Identity

31 Women Making History by Creating a Better Future

For every day in March, we're highlighting one woman who saw a problem in the world and decided to do something about it.

by Broadly Staff
Mar 1 2018, 7:40pm

As we ease into Women's History Month, we want to recognize some of the women making history right now. Every day in March, we'll be adding one new profile to the list—highlighting a total of 31 women who each saw a problem and decided to do something about it.

In this global dumpster fire of an era, women and other marginalized groups are constantly framed and treated as victims. But it's increasingly important to be aware of our collective power. The women we’ll feature include South African anti-poaching activists taking species preservation into their own hands, skateboarding “brujas” creating inclusivity on the half-pipe, and doctors advancing reproductive technology for trans people. Working in a wide range of fields, they have all taken it upon themselves to build a more just and livable future.

M. Milks is a writer living, writing, and teaching in New York City. In 2015, Milks published their first short fiction collection, “Kill Marguerite and Other Stories.” The book, which focuses on gender, technology, and society, was met with immediate critical acclaim and was named a Lambda Literary Award finalist in the LGBT Debut Fiction category. Through their artful writing, Milks is elevating the voices of the LGBTQ community within the literary world while giving young aspiring writers a much-needed LGBTQ role model.

Brittany Barnett, whose mother was incarcerated when she was growing up, went to law school with one mission: reform the criminal justice system. As a corporate lawyer, Barnett worked pro bono to represent clients serving decades-long sentences for non-violent drug offenses. Now, Barnett heads Girls Embracing Mothers, a non-profit that works to empower the young daughters of incarcerated mothers by organizing enhanced visitation sessions between imprisoned mothers and their daughters in order to facilitate conversations about critical life decisions and encourage mother-daughter bonding.

In 1985, cartoonist Alison Bechdel introduced a simple yet groundbreaking concept into an installment of her comic strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For.” In the comic, after two female characters discuss seeing a film, one character turns to the other and explains she will only go see a movie if it 1) has at least two women in it 2) these women talk to each other 3) they talk about something besides a man. Though the Bechdel Test, as it became known, is not comprehensive of what makes a film “feminist” or “progressive,” it has become a worldwide standard used to gauge gender equality within film and has inspired many other similar tests for gender disparity and other inequalities in film and pop culture.

In 2013, New York-based artist Lyndsy Welgos banded together with tech investor Ara Anjargolian to create Topical Cream, a non-profit online platform and magazine dedicated to showcasing the work of women, femme, and gender-nonconforming individuals within fashion, art, and technology. In the five years since the site’s founding, Topical Cream has published hundreds of interviews, fashion editorials, videos, and critical essays featuring female and gender-nonconforming artists in order to elevate their voices, experiences, and work.

After years of dealing with male-dominated skateparks and their gendered hierarchies, a group of young female skaters from New York City banded together to form their own skate crew called the Skate Kitchen. According to Rachelle Vinberg, a founding member of the crew, Skate Kitchen’s name is a callout of trolls who would comment in skate videos about women saying they should stay out of skateparks and instead stay in the kitchen. Since the all-women crew was featured in a popular Miu Miu video, Skate Kitchen has gained national popularity, bringing much-needed female representation to the world of skateboarding. This summer, a feature film about the crew, aptly named “Skate Kitchen,” will be released in theaters nationwide.

Alok is fighting to deconstruct binaries in their work. In their first published book, Femme in Public, Alok explores what femininity means in our society today. Alok says that part of their work is to tell stories that push people's boundaries, causing them to question their own identities.

Historically, women with tattoos faced bias and stigma: Women who marked their skin were often labeled as sluts and seen as rebellious or “bad” girls. Wagner fought this stereotype by learning how to tattoo herself and showing how women can make tattooing into an art form just as well as men. Wagner embodied this point by showing off her many tattoos—she wore tattoos of exotic animals, patriotic tattoos, and had her name displayed on her left arm.

We’ve already lost 50 percent of the world’s reefs—and the outlook is still looking grim. But Dr. Ruth Gates is a glass-half-full kind of person, which is why she’s devoted to studying and protecting coral reefs. She says that there’s no doubt that we are seeing the effects of human-induced climate change, which is destroying the coral reefs. Her goal is to continue to research and hopefully rehabilitate coral reefs. She’s doing this every day as the Director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

Victoria Pannell is a 17-year-old activist from Harlem, New York. In 2016, when Pannell was 16-years-old, she became the youngest person to sit on her local community board: New York City’s Manhattan Community Board 10. One year before that, in 2015, Pannell created Tools For Change, a nonprofit dedicated to providing young people tools such as money management advice and mental health therapy in order to succeed.

