Meet 14 activists making positive change

Meet 14 activists making positive change

Fortune magazine just announced the 2023 edition of its 100 ‘Most Powerful Women in Business’ list, featuring leaders from companies in the finance, tech, healthcare, telecom, retail and energy sectors. 

Taking the number 1 spot for the third year in a row is Karen S. Lynch, the chief executive officer (CEO) of American health insurer and pharmacy retail chain CVS, followed by Julie Sweet, CEO of IT consultants Accenture, and Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors (GM). Out of the 100 women featured on the list, 67 are CEOs, with many only recently stepping into this role – phone company Vodafone, retailer and airline Qantas all have female CEOs for the first time this year. 

Research shows that women are taking CEO positions in record numbers, which is cause for celebration. However, we want to take this opportunity to highlight the achievements of those who, irrespective of whether they have ascended to a leadership position at a multinational corporation, are making a positive difference in the world. Here is NADJA’s alternative list of 14 inspiring advocates for environmental, women’s and human rights. 

Mandu Reid: campaigning to end the gender pay gap 

Mandu Reid
Photo by WikiZebraCarol / CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

Leader of the UK’s Women’s Equality Party 

In 2019, Mandu became the first person of colour to lead a national political party in British history. She has called for the UK government to take action on the disproportionate impact of unpaid care on women and the pay gap between men and women, highlighting that this disparity is even greater for Black women, disabled women, and those from other minoritised groups.  

Marie-Claire Kuja: creating eco-friendly, affordable period products 

Founder of Kuja Eco Pads

Based in Cameroon, Kuja has researched and developed sanitary pads made from banana stems, which are 100% biodegradable and affordable. Working with NGOs, these are then donated to women in the communities where they operate. The pads are made by women who are recruited and trained through her company. 

Marie-Claire Kuja (third from left)

Hannah Gadsby: calling out homophobia, xenophobia and sexism through comedy

Stand up comic, writer and actor

The award-winning Australian comic openly discusses mental health, trauma, gendered violence and discrimination in their stand up acts and TV shows, countering anger with humour to attack oppression and the patriarchy. In It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby, they broached the controversial topic of the artists’ problematic treatment of women. 

Yetnebersh Nigussie: promoting the rights of people with disabilities in Ethiopia and beyond

Yetnebersh Nigussie
Photo by Licht Fur Die Welt / CC BY-SA 1.0 DEED

Lawyer and disability rights activist

Human rights lawyer Nigussie has volunteered with more than 20 Ethiopian organisations to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, and in 2005, she co-founded the Ethiopian Centre for Disability and Development. Thanks to her efforts she has helped change the perception of what it is like to live with a disability in her home country and internationally. 

Zahra Joya: fearlessly reporting on the state of women’s rights in Afghanistan 

Journalist and founder of Rukhshana Media

Joya founded Rukshana Media in 2020 to share stories by and about Afghan women. Working with a small team of female reporters and volunteers, Rukshana Media covers issues relating to women’s rights all over the country, including child marriage, street harassment, economic hardship, gender-based violence and what it means to live as a survivor of rape. 

María Galindo: confronting sexism, homophobia and oppression with radical performance art 

Maria Galindo
Photo by Lina Etchesuri /

Founder of Mujeres Creando

Bolivian anarcha-feminist Maria Galindo co-founded Mujeres Creando (Women Creating) in 1992, a radical art and social justice movement that criticises machismo and homophobia with confrontational street theatre and performance art, that has at times landed her in trouble with the Bolivian authorities. She is the author of a thesis called Despatriarcalizacion where she questions neoliberal visions of gender equality, and she runs the radio station Radio Deseo. 

