The 16 Most Inspiring Women Alive Today
These women are doing great things and leading by example.
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Names you should know
During Women’s History Month in March, we honor the legacies of the women who came before us who led the charge for change, each in their own way. From suffragist Susan B. Anthony to civil rights activist Rosa Parks, they helped to shape the lives of not only the women who came after them but the world at large. Today there are many inspiring women picking up where these fierce females left off, working tirelessly for the greater good and creating history in their own right. You’ll also want to know about these pioneering women who changed the world.
No matter where you stand on the issue of climate change, you’ve likely heard the name Greta Thunberg. The 18-year-old climate activist was recently nominated for a Nobel Prize for a third year in a row (she has yet to win the coveted honor). The teen, who was named as TIME’s Person of the Year in 2019, first came to international attention when she started skipping her Friday classes each week to campaign outside the Swedish Parliament with a sign reading “Skolstrejk för klimatet:” “School Strike for Climate.” Since then she has caught the attention of heads of state, whom she has addressed about climate and environmental concerns. Thunberg has set up a nonprofit foundation for her #FridaysForFuture campaign. She also made our list of 11 young women who are about to change the world.
All Pakistan-born Malala Yousafzai wanted was an education, the same education provided to her male peers. Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, ran a girls’ school in the village in which they lived, however when the Taliban moved in, they ordered the school to be shut down as they didn’t believe girls should receive an education. Not one to be deterred, Yousafzai continued to pursue her education but, in 2012, was confronted by a gunman on her school bus who shot her in the left side of her face. Now age 23, she and her family live in the United Kingdom and Youfsafzai founded the Malala Fund, a nonprofit whose aim is to give girls everywhere a chance at the future they deserve. She received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in 2014. The right to an education is one of 13 children’s rights that aren’t universal but should be.
You may have first heard the name Megan Rapinoe when she famously led the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team to become World Cup Champions in 2019. But there’s so much more to the 35-year-old than her athleticism on the field. Rapinoe is a staunch women’s rights advocate who has taken on the task of fighting for equal pay in sports. In 2019, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team filed a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation for alleged gender discrimination, claiming that their male counterparts on the Men’s National Soccer team earned far more than they do, despite the women’s team ranking first in the world, and the men’s team ranking 21st. “Don’t settle for anything less, go for equal, go for more, don’t accept any of these sort of antiquated and BS answers,” Rapinoe said in an interview with BBC on her fight for equal pay. Check out more incredible women you didn’t learn about in history class.
If you’ve ever watched gymnast Simone Biles take the floor (or the vault, balance beam, or uneven bars) for one of her impressive routines, surely you’ve been inspired to get off your butt and do something…anything! But factor in that the 24-year-old is also the first woman in 42 years to win four straight U.S. all-around titles (at the 2016 P&G Championships) and owns the most world medals in U.S. history (that would be 14) and the most world championships gold medals of any female gymnast (that would be ten) and you can see why she makes this list of inspirational women. Biles, who was diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, is also known for speaking openly about the disorder and advocates for those living with the chronic condition. Learn about more moments that changed the Olympics forever.
As a philanthropist and well-regarded businesswoman in the tech space, Melinda Gates champions women’s equality and works to improve the lives of the impoverished through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, of which she is a co-chair with her husband. Gates’ investment company Pivotal Ventures aims to increase the role and power of women in the tech sector. While addressing the crowd at Stanford University’s commencement ceremony in 2014, she had this to say about helping others and doing good: “Optimism for me isn’t a passive expectation that things will get better; it’s a conviction that we can make things better — that whatever suffering we see, no matter how bad it is, we can help people if we don’t lose hope and we don’t look away.”
Shaking up a business that has been around as long as the film industry may seem like an intimidating thing to do, but filmmaker Ava DuVernay is doing it. With her powerful projects that focus on fighting for justice (like her feature film Selma), she is doing more than just entertaining, she is educating. In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine DuVernay shed some light on the way she works, and why it works: “I try to be a shapeshifter and do a lot of things. A: because I can. B: because the traditional walls collapsed so there’s more flexibility, and C: because you can’t hit a moving target.” Her documentary 13th is one of the documentary films about race everyone should see.
