BBC 100 Women 2021: Who is on the list this year?
Our most inspiring and influential women of 2021 and how they're making a difference in the world.
The BBC has revealed its list of 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2021.This year 100 Women is highlighting those who are hitting "reset" - women playing their part to reinvent our society, our culture and our world. Among them are Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Samoa's first female prime minister Fiamē Naomi Mata'afa, Professor Heidi J Larson, who heads The Vaccine Confidence Project, and acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Women from Afghanistan make up half of this year's list, some of whom appear under pseudonyms and without photos for their own safety. The resurgence of the Taliban in August 2021 has changed the lives of millions of Afghans - with girls banned from receiving secondary education, the ministry for women's affairs being disbanded, and women in many cases told not to return to work. This year's list recognises the scope of their bravery and their achievements as they are forced to reset their lives.
The BBC's 100 women of 2021Use the buttons below to filter by interest and tap on cards to read about each womanLima AafshidPoetAward-winning poet and writer, whose poetry and articles challenge patriarchal norms in Afghan culture.Lima Aafshid has worked as an independent reporter and social commentator for more than five years. headtopics.com
She is also a member of Sher-e-daneshgah, the Kabul Poetry Association, which held virtual poetry sessions during the pandemic to help its more than 200 members maintain a sense of community despite the health crisis.*The fall of Afghanistan is like sinking back into the same mud we struggled with for 20 years. I am hopeful, however, that we can rise like a branch, reaching towards the light in the gloom of the forest.
Halima AdenKenyaHumanitarian and former modelThe first hijab-wearing supermodel, Halima Aden is a Somali by descent but was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. In 2017, she signed to one of the world’s biggest modelling agencies, IMG Models, adding a clause to her contract that she would not be asked to take off her hijab when modelling.
She was the first model to wear a hijab on the cover of British Vogue, Allure and Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition. Aden campaigns to improve awareness and visibility for Muslim women and was a Unicef ambassador for children’s rights.In 2020, she stepped away from modelling as she found it incompatible with her Muslim faith, but she continues to make an impact within the fashion industry and beyond.
*We’ve seen our frontline workers go through extreme measures to keep us safe during the pandemic and I pray that we appreciate their sacrifices. We can reset the world by moving forward with gratitude.Oluyemi Adetiba-OrijaNigeriaFounder - Headfort Foundation headtopics.com
Criminal lawyer and founder of the all-women law firm Headfort Foundation, which offers pro-bono legal services.Based in Lagos, the four-person legal team visits prisons to help poor and wrongly incarcerated inmates who are unable to get bail, as well as citizens enduring long pre-trial detentions (in Nigeria, those awaiting trial make up about 70% of the prison population). Oluyemi Adetiba-Orija and her team focus on under-age offenders, offering them another chance at life outside prison.
Since it started operating in 2018, the foundation has provided free legal assistance to more than 125 people charged with minor offences.*For the world to be reset, we all have a role to play! Speak, advocate and support good causes, ensuring freedom and safety for the world.
Muqadasa AhmadzaiAfghanistanSocial and political activistShe organised a network of more than 400 young women activists from Nangarhar province, in eastern Afghanistan, to travel to nearby districts and help survivors of domestic violence.As a social and political activist, Muqadasa Ahmadzai has taken it upon herself to support women and their communities in the face of rampant disinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic. She is a former member of Afghanistan’s Youth Parliament, where she worked for the rights of women and children.
In 2018, she received an N-Peace award, given by the United Nations Development Programme to outstanding women in peace-building and conflict resolution.*I never experienced such sudden change – as if no government existed before. Now our only hope is for the young generation to fill the gaps and reform the system, but that will only be possible with international support. headtopics.com
Rada AkbarAfghanistanArtistMisogyny and the oppression of women are at the heart of this Afghan visual artist’s work. Rada Akbar has always used art as a medium to enable her to speak up and give women greater visibility in society.Since 2019, she has been organising annual"Superwomen" (Abarzanan) exhibitions to mark International Women’s Day and to celebrate the central role that women have played in her country’s history. Until recently, she had been trying to set up a museum of women’s history in Kabul or elsewhere.
She believes her art helps denounce the social laws that condemn women in the name of political, economic and religious beliefs.*Afghanistan and its citizens have been abused and violated by extremists and world leaders for decades. But we have never stopped working for a progressive country and we will live in a free and prosperous Afghanistan again.
Abia AkramPakistanDisability leaderAn activist in the disability movement since 1997, when as a student managing her own disability she started the Special Talent Exchange Program (Step).She is the first woman from Pakistan to be nominated co-ordinator for the Commonwealth Young Disabled People’s Forum. Akram is the founder of the National Forum of Women with Disabilities and has campaigned for the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Inclusive Development.
She is also working to include disability in the UN 2030 Agenda and its sustainable development goals.*To reset the world after the Covid-19 pandemic, we must act jointly to improve all aspects of our societies on which the ‘new normal’ will be built, and we should see far more inclusive development as a result.
