The world is changing, so we are. You can choose what way you’ll go: an easy one or the way that will transform people’ lives. These 10 women have decided to follow the difficult path and have reached an amazing result. Here they are.

(Open an interactive map) 

 

Somaly Mam

Mondulkiri, Cambodia

Somaly is Cambodian anti-sex trafficking campaigner and founder of AFESIP, rescuing women from brothels and supporting their recovery.

10 Female Activists You Didn’t Know Are Changing The World. Somaly Mam

 

Her story starts early, when she was a child she was in slavery: “I have been sold in the brothel by the man who come and tell me that he’s my grandfather,” – she said. “I stayed in the brothel nearly then 10 years. The brothel owner bring us all together, we all sit on the ground, and he tell us we have to do what he ask us to do. But one girl…she refused to do what he asked to do so he take a gun and kill her, so that is the day that I have been escaped from the brothel.”

Mam describes everything that has happened with her in the autobiography. “Grandfather” turned her at a very young age into his domestic slave. He would gamble and drink, and when he came home, he sometimes beat her until she bled. He eventually sold her as a virgin to a Chinese merchant and then forced her to marry a violent soldier when she was just 14. She was later sold to a brothel in Phnom Penh, where she recalls being tortured with electrodes hooked up to a car battery.

She could escape. To change lives of another girls she started AFESIP, a small but feisty nongovernmental organization that helps to rescue from sex trafficking.

 

Mary Portas

Watford, England

Activist and retail expert Mary Portas often speaks out against the rise of the ‘supermarket’ clothing retailer.

10 Female Activists You Didn’t Know Are Changing The World. Mary Portas

 

She believes large chains are killing off independent stores. The sweatshop labour used to produce cheap clothing means more ethical brands will find it hard to compete. Mary also runs second hand clothing shops in the UK. At Mary’s, where you can buy luxury items for a budget price. The profits earned support Save the Children. She believes her stores are “not just a shop, but a place to inspire, share, create, meet and discover”.

Championing smaller retailers, encouraging clothing recycling and donating to children’s charities weren’t enough. Portas is also an advocate of GLBT rights. On 29 March 2014, Portas supported the “I Do To Equal Marriage” event which celebrated the introduction of same-sex marriage in England and Wales, and on the 10th December 2014 Mary and her long-term partner Melanie Rickey very publicly became one of the first couples in the UK to convert their civil partnership to a marriage, following a parliamentary change to the Marriage Act.

 

Sonita Alizadeh

Herat, Afghanistan

19-year Sonita Alizadeh is an Afghan rapper and activist who has been vocal against forced marriages, after her mother tried to sell her for £6,000 when she was sixteen.

10 Female Activists You Didn’t Know Are Changing The World. Sonita Alizabeh

 

 

When Sonita Alizadeh was 10, her parents tried to marry her off, but the proposal fell through. Then when she turned 15, her parents tried to marry her off again, but before it could be finalized, she rebelled. Sonita had been studying music for years at this point and she filmed a rap video to vent her outrage.

The song became a huge hit and pressured her parents to back down. Now Sonita is studying in the US and has become a sensation back home. Her songs are fiercely feminist and rail against the barriers that women face. In a country where 57 percent of girls are married before they are 19, Sonita’s work has the potential to spark a sea change. Since moving to the US, she’s performed at the Women in the World festival and dreams about becoming a lawyer.

 

Rashmi Misra

Bangalore, India

Rashmi Misra is better known as the founder and chairperson of Vidya, an NGO for integrated development for youth and adults.

10 Female Activists You Didn’t Know Are Changing The World. Rashmi Mirsa

 

Back in 1985, when Rashmi Misra saw five young girls playing in the drain that runs along the edge of IIT campus, she was hit hard by the gap in the education system. Right next to the premise of one of the prestigious educational institutes in India were girls who had no access to education. Rashmi decided to make a difference and opened her home to these children. What started as a small gesture of kindness has touched lives of 200,000 underprivileged children, youth and women in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore today.

Today, Vidya Schools focuses on empowering young girls and women by providing a free education and imparting entrepreneurial skills. Vidya conducts basic literacy programs in English and computers, skill training, engaging women in issues related to health, women’s rights, environment, as well as an adult literacy program. Youth management programs conducted by the NGP include courses in computer literacy, spoken English and life skills classes to drop-out youth, they also hold classes for helping students prepare for 8th, 10th and 12thgrade exams.

 

Hannah Witton

London, United Kingdom

Hannah is a 25-years-old YouTuber. She makes weekly videos on her channel where she talks about the trivial and the controversial books.

10 Female Activists You Didn’t Know Are Changing The World. Hannah Witton

 

Hannah has a mission to “get real” about conversations around sex, body image and sexuality. Vlogs on her channel, including ‘What is lesbian sex?’ to ‘Chatting birth control with my mum’ , can accrue over an impressive 100k views a post. Her debut book ‘Doing It’ hits shelves this April – an educational handbook for young people exploring everything from losing your virginity to consent.

Hannah graduated from the University of Birmingham with a first in History and she specialises in sexual history. Her dissertation was about the history of sexology and sex manuals. Her short film on the History of Homosexuality was a finalist in the Guardian and Oxford University Press’ Very Short Film Competition in 2013.