Joeli Brearley: highlighting maternity discrimination in the UK 

Founder and CEO of Pregnant Then Screwed

Brearley founded Pregnant Then Screwed in 2015, after her own experience of pregnancy discrimination when she was sacked from her job at four months’ pregnant. In January 2021 she took the British government to court for indirect sex discrimination due to the way self employed mothers were financially penalised by the income support scheme. More recently she campaigned for the government to extend the limit for women to challenge maternity discrimination, stating that the current time period of three months makes it extremely difficult for women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth to make a tribunal claim. 

Selma James: 60 years campaigning against racism, poverty and misogyny 

Activist and co-founder of Wages for Housework/Care Income Now 

Selma James
Photo by Global Women’s Strike / CC BY 3.0 DEED

More than 50 years ago, James co-founded Wages for Housework, the movement that called for women to be paid an income for essential caring duties including raising children. This has since grown into Care Income Now and has inspired countless other campaigns like the Marshall Plan for Moms. In 1972 James opened Crossroads Women’s Centre, the first women’s centre in London at the time, which is today home to a number of autonomous grassroots organisations that broadly operate under the Global Women’s Strike (GWS) umbrella, such as Women of Colour GWS, WinVisible, English Collective of Prostitutes, Women Against Rape and Payday Men’s Network. 

Yasmina Benslimane: promoting the inclusion of young women in politics 

Founder of Politics4Her 

Benslimane is a human rights defender who founded Politics4Her, a platform led by young women, to advocate for the inclusion of young women in politics, especially those hailing from the Global South. A trained UN Women peace-builder, she has spoken in front of world leaders at UN summits where she calls out the lack of female representation at leadership level, particularly from countries where gender-based discrimination most urgently needs to be addressed. 

Jo Bell and Dr Ailsa Holland: documenting women’s history

Poets and historian (Holland)

Although they recently announced they would be stopping their work posting daily historical events on their Twitter account, Bell and Holland have created a treasure trove of interesting facts and stories that may have never seen the light of day otherwise. Along with Tania Hershman they are also behind the book, On This Day She: Putting Women Back into History One Day at a Time

jo bell, ailsa holland
Jo Bell (L) and Ailsa Holland (R). Photo: Victuallers / CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

Shereen Daniels: dismantling systemic racism and bias in the workplace 

Author and HR strategist 

Shereen Daniels advises executive teams to turn diversity and inclusion policies into real, transformative actions, and she doesn’t sugarcoat her words – calling out bias and ineffectual practices where she sees them. Using social media as a platform to have frank discussions about racism in the workplace has led her to being named a LinkedIn Top Voice twice, and she is also a best-selling author. 

Lina AbiRafeh: advocating for women’s rights in the Arab region and beyond

Writer, advisor and keynote speaker 

Lina Abirafeh
Photo by Anayansi Lopez / CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

AbiRafeh is an expert on politics, economics and gender issues in the Middle East and she has worked at various agencies to end sexual violence during humanitarian emergencies, in Afghanistan, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of Congo among others. AbiRafeh’s vast experience in the field gives a highly practical focus to her writing and public speaking favouring concrete action over theoretical policies.  In 2019 she was named one of the most influential people in gender equity policy by Apolitical.

Autumn Peltier: campaigning for clean water access to be a public health issue 

Environmental and Indigenous rights activist 

Autumn Peltier is only 19 years old but she has already addressed world leaders at the UN General Assembly on the issue of water protection and has confronted Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau on his record on water protection and his support for pipelines. Peltier has dedicated her short, but impactful career so far to making access to clean water a public health issue for First Nations communities, and believes women and young people have an essential role in clean water advocacy. 

The Man Who Has It All: satirising the patriarchy with memes 

Internet personality and author 

The Man Who Has It All poses as a working dad and lifestyle guru helping men to achieve the perfect balance between family life, a successful career and the perfect body – a role reversal that pokes fun at patriarchal society. Run anonymously since 2015, its X account (formerly Twitter) has amassed almost 230k followers thanks to hilarious tweets and memes, and a book of the same name exposes the ridiculous advice in pursuit of unattainable lifestyles women are often given by self-improvement publications and magazines.

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