Leena AlamAfghanistanActressAward-wining TV, film and theatre actress and human-rights activist Leena Alam is renowned for her appearances in feminist television shows in Afghanistan, including Shereen and Killing of Farkhunda, which told the story of an Afghan woman who was falsely accused of burning the Quran and was publicly lynched by a mob of angry men.
Alam fled Afghanistan in the 1980s and now lives in the US but has continued to tell stories of her home country.In 2009 she was appointed a peace ambassador for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.*It took us decades to rebuild with so much blood and sacrifice. Watching it all fall to the ground in the blink of an eye is heart-breaking, but the fight must continue, this time with stronger foundations.
Dr AlemaAfghanistanPhilosopher and campaignerA prominent scholar in philosophy and social sciences, Dr Alema was deputy minister for human rights and civil society in the State Ministry for Peace. She is also founder of the independent Women's Political Participation Committee and a women’s-rights advocate.
With a PhD in philosophy from Germany, Dr Alema has more than 20 years of experience in conflict analysis.She has written books about German-Afghan international relations and women's empowerment in Afghanistan, and is also a professional trainer and moderator in humanitarian law with a focus on refugees, immigrants, and displaced people.
*My dream is for a free and democratic Afghanistan in which civil rights are protected based on a modern constitution, and where the right of women to participate in all spheres of life as equal citizens is guaranteed.Sevda AltunolukTurkeyProfessional goalball player
Visually impaired since birth, Sevda Altunoluk is a professional goalball player (a sport in which teams of three visually impaired or blindfolded players throw a ball embedded with bells into their opponents’ net).Often considered the world’s best goalball player, she has been top scorer at two Paralympic Games, two world championships and four European championships. Altunoluk helped the Turkish women’s team win Paralympic gold in Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.
Born in Tokat, Anatolia, she completed a degree in physical education in Ankara.*Disability should not be seen as an obstacle, but as an opportunity for self-expression.Wahida AmiriAfghanistanLibrarian and protesterA librarian and book lover, Wahida Amiri is a law graduate and frequent protester. When the Taliban took power in Afghanistan and she could no longer work at her library, she took to the streets of Kabul. She was joined by countless other women in a collective march to ask the international community to support Afghan women’s rights to work and to an education.
Since the Taliban outlawed protests, Amiri has gathered with other women to promote reading and discussion.Her library had been operating since 2017 and Amiri says that without her books, she has lost her identity.*The world did not respect us as humans. But as Afghanistan goes through destruction, we revive hope through protests, demanding justice and encouraging book reading.
Mónica ArayaCosta RicaEmissions-free transportation advocateAs a climate expert working to accelerate the shift toward emissions-free transportation, Mónica Araya has guided sustainability campaigns in the Americas and Europe - including the citizen initiative, Costa Rica Limpia, which helped her home country consolidate its position as a world leader in renewable energy.
Araya is special adviser to the UN high-level champion for climate action on transport issues. She is also an adviser for RouteZero - a campaign to get zero-emission mobility - and is a distinguished fellow at the ClimateWorks Foundation.Her TED Talks have almost four million views combined and have been translated into 31 languages. In 2016, Araya joined the world’s largest all-female expedition to Antarctica.
*It’s time for a reset of what we see as ‘normal’. Reducing our demand for petrol and diesel is critical and will help build political support for other much-needed societal transformations.Natasha AsgharUnited KingdomMember of the Welsh ParliamentShe made history this year when she became the first woman of colour to be elected to the Senedd or Welsh Parliament since it was formed, in 1999.
A member of the Conservative party and regional member of parliament for South Wales East, Natasha Asghar is shadow minister for transport and technology. She hopes to launch a travel card which would encourage locals and tourists in Wales to use public transport and fuel economic growth.
Before joining politics, she worked as a banker, TV presenter and radio DJ, and she has written two books.*United together, we must travel the difficult path to a new normal and grasp the opportunities presented to optimise the way we live and work from now on.
Zuhal AtmarAfghanistanEntrepreneur - Gul-e-Mursal recyclingAfghanistan's first waste-paper recycling factory, Gul-e-Mursal, was founded by businesswoman Zuhal Atmar. With a background in economics and business, she set up a women-led factory in Kabul in 2016. It has created 100 jobs, 30% of which have gone to women, from the factory floor to marketing.
The factory collects waste and non-confidential papers from non-governmental organisations and processes almost 35 tonnes of paper a week, recycling them into toilet paper, which is then sold across the country.Atmar has been vocal about how difficult it is for women to get the financial support they need to set up and run a business in Afghanistan.
*What does the future look like? The dreams, goals and hopes of the youth and women have been destroyed.Marcelina BautistaMexicoUnion leaderA former domestic worker herself, Marcelina Bautista is director of Mexico’s support and training centre for domestic workers (CACEH), which she founded 21 years ago. She campaigns to secure rights, such as fair wages and sick leave, enjoyed by other workers, and to improve their social status.
Her initiative combines education for workers, employers and community members. Bautista was actively involved in negotiations that led the Mexican government formally to join an international labour agreement that protects domestic workers from exploitation, violence and unsafe working conditions.
