Women of achievement

Beijing +20

This series of portraits spotlights women and girls who have made it in their respective fields — often in uncharted territories — by overcoming barriers and beating the odds to reach their goals. Although far from the limelight, their struggle, passion and work inspires all who know them and they are role models for many.

Leading a village, ushering equality

The simple house of Asnaini Mirzan, the first and only female village head in Aceh province, Indonesia, is never empty. Villagers come and go, asking her advice on their daily problems from family disputes to how to establish collective fish ponds used for small business groups. A farmer by trade, she says, “my house is no longer mine, it is home for my people”. It was the people of her rural village, Pegasing, who encouraged her to run for office as the head of the village council in 2011. Though most people were very supportive and recognized her leadership skills, some questioned her capabilities to govern, having never been led by a woman. Some even questioned her on why a woman would want to lead in the first place...

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Conquering the skies, the first woman pilot of Timor-Leste

Imagine for a moment that you are stepping onto a plane. The flight attendant takes your ticket and guides you to your seat where you buckle your seatbelt and settle in. After the safety demonstration, you hear the female voice of your pilot as she announces that the plane is about to take off. According to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots in 2015, women account for only 32 per cent of the world’s pilots, making it unlikely to hear a female voice announcing...

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In the midst of war, a women’s rights warrior

In the mid-50s in Mazar-i-Sharif, a cultural and religious site in Afghanistan with famous shrines that get thousands of visitors annually, Dr. Habiba Sarabi’s childhood was similar to that of many girls in her country. Yet, her life today is far from the ordinary. Dr. Sarabi says she grew up in a lower middle class household where money was tight, and her father preferred her brothers. She had to work twice as hard to show that she was capable of doing as much as them, if not more....

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Breaking barriers with the power of paper and pen

Going against the norm, she has risen in the field of media which is dominated by men in Bangladesh. An opinion-maker and thought leader, she has been the editor of the most read weekly magazine, The Star, a publication that is part of The Daily Star newspaper, for 18 years. Her satirical column “Postscript,” is a cornerstone of modern life in her country for the daring and progressive, and read by many. She is now the deputy editor of the Editorial and Op-ed section of The Daily Star, the country’s leading English newspaper, where she also pens a new column commenting on current events of the day entitled “No Strings Attached”. Her political commentary is courageous, insightful and powerful, speaking out for women’s rights, acceptance of all people, and anti-extremism.

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A crusader of human rights and dignity

Angkhana Neelapaijit is a Thai human rights activist and winner of the prestigious Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, which recognizes those who have contributed to advancing human rights, democracy and peace. She has also been honoured by the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand. The disappearance of her husband, Somchai Neelapaijit in 2004, a human rights lawyer, changed the course of her life, and transformed her into a fearless defender of human rights. She is the Chairwoman of the Justice for Peace Foundation, and has been deemed "a leading human rights defender in Southern Thailand," by Amnesty International.

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Blogging for Democracy

Kounila Keo

Kounila Keo aka the Blue Lady, started blogging at the age of 19, intent on providing a view of Cambodia as seen by Cambodians, “I wanted to express my opinions – about politics, civil society and simply everything”.  Seven years on, at the age of 26, Kounila is a highly regarded journalist and has built a successful media career working for several international organisations. Never betraying her blogging roots, Kounila continues to write regularly, advocating for democracy and freedom of expression to an ever expanding audience of over a thousand followers.

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Leading the way for women and girls with disabilities

Kounila Keo

At the young age of 30, Abia Akram of Pakistan has lived a life most people cannot imagine. She is not only the first woman with disabilities from Pakistan to win the prestigious Chevening scholarship for academic excellence and leadership from the United Kingdom, but has also started a widely known NGO, the National Forum of Women with Disabilities, which is training women and girls worldwide in leadership skills. She has earned two Master’s degrees, is the chair of the Youth Council of UNICEF, and works to promote education, training and leadership for women and girls with disabilities.

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The Good Doctor

WoA Thailand

Death threats are common, so are dangerous environments in Asia and Africa, where she works. There are some victories, many failures, lives saved and some lost. But Dr. Krisana Kraisintu of Thailand, the 'Gypsy Pharmacist' as she is popularly known, continues relentless. Her mission: to ensure affordable health care for all, which she considers a basic human right. "My life is dedicated to bringing about local pharmaceutical production by formulating and manufacturing affordable generic drugs to treat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases to improve people's heath," she says.

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She builds bridges, schools and delivers results


Mother of three children and a home-maker for more than a decade, few in her sleepy village would have imagined that she would be planning bridges and schools today. But that is Vandana Bahadur Maida's life in Khankhandvi, in the populous state of Madhya Pradesh, India. Despite family opposition and cultural norms that define a woman's place in society, she was elected Head of the village council, the first woman Sarpanch. Her election was path-breaking for the village and also for Vandana's family—as she superseded her own husband who used to be a member of the village council but never the elected leader.

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Fighting the spirits, to defend and protect

WoA Monica

Accusations of sorcery are widespread in the communities of the highlands in Papua New Guinea. Often for deaths or illness, for theft or accident, the cause is believed to be sorcery, with the villain more often than not being allegedly a woman. Protecting many such wrongly accused women is human rights defender Monica Paulus. Fearless, determined and outspoken, she rescues women and girls accused of sorcery, preventing many from violent punishment, or death.

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The unstoppable police officer of Timor-Leste

WoA Amelia

The petite lady in uniform is a familiar sight. Although she doesn't drive a car or ride a motorbike, long distances cannot deter Sergeant Amelia de Jesus Amaral. She will walk on foot, no matter how long it takes, when she gets a complaint from survivors of domestic violence. Winner of the prestigious 2014 Gender Equality Advocate Award of the Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality, in November 2013 Amelia a police officer with the Vulnerable Person's Unit of the National Police of Timor-Leste is a powerful voice and a role model.

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Creating history is herstory: a local girl turns public leader

WoA bhutan

In the landlocked Himalayan nation of Bhutan, Namgay Peldon never thought she would make history, but she did. She was elected the first women Gup, the block leader, as the nation voted for the first time, transitioning from monarchy to democracy in 2008. Gewogs are official administrative units in Bhutan, each headed by a Gup. From Tashiding sub-district in central Bhutan, Namgay Peldon's story is unusual in a country which is beset with societal taboos and where women's representation in politics is extremely low, with only 8.5 per cent women in the National Assembly.

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