For decades, the fight for the right and uplifting of the girl-child has been that of a struggle around the world. For those years, women continue to rise up, to speak up and champion causes for the girl-child.
This year we shine a light on some of the most dedicated women using their resources, platforms and careers to do it for the girls. From the most underdeveloped rural area to the top of the world, we bring you our top 25 women champions for the girl-child.
As the wife of the first black president of the United States, Michelle Obama started a mentorship program for young girls. Mrs Obama kicked off the mentorship program with 20 girls whom she invited to the Whitehouse in the year and till today she goes around the world mentoring and teaching young girls on the importance of education, self-love and mentorship.
In her book ‘Becoming’ she stated how she produced a song “This is for my girls” with the help of several artists for her “Let girls learn” campaign to help girls around the world go to school and stay in school as one of her primary initiatives as the first lady.
2. Beyoncé Knowles Carter (Singer, Songwriter, and performer)
Beyoncé is a Woman-affirming Artist. Her songs teach young girls to be their best self regardless of the pressure from society to be someone else. She empowers women of colour as she mostly usually has an all-girl band performing with her at her concerts. In her ‘Becoming’ film she said “I wanted every person that has ever been dismissed because of the way they look to feel like they were on that stage. Killing ’em killing ’em”, she was referring to women of colour. Beyoncé has inspired young girls around the world with her songs promoting self-love and self-value with songs like “Run the world” and ‘Flawless’ which she introduced with an interlude of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who is a feminist writer, highlighting the impact of gender bias in society. Beyoncé is an inspiration to young girls across the globe.
3. Malala Yousafzai (Author and Activist):
Malala is a Pakistani activist who emphasizes on the girl-child education. She has impacted the girls in her community and around the world with her inspiring story of surviving being shot on the head at 16, by the Taliban because of her advocacy for girl-child education.
Her foundation; “Malala fund” invests in education programmes to help girls go to school and reach their full potential.
The foundation has impacted so many girls around the world, carrying out its focus on alleviating early girl-child marriage and gender inequality in education.
4. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Writer):
Ms Adichie is a Nigerian Author who promotes the feminist movement; Chimamanda never stops emphasizing publicly the need for society to give young girls the same opportunities as they do with boys. She goes around the world giving several public speeches encouraging young girls and women that their voices and choices matter.
At the 2015 Girls write now award, she told a group of young girls “Forget about likability” stating that whoever liked them or not shouldn’t affect their self-worth. She has a writing workshop that encourages young writers as well.
5. Rumbidzayi Kamba: Humanitarian
Ms Kamba started an initiative that saw 4000 girls in rural Zimbabwe benefiting sanitary wares and the programme being adopted in the UK, Nigeria, SA, Botswana and Namibia. Under her leadership as the Executive Director of ZiMwana Worldwide, she led a team that investigated and resulted in a serious drug lord being apprehended and sentenced to 4 years in jail.
Rumbidzayi runs community feeding programmes where orphans and vulnerable children are being fed every day and different Income Generating Projects to empower women in rural communities.
She is the local champion on ending child marriages as these marriages, statistically show increased gender violence and abuse. She strives to make life better for the girl child, who is confident and can pursue her dreams without hindrance.
6. Irene Koki Mutungi (Captain):
Irene is the first African female pilot from Kenya certified as captain in the Boeing “Dreamliner” Aircraft who has taken it upon herself to inspire young girls to take up a career in Aviation paving the way for many young girls in Africa.
Recently, many African Airlines are beginning to encourage young girls by taking flights with an all-female crew.
7. Serena Williams (Athlete):
Serena Williams is an American Tennis champion, ranked No.1 in women’s tennis singles on eight different occasions, has won 23 Grand slams singles, making her the second most won titles in women’s singles title in women’s Grand Slams tournament of all time.
Serena Williams has been a lasting influence in the life of young black girls who are pursuing a career in being a tennis player. The way she carries herself and how she constantly tells her story inspires young black girls. The tennis star along with her sister has championed a tennis Centre in the Anacostia neighbourhood of Washington, DC, devoting time and money to its development.
8. Deborah Edirisnghe: (Humanitarian)
Founder and CEO of Child Action Lanka (CAL) and organisation that works with vulnerable families and children, providing a safe and caring environment for orphans, children living on the streets, and victims of war and conflicts. Helping them become responsible, independent citizens.
The organisation which began with eight street kids in the city of Kandy has over the years grown to serve over 1500 children with a team of 120 dynamic individuals across 8 districts of the country.
