By DFID – UK Department for International DevelopmentMalala Yousafzai: Education for girls, CC BY 2.0, Link

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education and the rights of girls, as well as the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel prize. She was born in Mingora, Pakistan in the country’s Swat Valley in 1997. Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, believed that she would one day become a politician, and would let her stay up late at night to discuss politics. She spoke about education rights for the first time at age 11, when her father took her to the local press club in Peshawar, on the topic, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” At this time, the Taliban were frequently blowing up girls’ schools. When she heard that BBC Urdu news was looking for a schoolgirl to anonymously blog about her life and that the girl who had been about to do it had changed her mind due to her family’s fear of the Taliban, Malala, who was only in the seventh grade at the time, took on the task. BBC staff insisted she use a pseudonym: she was called “Gul Makai”, or “cornflower” in Urdu.

Malala hand-wrote notes which were then passed to a reporter to be scanned and sent to BBC Urdu by email. On January 3, 2009, her first post went up. Her descriptions continued to be published as military operations began, including the First Battle of Swat; eventually Malala’s school was shut down. By January 15th, the Taliban had issued an edict in Mingora that no girl was allowed to go to school – and by this point, they had already destroyed over one hundred girls’ schools. After the ban went into effect, they continued to destroy more schools. A few weeks later, girls were allowed to attend school, but only at coed schools; girls’ schools were still banned, and very few girls went back to school in the atmosphere of impending violence that hung over the area. On February 18th, local Taliban leader Maulana Fazlulla announced he would lift the ban on education of females, and girls would be able to attend school until March 17th, when exams were scheduled, but they would have to wear burqas.

After Malala finished her series of blog posts for the BBC on March 12th, 2009, a New York Times reporter asked her and her father if she could appear in a documentary. At this point, military actions and regional unrest forced the evacuation of Mingora, and Malala was sent to stay with country relatives. In late July, her family was reunited and allowed to return home, and after the documentary, Malala began to do some major media interviews. By the end of 2009, her identity as the BBC blogger had been revealed by journalists. She started receiving international recognition and was awarded a National Youth Peace Prize – a first-time award in Pakistan – by her country’s government. As things developed, she began to plan the Malala Education Foundation in 2012, whose purpose would be to help economically disadvantaged girls to be able to attend school. But in summer of that year, a group of Taliban leaders agreed to kill her – unanimously. As she rode the bus home in October, a masked gunman shot her; the
bullet passed through her head, neck, and shoulder, and wounded two other girls.
Malala barely survived, but was airlifted to a Peshawar hospital, where doctors removed the bullet from her head in five hours. She then received specialized treatment in Europe with the Pakistani government bearing the cost. Since her recovery, she has continued to speak out both for education for girls and for the rights of women in general. At age 17, she was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her work on behalf of children and young people, sharing the prize with Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist from India. Malala is the youngest Nobel laureate ever. That year she also received an honorary doctorate from University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

On her 18th birthday, she opened a school in Lebanon not far from the Syrian border for Syrian refugees, specifically teenage girls, funded by the nonprofit Malala Fund. She is continuing her schooling as well as her activism. Learn more about her work at

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


By Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Lizzie Velasquez was born prematurely, weighing in at less than three pounds, in 1989 in Austin, Texas, and was diagnosed with a genetic disorder that leaves her unable to gain weight. To this day she has never weighed in at more 64 pounds, despite frequent and carefully timed intake of food. She is also blind in her right eye and vision-impaired in her left eye. In 2006, when she was 17, Lizzie was named the “World’s Ugliest Woman”; ever since then, she has been a spokesperson against bullying. In January 2014 she gave a TED talk titled, “How Do YOU Define Yourself”. Her YouTube channel has garnered 54 million views. Lizzie has also self-published a book with her mother called Lizzie Beautiful: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, and has also written two other books that offer personal stories and advice to teenagers. A documentary film about her life called A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story premiered at SXSW in 2015 and later aired on Lifetime. Lizzie continues to be a motivational speaker and author.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


