Today, Women’s eNews is releasing the full list of these 21 powerhouses, with brief descriptions of their work, who will be honored May 2 at our New York City gala. In the past, the announcement was made on New Year’s Day. We held off this year to baptize the new website with a celebration of the 20 women and one man who have made it their mission to change the rules that constrict the lives of women and girls, here in the United States and across the globe.
Today is also the 43rd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, and thus appropriate for Women’s eNews to mark the day the rules for abortion in the United States were rewritten to end enforced motherhood. The ruling also unleashed a burgeoning movement for women’s rights that is now a global groundswell not only for access to full-spectrum reproductive health care but also equality and equity in law, the economy and education, regardless of race, ethnicity, citizenship status and gender identity.
Women’s eNews’ 21 Leaders capture the energy of that liberation and carry it forward to reduce the impact of gender bias and create new rituals and opportunities for women and girls.
Beginning Monday, and for the following two days, Women’s eNews will post staff-written profiles of determined innovators in seven different arenas. Racial divides, health care, safety, media, economics, education and marginalization. We hope they will inspire you, inform you and challenge you to do even more to support equality and equity for women and girls. They did all of this for the Women’s eNews team.
Monday: Meet the Trio Dismantling Racial Divides
Dr. Gail Christopher : is the recipient of the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism. Dr. Christopher is vice president for policy and senior advisor at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and is receiving this award–the first non-journalist to be so honored–for her support of media, including Women’s eNews, that documents the powerful role racism plays in the U.S.’s high rate of avoidable maternal and infant deaths.
“You can’t have impactful policy change if you don’t change the consciousness of the people,” she said.
Kathryn Finney, founder of digitalundivided, is a social entrepreneur who finds, trains and supports small urban tech companies and runs a rigorous accelerator program for black female founders of tech-enabled companies.
“By being myself and embracing who I am, I’ve given that to others in an industry where being someone like me – a bold smart black woman – isn’t exactly cherished.”
Cynthia Yung is executive director of The Boone Family Foundation in Dallas. The work of the former corporate executive includes financial support of domestic violence shelters for women who don’t speak English.
“I think there is a lifetime of asking myself: ‘What more can I do to bring more equity into our world?'” she said.
Monday: Meet Three Powerhouses Who Test Our Health Care
Schell Carpenter is the incoming president of the board of the
Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, a nonprofit based in Austin, Texas, that provides financial assistance to Texas women seeking an abortion. She joined the board in 2014 in response to Lilith’s encouragement for LGBTQ women to apply.
She credits her gender identity for helping her gain a better appreciation of differing people’s experiences.
“I feel like being a trans is a gift,” she said.
Dianne Dunkelman is a health care advocate who launched Speaking of Women’s Health, a one-day women’s health event in her hometown of Cincinnati in 1996. The nonprofit organization has since expanded into a national foundation with more than 50 conferences and events in more than 40 cities across the United States. In the early 2000s, she developed Universal Sisters and Hablando de la Salud de la Mujer as initiatives focused on the health concerns of African American and Latina women.
“I had no idea how important it was for women to be smart, be strong and be in charge,” Dunkelman said.
Dr. Marianne Legato is an internist who founded the Partnership for Women’s Health at Columbia University, a groundbreaking alliance between academic medicine and the corporate sector. The partnership launched an educational campaign to define the differences between the normal function of men and women and in their gender-specific experiences of the same diseases. Dr. Legato is also the founder of the Foundation for Gender-Specific Medicine to support research in the field.
She began this portion of her career 25 years ago after researching and writing a groundbreaking book on women and heart disease.
“I had no idea that women’s hearts were so different, in terms of function and coronary disease,” Dr. Legato said, echoing Dunkleman’s surprise at the status of women’s health. “At the time, the medical research and treatment communities thought that men and women were identical, biologically speaking, except for their reproductive systems.”
Monday: Meet Three Powerhouses Who Fight for Our Safety
Ada Alvarez Conde is the founder of Fundacion Alto al Silencio (Stop the Silence), based in her native Puerto Rico, with the mission of educating the public about dating violence. She is also a candidate for a seat in the Puerto Rico Senate. She said she wants to write bills that promote a culture of peace, support the prevention of violence and protect human rights.
“Speaking out for those without a voice is one of my biggest passions,” Alvarez said.
Casey Gwinn is president of the Alliance for HOPE International, an umbrella nonprofit of 120 family justice centers in the United States and around the world. The nonprofit is dedicated to preventing child abuse and domestic violence. It also offers services designed to help adults and children recover from trauma.
“In America,” Gwinn said, “we raise our criminals at home. The majority of all those we lock up in this country, for all crimes, grew up in homes with child abuse, domestic violence and some mix of drug and/or alcohol abuse. We can love them and help them find a pathway to hope when they are 8, 10 or 12 years old, or we can wait and lock them up at 17, 19 or 21. It is our choice.”
Dorchen Leidholdt is director of the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services at
Sanctuary for Families in New York. She also teaches at Columbia Law School. Leidholdt successfully advocated for laws criminalizing stalking, strangulation, human trafficking and requiring courts to consider domestic violence in custody cases.
“I never dreamed as a young activist that we would bring about so much positive change,” Leidholdt said.