She was awarded an international human-rights prize from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Germany in 2010.*Changing the world means changing the conditions of millions of domestic workers, mostly women, who work at home while others develop professionally. This social inequality will only end when domestic work gets the recognition it deserves.
Crystal BayatAfghanistanActivistSocial activist and human-rights advocate Crystal Bayat figured prominently in protests against the Taliban takeover in 2021, helping organise one in Kabul on 19 August - independence day in Afghanistan.Bayat had begun a PhD in political management before her studies were interrupted when the Taliban took control of the country.
She is currently based in the US, from where she continues the fight to preserve Afghan human-rights achievements. She also hopes to finish her PhD and write a book.*Ultimately, I want to be part of any future democratic changes in Afghanistan. My dream is to speak at the UN because I believe the world needs to hear what real Afghans, especially women, have to say.
Razia BarakzaiAfghanistanProtesterAfter working for the government at the presidential palace for a number of years, in various capacities, Razia Barakzai found herself without a job once the Taliban took power in Afghanistan.Since then, she has been actively involved in marches in Kabul, where countless women have demanded the right to work and receive an education. She was also one of the women behind the slogan #AfghanWomenExist, which highlights the fact that fear is driving Afghan women away from social media.
Barakzai has a degree in law and political science, and an MBA. In a letter she wrote for the BBC about her experience campaigning, she said: “Dying for freedom is preferable to living in slavery.”*The educated and young of the country - especially the brave, warrior women of Afghanistan - one day will be the flag-bearers of freedom. I see this every day through the demonstrations in the streets.
Nilofar BayatAfghanistanWheelchair basketball playerThe captain of the national wheelchair basketball team and a prominent advocate for women with disabilities, Nilofar Bayat fled Afghanistan to escape the Taliban. She and her husband, Ramish - also a wheelchair player - both worked for the International Red Cross.
When she was two years old, a rocket hit her family home, killing her brother and damaging her spinal cord. Bayat played her first game of basketball in an open court in the middle of Kabul, a turning point for sportswomen in Afghanistan. She has become a voice for refugees fleeing her homeland, and she set up an association for Afghan women.
Bayat hopes to play basketball again.*I hope it is game over in Afghanistan and we don’t pay the price of war for another second. I hope to see a real smile on the faces of my people.Jos BoysUnited KingdomArchitectCo-director of The DisOrdinary Architecture Project, which encourages innovation among disabled artists relating to access and inclusion in the design of our built surroundings.
Combining her work as an architect with her activism, Jos Boys co-founded the Matrix Feminist Design Collective in the 1980s and is one of the authors of Making Space: Women and the Man Made Environment. She has worked as an academic in many international institutions, exploring feminist spatial practices to creatively challenge assumptions in architectural design.
In a career spanning 40 years, she has raised awareness of how our everyday social and material practices can be used to support people with disabilities.*We need to centre the diverse experiences of disabled and other marginalised people over the last year, recognising this as a creative generator to reset our built surroundings as spaces of collective care and interdependence.
Catherine CorlessIrelandLocal historianThe amateur historian investigated the deaths of 796 children at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Galway, conducting years of painstaking research that helped uncover a mass grave at the site of the former Irish institution for unmarried mothers, where hundreds of infants had disappeared, with no evidence of their burial, between the 1920s and the 1950s.
This year, a long-awaited report on these institutions, run mostly by Catholic nuns, found an"appalling level of infant mortality" from various diseases, leading to an apology from the Irish government.Corless has received the Bar of Ireland Human Rights Award in recognition of her ‘exceptional humanitarian service’.
*If I could reset the world, I would obliterate the word"shame". The dictionary defines it as"a painful feeling of humiliation, a feeling that your whole self is wrong". It’s a five-letter word that wields atomic energy.Faiza Darkhani
AfghanistanEnvironmentalistOne of few people working in the field of climate change in Afghanistan, Faiza Darkhani is an assistant professor and former director of the National Environmental Protection Agency in Badakhshan province. She is also a vocal advocate for women’s rights.
Darkhani graduated from the Universiti Putra Malaysia with a master’s degree in landscape architecture. She has written research papers on sustainable urban landscape management and innovative techniques, such as vertical farming for food production in densely populated cities.
She believes in raising public awareness about environmental protection and implementing female-focused sustainable programmes.*Standing out from the crowd is a courageous decision. You must follow your dreams and turn them into realities, and my dream is having a clean and safe environment, free of war and all types of pollution.Read more: BBC News (UK) »
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LOL 🇬🇧💪 If I identified as White European I be pretty miffed as it looks 95% of the best 100 women are Asian African. Women probably. Just one trans woman on a list of 100? Not very inclusive, is it? I expect 10x that next year. BBC Animal exploitation programme. Why are the reindeer in restricted movement on a lead in a field. Humans have legs to walk. Stop abusing dogs you lazy humans. Walk or use electric powered sleigh, not running dogs to hearts attacks & exhaustion
BBC continue to promote animal exploitation holidays - showing now on BBC news 3.35am. This is wrong BBC. It is cruel & unnecessary. In some husky farms like this they are treated appalling, die of heart attacks & what happens when no longer for to run? Dog meat I expect.
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