With the belief that education breaks the cycle of multidimensional poverty, CAL set on a mission to educate children to see the next generation off the streets.
9. Debbie Ariyo (OBE): (Humanitarian)
Founder and Chief Executive of AFRUCA – Africans Unite Against Child Abuse. As a strong believer in prevention and early intervention strategies in the protection of children, Debbie founded AFRUCA, one of the most successful black-led charities in the UK, a reputable children’s charity with employees and volunteers spread across two offices in London and Manchester.
Having produced many guideline materials and safeguarding publications to help raise the skills levels of parents, policy-makers and practitioners to aid child upbringing and prevent abuse, Ms Ariyo is recognised as an expert in the field of child protection and diversity.
10. Siriporn Panyasen (Politician):
Panyasen is a Thailand politician who wants young women in politics, keeping this in mind led her to start an organization; WAY Lampang She trains [potential female candidates to contest in elections and she coaches women from other areas in Northern Thailand to take up the role of trainers as well.
Panyasen’s organization has inspired other women in Thailand to form similar groups.
11. Zainab Salbi (Media host, Writer):
Salbi is the founder of the ‘women for women international’ during her reign as the CEO from the year (1993-2011) she grew the organization’s effort into helping more than 400,000 women in 8 areas of conflict. As a writer, Salbi she has written extensively on the use of rape and other forms of violence against women during the war. She has worked with women survivors of war from Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
12. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Lawyer):
As an American lawyer and jurist, she constantly fights laws that discriminate on the basis of gender. She publicly expressed her support for the me-too campaign. Young girls and women in America look up to Ginsburg to fight for them and has entrusted their rights to her.
13. Ann Cotton (Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, and Activist):
As an activist and philanthropist, Cotton is the founder of CAMFED, an organization that champions the learning and career of young girls in sub-Saharan Africa through school making them entrepreneurs and community leaders; she began in the year 1993 when she championed 23 girls through school in Zimbabwe. Since the birth of CAMFED, more than a million young girls and women have benefitted from this initiative.
14. Michelle Bachelet (Former President of Chile and executive director of the UN Women):
In the year 2014, Bachelet used her influence to champion the fund for gender equality which supports government agencies and civil society groups to bridge the gap between educations of both genders especially focusing on the girl child.
15. Elma Solberg (Prime minister of Norway):
Solberg used her influence as the prime minister of Norway to lead Norway’s funding of the new UN initiative to promote the education of the girl child in Malawi. The aim of this initiative is to alleviate the gap between gender-based educations. In the year 20014 Solberg stated in an Op-ed “If you invest in a girl, she feeds herself, educate future children, lifts up her community and propels her nation forward-Charting a path that ensures dignity for all in the process”. Thanks to Solberg, because of her today there’s been a double increase in the rate of the girl child education in Malawi.
16. Viola Davis (Actress):
Davis spoke up on gender pay gap between Caucasian women and women of colour stating that women of colour should be paid in equal measures as their white counterparts and their opposite genders for offering the same value in the Hollywood industry. She also spoke up about equal opportunities for all and she won this case thereby breaking the glass ceiling for younger girls of colour in the industry.
17. Faustina Anyanwu: Entrepreneur, writer and Women’s Advocate.
Mrs Anyanwu is a Nigerian Immigrant in the UK who is passionate about inspiring the next generation of women of colour that anything is achievable. Faustina and her husband Emeka Anyanwu founder the Divas of Colour International Women’s Forum, a global forum that advocates and gives practical guide and opportunity for women of colour in business and career professionals to attain the highest success they can. Through the organisation’s flagship event, the annual International Women Festival, Faustina has continued to raise awareness on several social and humanitarian issues mostly affecting women of colour and women in general.
As well as raising awareness on issues, The Divas of Colour Organisation continues to inspire and celebrate outstanding achievements of women of colour from around the world.
Faustina is also a well known voice speaking on and educating the public on issues of girl-child safety, grooming and other vices that could hinder women and girls. Through the Divas of Colour platform, Faustina has given hundreds of women and girls opportunity to have a go at their dream career, sourcing sponsorships for young female graduate fashion designer, providing speaking platforms for women who aspire to become public speakers, coaching and grooming start-up entrepreneurs.
