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Women to Watch: 18 Activists You May Not Have Heard About

Now more than ever, we’re seeing a surge of headlines about female empowerment. The trendy thing for celebrities is to be a feminist, and it has resulted in so many productive shifts in our collective mindset as a society. I think it’s so important for prominent women with large platforms to use their voices for activism. However, for every Oprah, Zendaya and Reese Witherspoon, there are countless of other women making changes and doing exciting things that we don’t see. Here are 18 women you may not have heard about yet, but are doing amazing things:


1. Emma Gonzalez

Gonzalez is a survivor at the Parkland shooting, and she has become one of the most visible voices for gun violence prevention. Her powerful speech at an anti-gun rally in Fort Lauderdale shows that her wisdom and strength is beyond her years: she has the ability to inspire so many.


2. Elaine Welteroth

Welteroth was the youngest editor in chief at Teen Vogue, and she’s the second black woman to hold a position of such power in Condé Nast. Although she was an invaluable member of the company who helped the magazine change its look, culture and audience, Welteroth resigned in January to move forward and to re-brand herself. Her most notable legacy includes transforming Teen Vogue to represent a more social conscious bent. Definitely, someone to keep an eye on!


3. Sonita Alizadeh

After escaping a potential marriage as a young girl, Sonita  Alizadeh became a rapper. She now uses her art to bring awareness to ending child marriages in Afghanistan.


4. Rachel Bloom

As co-executive producer and the leading actress of CW’s TV series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Bloom is making waves in musical theater by bringing her personal experience to the TV screen — and it does it with irreverent, funny music, too. Bloom is able to present what she wants through self-financing, and she also works as a mental health advocate.


5. Danica Roem

Rep. Roem, D-Va., was a journalist and is the first openly transgender woman elected and serving in a State Legislature. She embodies unapologetic confidence; she is someone we could all learn a thing or two from!


6. Nanfu Wang

Wang is exposing cases of sexual violence in China through filmmaking. Wang’s powerful documentaries reflect her determination and passion for freedom. We have yet to hear so many stories, and Wang is certainly doing her part to bring them into the light!


7. Elyse Fox

Elyse Fox is the founder of Sad Girls Club, an in-person and online platform that promotes mental health, particularly among young women of color. She advocates for a group that is often neglected from social conversations, and she empowers those girls with resources and confidence. She gives them a role model to look up to.


8. Meghan Markle

Okay, she has made a plethora of headlines already recently. But, she’s been doing a lot more than pushing the limits of the royal dress code. She’s a passionate feminist, and she’s breaking century-long traditions to be true to herself and to her voice.


9. Leymah Gbowee

Gbowee is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who was recognized for uniting women during the Second Liberian Civil War. She spoke and spread wisdom to students most recently at Susquehanna University as a part of the Alice Pope Shade Lecture series. Gbowee is a parent of a student at the high school I went to; while attending, I had the great privilege of hearing her speak. I can personally attest to the incredible magnitude of her presence and her ability to move a crowd through the power of speech. I think anyone who has the chance to hear her speak should definitely take advantage of the opportunity. 


10. Blair Imani

Imani is the founder of Equality for HER, a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower and encourage voices of all women. She is a black Muslim activist who made headlines when she was arrested during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge.


11. Iris Fen Gillingham

Gillingham became an activist for climate change after floods destroyed her family’s farm. She started Earth Guardians, an organization comprised of a group of young activists from all walks of life who work together to make a difference.


12. Marsai Martin

You may recognize Martin as Diane Johnson from ABC’s Black-ish. But, you may soon see her on the big screens, too; she’s also involved in Little, an upcoming movie in which she’s starring and executive producing? Oh, did I mention she’s just 13 years old?


13. Safa al Ahmed

Ahmed is a journalist and cinematographer who creates honest, powerful documentaries that exposes the realities of free speech struggle in Saudi Arabia. Ahmed’s courage and talent earned her the 2015 International Press Award.


14. Rachel Morrison

Filmmaker Morrison earned herself a 2018 Oscar nomination for best cinematography. The fact that she’s (unfortunately) the first woman nominated in this category sets her apart as a trailblazer for women in film. She received the nomination for her work on Mudbound, a post-war drama that weaves together friendship and issues about racial justice.


15. Brittany Packnett

Brittany Packnett is known for challenging racial inequality in the U.S. Packnett was a member to two concluded coalition forces: the Ferguson Commission, and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing created by an executive order under President Obama. She now works to cultivate culturally responsive educators at Teach For America.


16. Asieh Amini

Amini’s situation is one with death at stake; she nonetheless works relentlessly to end honor killings of women and children in Iran. Amini works to bring to light human rights issues from which Americans distance.


17. Tarana Burke

Burke coined the term #MeToo in 2006 as founder of Just Be Inc., an organization focused on the health and well-being of young women of color. The impact of Burke’s work in light of recent discussion about sexual violence led her to the honor of being one of Time‘s 2017 Person of the Year. Also as senior director at Girls for Gender Equity, Burke has already expressed enthusiasm for continuing the momentum of #MeToo, with ideas and plans to make more of a tool for survivors.


18. Mari Copeny (Little Miss Flint)

10-year-old Copney has already shown her passion for activism by writing and publicizing messages about the Flint water crisis. Her awareness of the issue highlights a conscientious, impressive grasp of her surroundings; it highlights hope for the future generation.


So many more women are doing incredible things, and they all deserve recognition. Living in the same time as these incredible women is mind-staggeringly humbling; we should take as many opportunities as we can to fight alongside them, whether through education, support or activism. Empowered women empower women!

Katie Semack

Wisconsin '21

Katie grew up in New York City and is a senior at University of Wisconsin- Madison studying Political Science and Communications. Her favorite pastimes include doing yoga, watching Golden Girls with her puppy, Gatsby, and empowering other women. 
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