Tuesday: Meet Three Powerhouses Who Get the Word Out
Mallika Dutt is founder of Breakthrough, a nonprofit organization that works in India and the United States to prevent violence against women and girls by using media, including street theater and music videos, to shift attitudes and engage men and boys.
“I really believe that we’re at a moment in history where we could see the tipping point,” she said. “The movement to stop it is getting stronger. It feels within reach.”
Kimberly Kelleher is president of New York Women in Communications, Inc., which promotes leadership and professional development for women in the field during every stage of their careers. She also serves as publisher and chief revenue officer of WIRED and Ars Technica.
NYWICI, with more than 2,000 members, is the largest professional organization for women in the field that causes much of the buzz in Manhattan and beyond.
“What we promote is the small business,” Kelleher said. “We have a lot of women who have broken out on their own.”
Kelleher’s organization has a scholarship fund as well, and two of its previous beneficiaries, Tammy Tibbetts and Christen Brandt, are also 21 Leaders for the 21st Century 2016.
“They are the future,” Kelleher said.
Rachel Moran is the founder and executive director of SPACE International (Survivors of Prostitution-Abuse Calling for Enlightenment), an organization committed to educating the public, raising awareness and influencing political change surrounding issues related to prostitution.
“This is a fight that will span several lifetimes,” Moran said, “but that’s not any excuse for us not to weigh in.”
Tuesday: Meet Three Powerhouses Who Enrich Women’s Economics
Dr. Thelma Awori is the founding chair and president emeritus of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund. Awori first played a significant role in organizing the market women of Liberia and now the market women from five West African countries.
“Market women are a category whose power needs to be made more visible,” Dr. Awori explained. “Our leaders need to recognize them as a powerful economic force.”
Sema Başol is the co-founder of the Turkish Women’s Initiative, based in California, and Change Leaders Association, its sister organization in Turkey. The organization’s signature Sparks program is an eight-month learning and leadership experience for young Turkish women who are the first in their families to go to college.
“It’s amazing how much they learn about themselves,” Başol said, “and what it means being a woman in a country like Turkey.”
Jill S. Tietjen is the CEO of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the woman who engineered a personal strategy to encourage women and technology: nominate them for awards! Tietjen said she gains enormous satisfaction from seeing to it that other women receive awards.
“I want other people to say, ‘OK, this is something we can do. It’s something we should do. It’s something that needs to be done, and we can do it, too,'” she said.
Wednesday: Meet Three Powerhouses Who Prepare Teens for Next Level
Jennilyn Doherty is co-founder, along with her husband Jason, of Daraja Academy in Nanyuki, Kenya. Begun in 2009, the academy is a secondary boarding school for 110 girls living in material poverty. She now envisions opening schools elsewhere in Africa – possibly in Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan.
“If we had all the money in the world, we could do it tomorrow,” she said. “But for now, it’s all about slow, sustainable growth.”
Tammy Tibbetts and Christen Brandt are co-founders of She’s the First, a nonprofit dedicated to giving scholarships to female elementary and secondary school students in low-income countries aiming to be the first in her family to graduate from high school.
The two met as recipients of the New York Women in Communications, Inc. Foundation scholarships. She’s the First connects its scholars with each other, hosting Facebook chats on current events and girls’ education.
“She’s the First is taking what was once viewed as a charitable cause or model,” Tibbetts said, “and really making it a collaborative one.”
Wednesday: Meet Three Powerhouses Who Rise Up for the Marginalized
Jennicet Gutiérrez is the founder and national coordinator of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, an organization that educates the public and advocates for trans immigrants. She entered the United States without a visa at age 15 and graduated from University of California at Davis. She received her visa last year. As part of her work, she meets one-on-one with detained trans immigrants who endure sexual and emotional violence in the detention centers.
“I can’t tolerate this type of abuse,” she said. “We shouldn’t allow our sisters to go through this pain.”
Stephanie Ortoleva, with degenerative low vision, is the founder and president of Women Enabled International, based in Washington, D.C. She and her staff work to advocate for the human rights of women and girls, especially those with disabilities.
Ortoleva is credited with bringing attention and resources to women’s and disability rights, but she emphatically reminds others she is not alone. “There are many wonderful women who are activists with disabilities, and I wish all of my sisters would get powerful attention,” she said.
Dr. Danielle Sheypuk, a licensed clinical psychologist, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at age 2. The disorder has limited her mobility for 34 years but not her spunk. The former Ms. Wheelchair New York, Danielle Sheypuk is becoming the face and a voice for disabled women in news media by “walking” fashion show runways. She also spearheads Girls Forward, a Teen Voices at Women’s eNews collaborative to promote storytelling among disabled youth.
“The more I appear in media as glamorous, educated and sexy,” she said, “that’s a role model for women and girls to look up to. That’s the role model I wish I had.”
Executive Officer, Founder
Rita Henley Jensen is founder of Women’s eNews. A former senior writer for the National Law Journal and columnist for The New York Times Syndicate, Rita Henley Jensen has more than 30 years of experience in journalism and an armload of awards, including the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Alumni award, the Hunter College Presidential Grant for Innovative Uses of Technology in Teaching, the Alicia Patterson fellowship, and the Lloyd P. Burns Public Service prize. Jensen is also a survivor of domestic violence and a former welfare mother who earned degrees from Ohio State University and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She is the grandmother of four, two granddaughters and two grandsons.