Grace Dolan-Sandrino is a 17-year-old high school senior at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC. Dolan-Sandrino has already established herself as a prominent young leader in the fight against the current administration’s attempts to rollback the rights for trans people in the US. When Trump was elected in November 2016, Dolan-Sandrino organized the students in her school to walkout in protest, joining thousands across the nation who also walked out of school that day. Since then, Dolan-Sandrino has continued to be a champion for LGBT rights by writing op-eds describing her life as a trans teenager for publications like The Washington Post and Teen Vogue and serving as the co-founder of her school’s Gender and Orientation Alliance.

In Somalia, an estimated 6.7 million Somalis are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance due to years-long drought, subsequent famine, and continuous violence. Families in Somalia are dying not only from starvation—as there are more than 350,000 malnourished children under the age of five—but also from basic diseases such as cholera and measles because they lack access to clean drinking water and sanitation. The situation in Somalia is so complicated and dangerous that international agencies are often hesitant to administer aid to the country’s citizens. While international agencies are unwilling to enter Somalia, Dr. Hodan Ali, a primary care nurse practitioner who was born in Somalia and emigrated to Canada at the age of 12, created Living Well Somalia. The non-government organization works to provide primary healthcare to the people of Somalia by opening up comprehensive care clinics and creating guidelines for clinical practice and standards of care.

Chelsie Hill started dancing when she was just seven years old. By 17, Hill was an active member of her school dance team and aimed to become a professional dancer after graduating high school. But three months before graduation, Hill was involved in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. But Hill didn’t let this stop her from achieving her dreams. Two years after the accident, she created the LA Rollettes, a six-woman wheelchair dance team made up of other women Hill had met during her hospital recovery who also had suffered from spinal cord injuries. Now, after banding together as a dance troupe featuring women in wheelchairs, the women of the LA Rollettes travel across the US to perform in festivals and expositions, showcasing their skills and inventive choreography. "I want to show that it doesn't matter if you are walking or rolling, dance is still dance," Hill told Broadly. "Yes, we're about being fun and lighthearted and following your dreams, but we're also about excellence and superior dancing and fighting to be the best we can."

Lisa Whitaker grew up skateboarding in a Los Angeles suburb. While she loved the activity, skateboarding was and continues to be dominated by male skaters and their experiences. Skate magazines, videos, and brands continue to primarily feature men and their tricks. However, Whitaker grew up skating with other girls. One day, she decided to post their skate content of videos and photos to the internet on a website Whitaker decided to name Girls Skate Network. She didn’t think too much of it until other female skaters caught wind of the website, and Whitaker immediately got positive feedback from women and girls around the world who were thrilled to see a site dedicated to their skills and achievements. Since then, Whitaker has worked tirelessly to produce and post content featuring female skaters in order to increase female representation in the activity while encouraging other women to get out there and skate.

On December 14, 2012, Nelba Márquez-Greene sent her two young children to school in Newtown, Connecticut. While her young son Isaiah returned to her, her six-year-old daughter Ana was killed when 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot 20 children and six school staff members with semi-automatic weapons. Following the massacre, it was found that Lanza had known mental health issues that had largely gone untreated. In 2013, Márquez-Greene, a therapist, decided to work to prevent future school shootings by creating the Ana Grace Project, which works to address social isolation and mental health issues in schools through professional development and music and arts programming. Through the Ana Grace Project’s work, Márquez-Greene hopes a community of support and love buttressed by mental health initiatives can help overcome hatred and violence.

Reshma Saujani is the founder of the nonprofit Girls Who Code. Through its work conducting free coding summer programs and after-school events for girls in sixth through twelfth grade, Girls Who Code is addressing the huge gender gap in the US tech industry, where only one in four coders identities as female. For Saujani, the gender gap has a lot to do with young girls being told from an early age that they’re not good at math and science or that they shouldn’t be interested in STEM fields. Girls Who Code is addressing this problem by giving girls from all backgrounds the chance at a more even playing field with coding education and support.

Through her work as an international restorative justice facilitator, Jasmyn Elise Story is pushing to integrate the community-focused tenets of restorative justice into university responses to instances of sexual assault and crime on-campus. Story believes that when victims, offenders, and community members meet together, the event emphasizes accountability of the offenders and works to help victims with their healing process.

In the Philippines, President Duterte has continued his extrajudicial killings to crack down on drug use. Senator Leila de Lima is one of the few politicians to stand against Duterte. She’s been one of Duterte’s most vocal critics, especially about his human rights record. On February 24, 2017, De Lima was arrested over drug charges. However, she maintains her innocence and insists that these are trumped up charges made by Duterte’s henchmen in order to prevent her from criticizing his ruthless policies. Groups like Amnesty International have also called for De Lima’s immediate release. In a recent interview, she claimed that her time has only hardened her resolve against Duterte and that she isn’t afraid of possible death. Currently, she is Duterte’s highest profile prisoner.

Activists Kayla Reed, Jessica Byrd, and Rukia Lumumba organized a nationwide voter-registration campaign at Black Panther screenings across the US. They were frustrated with both political parties not engaging black voters on important issues. So, they launched their #WakandaTheVote campaign, which helped people register to vote while they waited to see Black Panther.