Recently elected as Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris is a woman who holds many firsts: the first Black American woman to hold that office, the first South Asian woman to hold that office, and the first woman to hold that office. Before becoming vice president, she served in the Senate and as Attorney-General of California. Vice President Harris has said that she attributes her strong sense of justice and activism to her parents: “My mother would look at me and she’d say, ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.’” Vice President Harris is also notable for her large, loving, non-traditional family. In 2014 she married Doug Emhoff (who now holds the position of Second Gentleman) and became a stepmom, or “Momala” to Emhoff’s two children, Cole and Ella, as well as becoming close friends with their mother. She is a truly modern woman, and an inspiration to us all: The first, but not the last. These inspiring quotes from Kamala Harris will make you want to break some glass ceilings of your own.
You might not think that the words “model” and “activist” are often used to describe the same person, but Halima Aden is just that. The 22-year-old first showed courage and pride in her culture for being the first contestant to wear a hijab (a head covering worn by Muslim women) in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant. She then became the first woman to wear a hijab in Sports Illustrated’s annual Swimsuit Issue, advocating for greater diversity and inclusivity. “It’s important for me to be visible and to do whatever I can to let girls know that they don’t have to change who they are,” she said in an interview with Essence. “I want them to know the world will meet them exactly where they stand.” You will love these confidence-boosting quotes from 20 women throughout history.
Can you remember a time when Oprah Winfrey wasn’t inspiring the masses? The business mogul and philanthropist has been honored for her selfless efforts countless times, like when she received the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2002 and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2011. Winfrey started a school for girls in Africa to help them meet their educational goals and became the first black female billionaire in history. “I think all the work I do is about opening the heart space,” she tells Daily Word. “My whole career (has been) trying to get people to see how other people’s stories mirror or reflect into their own stories. Many times it’s easier to see it when you’re looking at a reflection rather than looking at yourself.” Oprah’s story is one of our favorite early “failures” of wildly successful people.
Dr. Amani Ballour
If you’ve never before heard of Dr. Amani Ballour, then you should take some time to watch the Oscar-nominated documentary The Cave. The film features Ballour and her courageous efforts to save lives in Syria, running an underground hospital in Eastern Ghouta. “Men in our community, they say, ‘No, you should be at home, or you can work in your clinic, but not to be a manager of the hospital,'” Ballour said in an interview with Deadline. “I insist and I want to challenge them and prove that a woman can [do this work]…I have to support women because if I succeed, all women will be supported. That will make men think that of course women can succeed and they can do that.” Find out 13 things women weren’t allowed to do 100 years ago.
When you want to read the words of someone who really gets you (or gives you the swift kick in the pants you need to motivate), you turn to empowering author Glennon Doyle. And when you want to do some good in the world but don’t know where to start, you also turn to Doyle. A favorite of Oprah Winfrey, the writer has penned several acclaimed books, including Love Warrior, Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, and her newest, Untamed, as well as founded the non-profit Together Rising. Through the organization, Doyle helps connect those who want to make a difference with meaningful projects that provide help and assistance to people in need. Learn about 58 famous female firsts you should know about.
Tennis icon Serena Williams captured the hearts of sports enthusiasts across the world with her athletic prowess and dedication to the game at an early age. But as we’ve watched her grow up before our very eyes, Williams has become so much more than an inspiration on the court. Like many of her peers on this list, she is vocal about the need for gender pay equality and racial equality. But she doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. In 2017 she became an ambassador for the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, a project that hones in on the financial side of domestic abuse. Through her own Serena Ventures, she worked with Helping Hands Jamaica to build a new school on the island and $3 million in Mahmee, a Black-owned startup aimed at improving perinatal and postpartum care for new mothers and babies, a cause close to her heart after Williams experienced a serious health scare after giving birth to her daughter in 2017. Don’t miss these 13 moments that changed women’s history forever.
Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t want to merely be an inspiration for other women, she wants to bring them into the fold and help make their dreams a reality. Famous for starting the Lean In movement, an organization’s goal is to create “a world where people of every gender can pursue their dreams without bias or other barriers holding them back.” While Sandberg earns a hefty paycheck for her role at the social media giant, she’s hands-on in giving back with generous donations. According to PhilanthropyWomen.org’s calculations, the tech exec has provided approximately $286.1 million in charitable giving. But, really, Sandberg’s inspiration comes from her actions and words, as much as those dollar signs. In her book Lean In, she writes, “At a certain point, it’s your ability to learn quickly and contribute quickly that matters. Women need to shift from thinking ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that—and I’ll learn by doing it.” Her efforts are very much needed—just consider these 16 ways women still aren’t equal to men.
You know Amanda Gorman from the incredible poem she read at President Biden’s inauguration, “The Hill We Climb,” or from her equally impressive appearance at the 2021 Super Bowl, where she became the first poet ever to perform at that event. Or you may recognize her work from this curated list of six of her most amazing poems. The Los Angeles native and Harvard graduate has been internationally lauded for her talent, poise, and activism work for racial and gender equality, and youth literacy. This young poet is definitely going places, and one of them may be the White House. When Gorman appeared on CBS’s The Late Late Show, host James Corden asked her if she had any political ambitions, adding that he could see her becoming president herself. “Plan on it,” Gorman replied. While she waits for age to allow her to run, Gorman has several upcoming projects, including several books that are already best-sellers—although they don’t come out until the fall.
Actress Jameela Jamil is best known to American television audiences as Tahani Al-Jamil on NBC’s The Good Place, but the London-born star has much greater goals than simply making viewers laugh. Jamil is using her fame to inspire confidence in women and young girls, advocating for greater discussion around body image. In 2019 she kicked off her “I Weigh” campaign which calls on women to focus more on what’s on the inside rather than what’s on the outside. “I created this campaign so that if women are having a bad day or are down on themselves, they can just come to this account and be inspired,” she tells NBC News. “And so they know that there’s so much more that defines them than just their looks.” Find out the 20 states where women could vote before the passage of the 19th amendment.
If you’re surprised to see a member of the Real Housewives franchise on this list, then you’re unaware of Bethenny Frankel’s crisis work through her BStrong Foundation. She has hand-delivered cash cards after natural disasters in places like Puerto Rico and North Carolina while raising money to provide other types of aid. “What it teaches me from a human condition and person perspective that, yes, every little bit counts, but the nurses and the teachers and the people who don’t have any money are the people who are working the hardest,” she said in an interview with AOL. “They’re working for free and volunteering and wanting to help. They work harder than the people who I work with in business that are getting paid. They will work for months at a time longer and harder than me.” Read on to learn about more inspiring women who are changing the lives of women across the world today.
- Newsweek: “Nobel Peace Prize 2021 Nominees List”
- Time: “2019 Person of the Year Greta Thunberg”
- BBC.com: “Greta Thunberg to trademark ‘Fridays for Future'”
- Malala.org: “Malala’s Story”
- CNN.com: “Megan Rapinoe named Sportsperson of the Year”
- BBC.com: “Megan Rapinoe’s fight for equality”
- TeamUSA.org: “Simone Biles”
- Respectability.org: “Simone Biles Makes History”
- Fast Company: “Melinda Gates Pivotal Ventures”
- Stanford University: “Text of the 2014 Commencement Address”
- Smithsonian Magazine: “Ava DuVernay’s Visionary Filmmaking is Reshaping Hollywood”
- WhiteHouse.gov: “Kamala Harris”
- Essence.com: “Color Me Beautiful”
- Biography.com: “Oprah Winfrey”
- DailyWord.com: “Let Go and Believe: An Interview with Oprah Winfrey”
- Deadline.com: “‘The Cave’s Dr. Amani Ballour On Saving Lives”
- PhilanthropyWomen.com: “Sheryl Sandberg”
- TheHill.com: “Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman on running for president”
- NBC News: “Actress Jameela Jamil wants to use her platform”
- AOL.com: “Bethenny Frankel shares her biggest revelations from BStrong disaster relief”