1. Sizani Ngubane, Founder of Rural Women’s Movement

Imagine inheriting land from a relative only to have it taken away because of your gender. Although South Africa is one of Africa’s most developed nations, this is the case for so many women in rural areas where traditional tribal communities are exempt from some of the country’s post-apartheid constitutional rules and protections.

Rural Women’s Movement (RWM) is a non-profit based in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa devoted to fighting for rural women’s land and property rights. RWM serves as a coalition of over 500 indigenous women’s organizations lead by founder and fearless leader Sizani Ngubane.

Through RWM, Sizani advocates for women’s rights on the ground and legislatively. Their efforts include creating food security programs built around community gardens, encouraging entrepreneurial skills, holding youth workshops to educate about gender-based violence, implementing strategic approaches to dealing with HIV/AIDS, encouraging boys to share household responsibilities with their sisters, and fighting against ukuthwala, a once-innocent tradition that now results in abducting young girls and forcing them into marriage.

2. Robin Chaurasiya and Trina Talukdar, Founders of Kranti

Kranti is changing the way India’s sex workers in Mumbai are rehabilitated, and it’s working. India is a worldwide hub for forced prostitution and sex trafficking. Out of the 3 million prostitutes in India, an estimated 40% are children. Children enter into prostitution through abduction and trafficking, coercion, or because they are essentially born into it — sex workers often push prostitution onto their daughters.

Kranti co-founder Robin Chaurasiya spent some time volunteering with anti-trafficking NGOs in Mumbai, where she noticed that the standard methods of rehabilitating often failed to empower the victims and eventually led to re-trafficking. Robin teamed up with Trina Talukdar and they created Kranti, an NGO that works with the daughters of Mumbai’s red-light district sex workers to become agents of social change.

The word “Kranti” means “Revolution” in Hindi, and Kranti is working to revolutionize the role of women in Indian society. They believe that when girls have access to the same education, training, and opportunities as those from privileged backgrounds, they can become exceptional leaders.

The Krantikaris, or Revolutionaries, are provided with educational support, regular therapy, extracurricular activities, leadership training, theater workshops and travel opportunities. They even take annual trips to the Himalayas where they lead workshops, visit NGOs and build resilience through travel.

Kranti’s founders don’t consider this a rehabilitation home, but rather a leadership training institute churning out revolutionaries who will change the world forever.

3. Malala Yousafzai, Co-Founder of The Malala Fund

You can’t talk about girls’ education these days without mentioning Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban on her way home from school in 2012. Malala has taken her tragedy and created an opportunity to tell the world about the over 60 million girls who are out of school globally, including Pakistan, which has the world’s second highest number of out-of-school children.

Pakistan’s traditionally patriarchal society has caused a distinct gender division, with women expected to be home makers and mothers, and men expected to be breadwinners.

Especially in rural areas like Malala’s home, boys’ education — as well as nutrition and health — are prioritized over girls’.

The Malala Fund is fighting for a global standard that will allow girls to complete 12 years of safe, quality education so they can achieve their potential and be positive change-makers in their families and communities. In addition to telling Malala’s story through her memoir, the organization works to amplify women’s voices, invest in local leaders, and advocate for policy changes, asking global and local leaders to prioritize girls education and dedicate adequate resources to schools.

They’re also up on the social media game, and in conjunction with the release of the documentary He Named Me Malala, launched a 12-month social action and advocacy campaign asking people to Stand #withMalala. It calls for local and global efforts to raise mass awareness, funding, and policy change.

Over 60 million girls are out of school globally, and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Malala Yousafzai, is leading the charge to fix that.

4. Alex Ball, President of U.S. Operations, Sacred Valley Project

Alex Ball was working in the rural highland communities of the Cusco region when he discovered that his goddaughter Liliana would not be continuing on to high school. She didn’t have access to housing near the high school, which was located in town, too far away for her to walk.

Unfortunately, Liliana’s situation isn’t uncommon in Peru — Only 3 in every 10 Peruvian girls from rural Andean communities enroll in high school.

Alex began working with the community, local officials and indigenous leaders to come up with a solution: a dorm that would provide safe, nurturing accommodations, educational resources and nutritious meals for young women in remote regions of the Andes. They called it Sacred Valley Project and they’re now in their fifth school year.

In many places in the world, educational access isn’t quite enough to ensure girls’ education. Without proper health and safety measures, clean and private bathrooms, school supplies, uniforms, and family support, many girls don’t make it to school on a regular basis.

Educating girls has proven to have a ripple effect — studies show that educated women are more likely to have smaller, healthier families, stronger voices in their families and communities, and the ability to stand up for themselves and their children.

The Sacred Valley Project gets that, and they continue to push their efforts to facilitate cultural pride and self-respect in their students, enabling them to be local leaders who generate positive growth and economic development through education.

5. Christy Turlington Burns, Founder of Every Mother Counts

Yes, that Christy Turlington, supermodel and, in case you didn’t know: film director, mother and social entrepreneur.

Christy suffered from postpartum hemorrhaging after the birth of her daughter but was able to recover due to an experienced birth team and adequate resources. While she was quite lucky, so many other women, 99% of whom are in developing nations, are not.

In fact, 239,000 women die of pregnancy and childbirth complications every year, and hemorrhaging is a leading cause of maternal mortality. That’s one woman, dying every two minutes, for reasons that are preventable 98% of the time and include factors such as distance, poverty and traditional cultural practices.

After her experience, Christy began looking into maternal health problems around the world, which led to her directing the documentary No Woman, No Cry and eventually founding the non-profit Every Mother Counts in hopes of making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother.

Every Mother Counts works to raise awareness, engagement and funds that support maternal health programs around the world. Their work stretches from Tanzania, where they provide 30 rural health centers with solar- powered electricity, to Haiti, where they’re training new skilled birth attendants and educating existing health providers, all the way to Uganda, where they provide transportation vouchers for pregnant women who would otherwise need to travel far distances to clinics, often by foot.

More than half of maternal deaths take place in sub-Saharan Africa and about a third occur in South Asia, with the highest risk being for girls under 15, whose bodies are often not yet developed enough to take a baby to full term. With access to hospitals, care and support after the childbirth, skilled health professionals and timely treatment, the number of maternal deaths is sure to decrease, and Every Mother Counts is working to make that happen.

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