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a worldwide celebration commemorating the social, economic, and political achievements of women. While we currently celebrate International Women’s Day in March, the first ever Women’s Day event was actually organized by American labor activist and suffragist Theresa Malkiel in New York City on February 28, 1909 for the Socialist Party of America. Malkiel worked in the New York City’s garment factories before becoming involved with the Socialist Party of America. While in theory the Socialist Party supported the equal rights of men and women, in practice, women were often overlooked in the party’s goals and ranks. In 1909, Malkiel organized the first-ever annual Women’s Day held in New York City. Inspired by Malkiel’s Women’s Day event, the next year, a group of female European socialists gathered in Denmark to create “International Women’s Day.” In 1912, over a million people gathered across the European continent to celebrate the newly created International Women's Day.

Read more about Theresa Malkiel here.

The mission of the Black Mambas is to combat poaching with education, not guns. Mambas will spend 21 days straight patrolling the park for four hours in the morning and four hours at night, listening for the sound of gunshots and looking for suspicious activity. Recently, the group started offering tours to guests in order to teach them about the land and the animals that live on it.

Read more about the Black Mambas here.

In July 2016, two black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, were shot and killed by the police within days of each other. Molecular biologist Ashley Baccus-Clark wanted to do something about it but felt like she didn’t have an avenue to express her feelings or help the situation in any tangible way at the time. So she decided team up with Hyphen-Labs, a collective with a focus on storytelling through art, tech, and science that centers women of color as the pioneers of emerging technology. Hyphen-Labs’ latest installation, called NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism, is a VR experience that aims to tackle racism by allowing viewers to live through the avatar of a black woman in a futuristic hair salon.

Read more about Ashley Baccus-Clark here.

In January 2017, President Donald Trump announced his initial “Muslim Ban,” a travel ban barring the populations of seven majority Muslim countries from entering the United States. In response, protests erupted at airports and public spaces across the nation. One protest in downtown New York City’s Foley Square was planned by then-high school senior, Hebh Jamal, who tasked herself with organizing the hundreds of high school students who had pledged on social media to walk out of class in protest of the Trump administration and its ban. During the school walkout, Hebh rallied the young masses, urging youth to commit to a lifetime of activism and to stand up for the rights of others. Since then, Jamal has established herself a formidable and thoughtful leader in the resistance against Trump. Now a college freshman, Jamal has continued her work on establishing interfaith networks of action and protest against 45.

Read more about Hebh Jamal here.

In Somalia, a country where over two thirds of youth are unemployed, the al-Qaeda backed terror group al Shabaab targets children in its efforts to train and enlist soldiers. Children as young as nine are lured to al Shabaab through false promises of education and aid and are instead trained to use weapons, transport explosives, carry ammunition, and even enter combat. In Somalia, between 2010 and 2016, over 6,000 children were recruited to become child soldiers. For Somali-Canadian activist Ilwad Elman, those numbers are intolerable and she has dedicated her life's work to ending the inhumane practice. Currently, Elman serves as the Director of Programs and Development of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center, a NGO located in Somalia’s capital which provides rehabilitation for former child soldiers in addition to education and aid to vulnerable youth. Through her work, Elman is on a mission to ensure that Somalia’s children grow up as kids, not soldiers.

Read more about Ilwad Elman here.

Growing up, no one in Elyse Fox’s family talked about her depression. Now, the Brooklyn-based filmmaker is on a mission to break down the still present social stigma surrounding mental health and illness. In 2017, Fox founded Sad Girls Club, an in-person and online community for girls dealing with mental health issues. “I don’t want to sensationalize depression or mental health, I just want to make it normal to talk about,” Fox told Broadly. Though it is called Sad Girls Club, people of all genders are welcome to join the community. Last month, the club hosted a heartbreak-focused Valentine’s Day event in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where members shared sweet treats and advice on how to deal with a breakup. Afterward, a licensed therapist taught the members of the Sad Girls Club how to cope with anxiety.

Read more about Elyse Fox here.

When Fraidy Reiss was 19 years old, her family arranged her marriage to a man within their Orthodox Jewish community that she had only known for three months. After she was wed, Reiss learned that her new husband was a domestic abuser who repeatedly threatened to end her life. Because she had neither a college education, a job, nor was supported by her family in her decision to leave her husband, it took 15 years for Reiss to obtain a divorce. In 2011, after leaving her husband and obtaining full custody of her two daughters, Reiss founded the nonprofit Unchained at Last to support other women who wish to leave arranged and forced marriages through legal assistance and representation.

Read more about Fraidy Reiss here.

Reverend Megan Rohrer is America’s first openly transgender minister to be ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church. While on her pulpit, Rohrer preaches about the power of harmony and acceptance. In 2017, she became the San Francisco Police Department’s first-ever LGBTQ Chaplain, allowing her to spread her deeply held belief that religion should unite, not divide, us even further.

Read more about Megan Rohrer's initiatives here.