With each May comes college graduation, where young women across the United States will enter the period of their lives in which they must begin to consider the future. These women will begin to marry, attain their first real jobs, move away from their families and pursue further education. During this time of transition, many will encounter the realities of gender inequality: reconciling children and career, lower pay, pressure to marry and harassment and discrimination at the workplace.
Here are a few modern feminists to look to for guidance:
1. Sarojini Sahoo – India
Throughout her writings, Dr. Sahoo discusses the idea of feminism as independent of male hegemony. Instead, she advocates for financial liberation and the rejection of double standards in human sexuality. Sahoo, who has a master’s and a doctorate in Oriya Literature as well as a law degree, writes with an undeniable boldness in describing the sexual nature of her characters and addressing the fears of rape and social condemnation. She was named one of the 25 Most Exceptional Women of India by Kindle Magazine, and certainly not without reason.
2. Leila Ahmed – Egypt
The rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt brought great change to Dr. Ahmed’s young life. She became the first professor of Women’s Studies in Religion at Harvard, where she wrote Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. The book, considered the most comprehensive of its kind, examines the gender stereotypes both within and outside her religion. Ahmed has shared her opposition to Western assumptions about the role of women in Arab society–an issue any feminist would do well to ponder.
3. Dilma Rousseff – Brazil
Few presidents have a history with an underground resistance against military dictatorship, but even fewer are also women. In 1970, Dilma Rousseff spent three years in a prison in which she was tortured. She led the Board of Petrobras before winning the presidential election in October 2010. Since taking office, Rousseff has fought for the reduction of poverty, the improvement of national education and the empowerment of women.
4. Joyce Hilda Banda – Malawi
Serving as the first female president of Malawi – a conservative and male-dominated country – is an accomplishment many said Banda would never achieve. The stubborn Banda refused to resign after taking office upon the sudden death of her successor. In the same manner she refused to stay with an abusive husband or apologize to Madonna. Before having been constitutionally elected vice president, she founded the National Association of Business Women and the Joyce Banda Foundation to help educate children. The Hunger Project awarded her the 1997 Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger. As president, she has decriminalized homosexuality, sold the presidential jet and 60 government limousines and refused to allow the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to enter Malawi as part of an African Union Summit.
Although these women represent only a fraction of the world’s women worthy of admiration, their work can serve to inspire.
– Erica Lignell