As well as videos on her own channel, Hannah also hosts videos for the charity, YouthNet, who give advice and support to young people in the UK.

 

Ollie Henderson

Sydney, Australia

Ollie Henderson is a model, who uses fashion to make a statement and change the way society thinks.

10 Female Activists You Didn’t Know Are Changing The World. Ollie Henderson

 

Borne out of a frustration with the political climate in Australia, Ollie’s fearlessly inscribed t-shirts with ‘tude’ (which her model #squad donned at Fashion Week) sparked international media attention, and led her to establish not-for-profit House of Riot – a multidisciplinary social change enterprise and clothing label.

These days, Ollie and House of Riot are constantly finding innovative ways to inspire the activist in people all over the world. The site encourages to “use your voice,” “stand up for what you believe in” and “start the riot” – and Henderson leads by example, encouraging Millenials to form an interest in politics and know that every action counts, even if it’s something small like wearing a tee. But there was a time when creating positive change in Australia felt insurmountable. Her advice? “Just do something – it’s always better than nothing.”

 

Swoon

Brooklyn, New York

Caledonia Curry, a.k.a Swoon, is a Brooklyn-based artist who creates huge ewoodblock and cut-papr portraits hang on walls all over the world.

10 Female Activists You Didn’t Know Are Changing The World. Swoon

 

She is also known as a designer of several huge installations, most notably the ‘Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea’ in 2008. Her pieces have been collected by such a giants of modern art as The Museum of Modern Art, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Tate Modern. Major pieces have appeared at PS1, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Black Rat Press. Swoon has been traveling for the past several years creating exhibitions and workshops in the United States and abroad.

Additionally, Swoon has founded a non-profit organization called The Heliotrope Foundation to help communities respond and heal after natural disasters and other urgent social crises. “We believe that the creative process can and should be a part of how we heal, rebuild and move forward after natural disasters, economic devastation, and moments of social crisis,” – the website says.

 

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan

Intibucá, Honduras

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan is the Director of External Relations at the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), where she oversees public education and field organizing operations.

10 Female Activists You Didn’t Know Are Changing The World. Raffi Freedman-Gurspan

 

She is well-known as a powerful activism, who is fighting for rights of transgender people of color. Freedman-Gurspan, who is a Latina and Indigenous transgender woman, now serves as the primary liaison for LGBTQ issues for the White House — the first openly trans member of staff at the White House. Throughout her time at the White House, Freedman-Gurspan has advocated for policy shifts supporting trans inclusion in government and beyond.

She has a long history of activism that precedes her political career. Previously, she served as a policy adviser for the National Center for Transgender Equality, where she led racial and economic justice initiatives focused on low-income and transgender people of color. A notable name in the policy space for Latinx queer people, Freedman-Gurspan accomplished all of this before turning 30.

 

Rosie Perez

New York City, U.S.

You may know Rosie Perez as a famous actress. Her works, such as “Untamed Heart”, “White Men Can’t Jump”, “It Could Happen To” got many awards and comments. But what is more, Perez is an AIDS/HIV activist. After seeing her friends and mother battling the disease, she decided to change the world.

10 Female Activists You Didn’t Know Are Changing The World. Rosie Perez

 

“As a child that wasn’t treated properly and was not presented with opportunity, proper healthcare, food…I never want anyone to have to experience that,” – she says. “For me to be able to help, it’s a blessing and it’s an honor.” This has been a close cause to her since the early days of her celebrity. Utilizing her power on “The View” as the perfect platform to remind audiences of the dangers triggered by AIDS, Rosie Perez is working to put an end to an epidemic that holds 33 million global lives infected and that adds a new victim every 9.5 minutes within American grounds.

 

Malalai Joya

Farah Province, Afghanistan

Malalai Joya is Afghan politician and human rights campaigner who has shown phenomenal courage, setting up a secret underground school for girls under the Taliban.

10 Female Activists You Didn’t Know Are Changing The World. Malalai Joya

 

When Malalai was a child, there were no schools in the Iranian camps. However, her mother decided to give her children education no matter what. So they fled to camps in western Pakistan. There, Joya’s passion became reading. “Tell me what you read and I shall tell you what you are,” she says. Joya began to teach literacy to the older women in the camps, including her own mother.

As Malalai turned 16, a charity called the Organisation for Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities (OPAWC) made a bold suggestion: go to Afghanistan, and set up a secret school for girls, under the noses of the Taliban tyranny. She decided to do it. Joya took her few clothes and books and was smuggled across the border – and “the best days of my life” began.

She only just avoided being caught, again and again. One time she was teaching a class of girls in a family’s basement when the mother of the house yelled down suddenly: “Taliban! Taliban!” Joya says: “I told my students to lie down on the floor and stay totally silent. We heard footsteps above us and waited a long time.” On many occasions, ordinary men and women – anonymous strangers – helped her out by sending the police charging off in the wrong direction.

Joya has a plan to set up a clinic. It’s not easy, because she’s a woman, but a lot of people support her. “It turned out my mission,” – she says, “would be to expose the true nature of the jirga from within.”

Subscribe to WM Daily. Be In Touch With Rebellious Voices