It’s Women’s History Month!

From racial injustice and economic inequality to reproductive health, women have always been at the forefront of social change around the world. In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting eight fearless women leading today’s biggest and most impactful social movements.

Opal Tometi, Co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter and Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)

Opal Tometi is a New York based Nigerian-American writer, strategist and community organizer and a co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter. The historic political project, launched in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin, works to explicitly combat implicit bias and anti-black racism and to protect and affirm the beauty and dignity of all Black lives. Now, Ms. Tometi is currently at the helm of the country’s leading Black organization for immigrant rights. The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) founded in 2006, is a national organization that educates and advocates to further immigrant rights and racial justice together with African-American, Afro-Latino, African and Caribbean immigrant communities. The organization’s most recent campaign helped win family reunification visas for Haitians displaced by the 2010 earthquake. BAJI is an award winning organization recognized by leading institutions across the country.

 

Tarana Burke, Founder of #MeToo and Program Director at Girls for Gender Equity

Tarana Burke is an activist and sexual assault survivor who created the hashtag #MeToo, giving everyday women the space to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment, or to acknowledge the fact that they’ve been affected by sexual violence. This hashtag has been used by women around the world, including famous actresses who are speaking out against sexual assault in the entertainment industry. #MeToo, which Burke founded 10 years ago, has given birth to a new movement that is disrupting all of the systems that allow sexual violence to flourish, empowering women around the world to speak up against sexual violence and harassment.

 

Emma Gonzålez, Gun Control Activist and Survivor of the February 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida

Emma González is a fearless high school senior who has become the face of a national movement to end gun violence. After surviving the Stoneman High School mass shooting, González became nationally known after she gave an 11-minute speech in front of the Broward County Courthouse at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In the speech, she pledged to work with her peers to pressure lawmakers to change the law. The speech featured a call and response: “We call B.S.” in response to resistance over gun control laws, calling for advocacy and empowering young people to speak out against school shootings. Since then, González and her fellow students have been working around the clock to push for a change in the nation’s gun laws. They are currently focused on organizing the March for Our Lives, a nationwide demonstration against gun violence taking place on March 24.

 

Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Councilor At-Large

Driven by her observations of poverty in her native country of India, Kshama Sawant became the first socialist to win Seattle’s at-large council position. Since her election in 2013, Councilmember Sawant has led the opposition to Seattle’s political establishment, shifting the debate on progressive politics in the city to the left. Sawant ensures that working people remain central to her work, delivering on her campaign promise to make Seattle the first major city to pass a $15/hour minimum wage less than six months after she took office. She prides herself on not taking a penny in corporate cash. While the rest of the City Council pays themselves $120,000/year, Councilmember Sawant only takes home the average Seattle worker’s wage and donates the remainder to a Solidarity Fund to help build social justice movements.

 

Kamala Harris, United States Senator (D-CA)

Previously the District Attorney of California, last January, Kamala Harris became only the second black woman to have been elected to the Senate. As a freshman legislator, Harris introduced her first major piece of legislation last year aimed at bringing major change to the country’s multi-billion dollar bail system.  Harris teamed up with an unlikely ally, Republican Sen. Rand Paul, to introduce the bipartisan Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017, which incentivizes states to rework their bail system with a $10 million grant over three years. Harris also co-introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, that would, among other things, place federally incarcerated women closer to their families, offer them parenting classes, and establish an ombudsperson at the Justice Department to make sure prisoners’ complaints about their conditions are heard.

 

Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund

Cecile Richards is a nationally respected leader in women’s health and reproductive rights.  Richards has led a movement that has worked for more than 100 years to build a healthier and safer world for women, young people, and marginalized communities. During her time as president, she grew Planned Parenthood’s base of supporters from three million to 11 million, and she helped to build the organization’s donor base to its largest size ever. She has led efforts to create new ways for Planned Parenthood patients to get the care they need, through the technology they use every day. Richards made sure Planned Parenthood was at the forefront of efforts to expand access to birth control and preventive care under the Affordable Care Act. And today, the nation has reached a 30-year low for unintended pregnancy. Earlier this year, Richards announced that she would  stepping down after more than a decade with the organization. She plans to be involved in the 2018 midterm elections, campaigning for Democrats and working on fundraising efforts.

 

Linda Sarsour, Co-Chair of the Women’s March, Former Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York

Linda Sarsour is an award-winning, Brooklyn-born, Palestinian-American Muslim racial justice and civil rights activist, community organizer, social media maverick, and mother of three. Sarsour has been at the forefront of major social justice campaigns, both locally New York City and on the national level. She led the successful, progressive coalition to close New York public schools for the observance of two of Islam’s most important holy days, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Most notably recognized for her focus on intersectional movement building, Sarsour was one of the co-chairs of the 2017 Women’s March. She has been active in opposing the Trump Administration’s ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries. Becoming known as “the face of the resistance to Trump,” she was recently arrested at Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s office protesting the current inaction on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) program.

 

Lily Madigan, Women’s Officer of the Constituency Labor Party

Lily Madigan became the first transgender person to be elected as a women’s officer within the U.K. Labour Party in 2017. Her election as women’s officer for Rochester and Strood CLP in Kent sparked an internal dispute in the party over whether transgender women should be allowed to hold the title. Madigan is also a notable LGBTQ+ rights activist who took legal action to be identified as a woman while at St Simon Stock Catholic School. She received national attention in 2016 after several high-profile interviews and appearances, including an interview with the BBC. She has also spoken out on trans issues on her YouTube channel. Addressing recent criticism of her appointment, Lily says she will be working closely with others in the Rochester and Strood area in her role as women’s officer to best represent female constituents.

 

Jessicah Pierre is the inequality media specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies.