in power. By speaking out about this, I hope it gives women strength.” The Daily Beast noted that “Ibrahim’s courage landed her a spot in Newsweek’s 150 Women Who Shake the World.”
3) Manal al-Sharif: fighting for civil liberties.
In the spirit of great American and other international non-violent, civil disobedience protests, Sharif is a 32-year-old women's rights activist from Saudi Arabia who helped start a women's right to drive campaign in 2011. As of 2011, women in Saudi Arabia have limited freedom of movement; in practice, they are not allowed to drive motor vehicles.
Like so many other Arab Spring protests, her protest was sparked by the internet. A video of Sharif driving was posted on Facebook and YouTube, and she was arrested and detained on multiple occasions. Sharif launched a movement on Facebook called “Women2Drive”. The movement, otherwise known as “teach me how to drive so I can protect myself”, advocates that the ultraconservative Saudi Arabia government lift the ban on female driving. The Huffington Post wrote that “Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women,” including foreigners, from driving. In Saudi Arabia, low income families are forced to hire live-in drivers. Women are not allowed to operate vehciels even in the event of an emergency.
Sharif is a true millennial woman. She is an internet security consultant with a B.S. in computing and a Cisco Career Certification. Her penchant for activism was borne via watching 9/11 videos on the internet.
Foreign Policy magazine named al-Sharif one of the "Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2011," and she was listed in Forbes list of "Women Who (Briefly) Rocked" in the same year. In 2012, al-Sharif was named one of the "Fearless Women of the Year" by The Daily Beast; Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people of 2012. In 2012 Sharif was one of three people awarded the first annual Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent at the Oslo Freedom Forum.
4) Sandra Fluke: fighting for women's reproductive rights.
Sandra Fluke is the controversial millennial woman who was elevated to cult-status as a symbol for the fight to include women’s reproductive rights in the Affordable Care Act. The 31-year-old recent law school grad and women’s right’s activist rose to national attention in the United States when Republicans refused to allow her to testify to the on the importance of requiring insurance plans to cover birth control. After Rush Limbaugh, a leading conservative talk radio show host, ridiculed and slandered Fluke on his industry leading show, Fluke received a phone call directly from President Obama. Fluke went on to speak at the Democratic National Convention and became a campaign surrogate for Obama in the 2012 election. Along with her efforts to support women’s reproductive rights, Fluke is an advocate for policy improvements for victims of domestic violence.
5) Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy: fighting against domestic and societal violence.
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is a 34-year-old Pakistani-Canadian award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker. She won an Academy Award for her documentary Saving Face in 2012. She won an Emmy for her documentary Pakistan: Children of the Taliban in 2010. Sharmeen’s work centers around human rights and women’s issues. she has worked with refugees and marginalized communities from Saudi Arabia to Syria and from Timor Leste to the Philippines.
Sharmeen is the first female Pakistani to win an Academy Award. Time Magazine named her one of the most influential people in the world in 2012. Saving Face tells the story of Pakistani women who are brutally victimized by acid attacks. The Pakistani female victims have little access to reconstructive surgery and suffer through lifelong physical and emotional scarring. Many of the assailants are the husbands and acquaintances of the victims. Project SAAVE (Stand Against Acid Violence) is an organization whose mission is to leverage Sharmeen’s film to “raise greater awareness of the horrific global problem of acid violence.” Chinoy’s efforts have resulted in her being named a Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year initiate.
BONUS: Gabby Douglas, special award for women in sports.
16-year-old Gabby Douglas is the first woman of color and the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion, and the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. And she is a New York Mets fan.