13 Women Making History Right Now That You Don't Know, But Seriously Should
March is Women's History Month, and it's a beautiful way to honor the unsung women who have done incredible things over the generations and made the United States what it is today. We celebrate both the original women's rights activists and the low-key trailblazers who often don't get nearly as much credit as they should. But it's just as crucial to also appreciate the women who are making history right now.
The textbooks decades from now will undoubtedly be filled with pages and pages of women who changed the country. Not only will we see photos of Hillary Clinton, who has cemented herself as the "first woman" to do so many things this presidential election, but we'll also see women like Reshma Saujani, who founded Girls Who Code, and Saundra Pelletier, who saw a crucial need missing from the nonprofit world and filled it.
Here, we've highlighted 13 absolutely astounding women who are working in their local communities, throughout the nation, and around the world to enact real change. Whether they're teaching young girls to immerse themselves in math and science, volunteering to help keep sex workers safe, making films about the struggles indigenous people face, or creating companies of all kinds to improve the world, these women are kicking ass.
Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, is finding solutions to the statistic that 74 percent of middle-school girls are interested in STEM fields, but only 0.4 percent go on to pursue computer science in college. "It’s about using technology for whatever it is that you want to do," she says. "I want to see our girls start their own companies, I want to see them go to Africa and figure out how to get access to water for communities, and I want to see them solve world hunger. I want to see them use tech to be an agent of social change."
Fatou Jabbie, an engineer focused on sustainable energy and efficiency, broke through some serious barriers to become an expert in her field. She owns her own business, is a consultant for others, and helps New York City construct LEED-certified buildings. "If I thought it was difficult for me to be an IT engineer, it’s even more difficult being in the energy industry and being in the construction industry and being in the real estate industry," she says.
Erin Wingo volunteers for a mobile response unit in Washington, D.C., that provides assistance for sex workers and drug users to help keep them as safe as possible. "My own experience, both as a woman and as someone who has been exposed to things like sexual violence, is what motivates me and keeps me invested in trying to find solutions," she says.
Leila Janah, the founder and CEO of Sama Group, discovered a way to use outsourcing for good instead of just making bank. She's gotten thousands of families out of poverty, and helped even more, thanks to her technology ideas that provide jobs and medical treatment for people in North and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. "If we want to make the world better," she says, "we have to be sure the things we're doing in the name of philanthropy are measurably improving people's lives."
Saundra Pelletier, the founder of WomanCare Global, took her skills as a pharmaceutical sales representative and used them to create an international nonprofit to empower women through contraceptive access, sex education, and global understanding. "When women don't understand their bodies, there is a shame that is associated with this, and shame keeps you quiet," she says.
Kay Tye, an MIT principal investigator, balances her research at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory with raising her children and, oh, keeping her love of break dancing alive. "I just try to take care of each moment as it comes," she says. "If I'm teaching class, if I'm playing with my daughter, if I'm trying to work on a manuscript or a grant, I just try to focus on that."
Whitney Wolfe created Bumble, a dating app that requires women to make the first move, after a tumultuous period in her professional life. Her startup has bloomed into a popular alternative to other dating apps, and it took a lot of confidence in herself to get there. "Every single person on this planet should be a feminist," she says.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, the creator of Muslimgirl.net, saw the constant stereotypes attached to Muslim women — that they're oppressed, reserved, silent — and wanted to rid the world of them. She created a website to give Muslim women everywhere a voice to combat the negative, even dangerous media surrounding Islam. "You know, it’s just important to be a good ally," she says. "There’s nothing friendlier towards injustice than silence."
Jill Eisenhard, director of the Red Hook Initiative, founded the Brooklyn youth center to stop the cycle of poverty by empowering teenagers. Students get academic help, as well as assistance finding jobs and internships. But most importantly, they learn how to improve their own community. "Social change is going to start with people who have the strongest tie to the neighborhood," she says.
Liliana Caracoza, an award-winning filmmaker, was inspired to tell the stories of indigenous Mexican women and the struggles they face because of discrimination. "The legal system has failed them in every way, and the way they live in such poverty, it's just heartbreaking," she says. Her short documentary Historias Indígenas received first runner-up at the Girls Impact the World Film Festival.
Abra Coleman, a Minnesota fitness instructor who teaches yoga to women in prison, knows the importance of controlling your breath and your balance. Her life led her to discover the beauty and restoration in yoga, and she says it's an honor to pass that on to those who truly need it. "We all have lives and some days are better than others," she says.
Lily Liu, an entrepreneur with a serious penchant for adrenaline-stoking hobbies, co-founded PublicStuff to help residents better interact with their local governments. Once ranked on Forbes' America's Most Promising Companies list, PublicStuff was bought by a new company, and Liu joined with them to keep doing what she does best. "I think civic engagement is a huge component in all of our lives," she says, "even if we may not initially be aware of it."
Angela Yeo is a badass bodybuilder and personal trainer who has won multiple awards for her fitness and strength. Bodybuilding provides her with a mood boost and self-awareness, but perhaps the most inspiring part of her story is why she chooses to compete: to make herself proud. She says that what anyone else thinks disappears when "you're really focused on how much you love what you do."
Images: Caroline Wurtzel for Bustle; Courtesy of Girls Who Code, Fatou Jabbie, Erin Wingo, Leila Janah, WomanCare Global, Kay Tye, Whitney Wolfe, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Jill Eisenhard, Liliana Caracoza, Abra Coleman, Lily Liu, and Angela Yeo