By UK Mission to the UN Ne –, CC BY 2.0, Link

Amal was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1978; when she was two, the Alamuddin family left Lebanon for Buckinghamshire, England. In 1991 her father returned to Lebanon, while Amal and her three siblings stayed with their mother, a foreign editor of a Pan-Arab newspaper who also founded a PR company. Amal graduated with a degree in jurisprudence from Oxford in 2000, and continued to study law at New York University. While at NYU, she clerked for a semester in the office of Sonia Sotomayor, who was at the time a U.S. Court of Appeals judge for the Second Circuit, long before she rose to become an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. She went on to pass the bar in 2002 in the U.S. and in 2010 for England and Wales; she went on to a judicial clerkship at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, and continued at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former nation of Yugoslavia and at the Office of the Prosecutor at the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon. In 2010, Amal returned to Britain to practice in London as a barrister. In 2013, she was appointed to various UN commissions, both as an advisor to Special Envoy Kofi Annan on Syria, and as Counsel to UN human rights rapporteur Ben Emmerson on the 2013 Drone Inquiry into the use of drones in counter-terrorism operations. In the last few years, she has taught at schools including Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, UNC– Chapel Hill, New York’s New School, The Hague Academy of International Law, and the University of London, on interesting subjects such as international criminal law and human rights litigation. Amal is a lawyer for the people and has worked on many cases, including the effort for recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915; she cares about speaking for the voiceless and fighting for what is fair. She also co-founded the Clooney Foundation for Justice in 2016 with her husband, actor George Clooney.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.



Asieh Amini is a renowned expatriate Iranian poet and journalist living in Norway. From her birth in 1973 until 1979, she lived a fairly privileged life, as her landed-gentry family was well-to-do and employed servants; but they lost much of their wealth during  the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Besides adapting to her family becoming no more than middle class, young Amini despised the fact that females now had to wear the mandatory black hijab covering. As a child, she thought the hijab was ugly and would cry when she was required to wear it like other girls. In 1993, Amini started journalism school at Tabataba’i University in Teheran. While still just a freshman, she started writing for the hardline daily Kayhan, then wrote for Iran, a larger newspaper. Iran started publishing a youth supplement and tapped Amini to be the cultural editor of the 28-page section; this was an unusually high position for a woman to have in Iran, and there was pushback from male staff who didn’t like her being in charge of men as a section editor – men older than she was, no less. She refused to give in and focused on working hard, up to 14 hours a day.
As the political winds shifted in Iran, censorship relaxed somewhat, and more young women started to work in the field of journalism. Amini worked at a paper that covered women’s affairs, though she opposed the concept of separating news by gender; then she became a freelancer, covering Kurdish demonstrations and a Shirazi earthquake. In 2006, she started investigating killings of young women after learning of the horrific execution of a 16-year-old girl. She worked to publish what she discovered, but lost a job at one newspaper and was turned down by various others. The editor-in-chief who fired her said it was impossible for their paper to publish the story, since she was fighting Sharia law and the Iranian judicial system. Finally a women’s journal agreed to publish an abridged version of the story. Amini soon learned of a 19-year-old young woman named Leyla with the mental age of an 8-year-old child who had been abused as well as prostituted by her mother since childhood and was sentenced to die by hanging. Amini wrote about and advocated for her, gaining international attention, which at last led to a new trial for Leyla and after that a safe place for Leyla to live and be cared for. In the course of what she then thought of as organizing for children’s rights, Amini learned about stonings, which were still going on in secret even though they had been officially illegal since 2002.
When she discovered that the most hardline judges in Iran were continuing to sentence women and others to death by stoning because they thought they answered to a higher authority than the law of the land, Amini cocreated the “Stop Stoning Forever” campaign in 2006. Her role was to amass evidence that stonings were still taking place. She worked ceaselessly with her group and managed to find 14 people who had been sentenced to be stoned; then they reached out for international support, even going so far as smuggling facts to Amnesty International, which put the information into the public eye, even back in Iran. In 2007 she was detained in prison for five days following a silent women’s rights sit-in at a courthouse; after that, it became clear that she was under surveillance. At last she fled with her daughter to Sweden in 2009 after a warning that several female prisoners had been interrogated about her and that she would likely soon be among the many “disappeared”. She moved to Norway and pursued her longtime interest in writing poetry, and she is presently working on a new documentary book while completing a Master’s degree in Equality and Diversity at NTNU.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


Rashmi-Misra-1.jpgRashmi Misra grew up in a military family, so she moved around, attending several schools, but completed her schooling in Delhi, India. She went to Lady Sri Ram College and studied German and public relations. Concurrently, she also studied Odissi dance, an ancient form of Indian classical dance that came originally from Hindu temples.

As a young woman, she was employed as a member of the ground staff by Lufthansa Airlines. In 1985, she began teaching a class for five girls at her home, which was then on the campus of IIT Delhi; this was the beginning of what would become VIDYA. As she describes it,

“…I realized that the children were thirsty to learn, but the opportunities and means were missing. I went to slums to find children and educate them… Educating the underprivileged kept me motivated.”