18. Angelique Kidjo (Musician and Activist):
Beninese-American singer-songwriter, with her career, has been able to chair a foundation called ‘Batonga’ Foundation targeting young girls that are in hard to reach places in Africa. ‘Batonga’ empowers them with skills and knowledge, so they can impact their individual communities.
19. Hiba Hamzi (Activist):
Hamzi owns a community workshop in Lebanon known as ‘Naba’a’, which hosts workshops for Syrian refugee girls teaching them that they have rights to a better future. With the impact Hamzi’s workshop has had in the lives of Syrian girls, they are beginning to make better decisions for themselves, like refusing to be married off at a young age and staying in school instead of staying home to cook and clean all day. There is an entire change in the mentality of these young women and all thanks to Hamzi for her hard work and contributions.
20. Genevieve Nnaji (Actress):
Most young actresses in Nigeria never fail to mention Genevieve as one of their inspiration when asked who their role model is in the industry, and the reason is obvious. Genevieve is no doubt an inspiration to so many young girls in Nigeria, her life is so relatable and her hard work and contributions to the Nigerian film industry are glaring. Genevieve continues to set the pace for young girls going into film and other girls, in general, to pursue their dreams regardless of limitations by a patriarchal society. In an interview where she advocated for women’s right she said; “I think it’s important that children especially women who do not have a future or who do not have hope for a future, look and see that it’s not all lost, Genevieve came from nothing and here she is, she is something today so I want my life to be a testimony to theirs. The only thing I can do is continue to succeed as much as I can, continue to push the envelope, continue to say; you know what? One person is enough”.
21. Ozzy Etomi (Writer):
Ozzy is a Nigerian writer who constantly dissects the issues girls face on a daily basis. Ozzy has a huge following which consists of mostly women on her blog and social media platform, a medium which has helped increase the volume of Ozzy’s voice. She shares her human experiences that have to do with feminism and culture on her social media handles and blog, which stares discussions that help girls and young women tackle challenges they face in their daily life.
For Ozzy, freedom shouldn’t just be a word to the girl child but a lifestyle, with her handles and block she writes about feminism and culture while advocating for the girl child, setting young girls free of misogynistic beliefs and destroying the patriarchy in her own little way.
22. Sally Ride (Astronaut, Engineer, and Physicist):
Even while dead, Sally Ride continues to inspire. She left a legacy for other young female scientists to follow. As the first American and third woman to be in space so many young girls are aiming to be like sally ride and thankfully, she built a foundation ‘sally ride science’ before she died. And, now even in death, she continues to impact the lives of young girls.
The organization has shone a light on the importance of involving girls and underrepresented minority students in STEM (science technology engineering and math)
23. Dolores Huerta (American Labour Leader and Civil rights Activist):
Dolores is a role model for many Latina young girls in her community. Dolores took up roles that were traditionally held by men in the community service organization. As the co-founder of the Agricultural Workers Association, she helped solicit for the rights of women who were being raped and maltreated by farm owners and she won. Dolores later based her focus solely on women’s right, going around the country for two years on behalf of the ‘Feminist majority feminization of power: 50/50 by the year 2000 campaign encouraging Latina women to run for offices.
24. DR. Kemi Da Silva (Gynecologist, Activist):
Dr Kemi is one of the women standing up for the girl child in Nigeria. She is the founder of WARIF, an NGO that reaches out to young girls and women in Nigeria, who have been victims of rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking.
WARIF provides measures to help young girls overcome the trauma of the entire aforementioned incidence and also provides measures to prevent them by enlightening and involving the masses in her movement.
Afua Sam (Fashion Designer)
Afua Sam is celebrated innovative Ghanian Fashion designer based in Washington DC, USA.
She is the founder of the multi-award winning fashion brand, Studio Dmaxsi and The A Concept by Afua Sam. Ms Sam has extensively inspired girls and women and supported organisations that stand up for girls and women. She has been a regular designer at charitable fashion and events for causes such as; Divas of Colour, iHeart Health Expo, Fashion For PAWS, Steps to the Cure, Pink For Africa, Rise Against Cancer ,The Steve Smith Family Foundation for Domestic Violence, America Breast Cancer Foundation, Tiger Lilly Foundation, Fashion Fusion, Fashion for World Peace, Runway Mom for a Cause, Pink Jams, Beyond Words Fashion Show For The ‘Lollipop Kids Foundation’ etc.
She also founded ‘Operation Prom’, a ‘win a PROM dress’ competition open to deserving academically excellent high school female students, an inititiative she started to inspire and support achieving disadvantaged girls.