After she married, she emigrated to the United States. She built the small education project she had started into VIDYA, a major nonprofit that employs over 300 people and has made a difference to more than 220,000 families in the three decades since then. The NGO works with people in the extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods of Delhi, Bangalore, and Mumbai, supplying schools as well as remedial education; literacy, computer, and other skills training; and microfinance and other support on behalf of social entrepreneurship. Much of VIDYA’s work still focuses on helping children, as well as women entrepreneurs; but supporting women and children transforms entire communities. Misra found – and inspired – many volunteers and carried out fundraising over the years to sustain VIDYA’s efforts. Visit their web page to learn more about the fruits of her work – and never doubt that one woman who cares can make a difference:

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


By Hilda_Solis_official_DOL_portrait_original.jpg: Department of Labor.derivative work: Maximus0970 (talk) – Hilda_Solis_official_DOL_portrait_original.jpg, Public Domain, Link

Hilda Solis was born in 1957 and raised in La Puente, CA; her Nicaraguan and Mexican immigrant parents had met in citizenship class and married in 1953. Her father had been a Teamsters shop steward in Mexico; he again organized for the union at the Quemetco battery recycling plant, but his efforts for the workers did not prevent him from being poisoned there by lead. Hilda’s mother was also active in the union during her years working at Mattel once all the children were in school.
At La Puente High School, students were not necessarily expected to try to better themselves through higher education; one of Hilda’s guidance counselors told her mother, “Your daughter is not college material. Maybe she should follow the career of her older sister and become a secretary.” Fortunately, another counselor supported Hilda’s applying to college, and went so far as to visit her at her house to help her fill out a college application. Hilda earned a bachelor’s in political science from California State Polytechnic University and went on to obtain a Master’s in public administration at USC.
Solis interned and edited a newsletter in the Carter Administration’s White House Office of Hispanic Affairs. In Washington, DC, she met her future husband, Sam Sayyad. She returned to the west coast, and in 1982 became the Director of the California Student Opportunity and Access Program, which helped disadvantaged young people prepare for college.

Friends urged her to consider running for elective office, and after a successful run in 1985, she served for some years on the Rio Hondo Community College District. Solis also became State Senator Art Torres’ chief of staff. In 1992 she ran for the California State Assembly and won with the support of Barbara Boxer, Gloria Molina, and her mother, who notably fed her campaign volunteers on homemade burritos.
In 1994, Art Torres was nominated to a statewide position as insurance commissioner, and Solis ran for and won the State Senate seat he vacated. She was the first woman of Hispanic descent ever to serve in the State Senate as well as the youngest member of the Senate at the time. She authored domestic violence prevention bills, and she stood up for workers with a bill to raise the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.75, which was massively opposed by business and vetoed by Governor Pete Wilson. Solis didn’t let that stop her; she successfully led a ballot initiative drive, using $50,000 from her own campaign money. When the initiative passed, others knew that she was someone to be reckoned with. Similar initiatives were enacted in other states on the wave of this victory. Solis worked to enact an environmental justice law to protect low-income and minority neighborhoods from being repeatedly targeted for new landfills and pollution sources, and in 2000, she received the JFK Library Profile in Courage Award for this work, the first woman ever to win it. She also called out garment sweatshop operators for their violations of labor conditions, and was an advocate for the people on education and health care issues; 2000 was also the year that she successfully ran for Congress. In 2008, she became the first Hispanic woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet when President Obama tapped her for the position of Labor Secretary. After serving for the duration of his first term, she decided to resign and returned to California, where she is presently an L.A. County Supervisor.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


Anita Hill
By Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Nobody could have guessed that the televised Senate hearings on the nominations of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court would be the top-rated show of 1991. America’s collective mouth hung open in amazement at the brouhaha that brewed up around Judge Thomas’ worthiness based on the charges of sexual harassment by one Anita Hill. The hearings catapulted the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace into the most hotly debated and analyzed topic of the day, one that still  reverberates years later. Prior to Anita’s brave stand, sexual harassment was mainly swept under the industrial gray carpeting of most offices, but she singlehandedly forced it to the very center of the national agenda.

The nation and, indeed, the world, watched transfixed as the incredibly poised Anita revealed her experiences with Clarence Thomas as a coworker. With great dignity, she testified that Thomas kept after her to go out with him, referred to himself as “an individual who had a very large penis and…used a name…in pornographic material,” and asked her to see “this woman (who) has this kind of breasts that measure this size,” in a seemingly endless barrage of ludicrous and lugubrious insults to her as a fellow professional. Senate hearings, usually desert dry and devoid of tabloid titillation, suddenly featured long discussions including the terms “penis” and “pubic hair.”

The prelude to the media circus took place when the president announced his choice of “black Horatio Alger” Clarence Thomas as the Supreme Court replacement for the retiring Thurgood Marshall. Anita Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, contacted Harriet Grant, the Judiciary Committee’s nominations counsel. She told Grant that Thomas had harassed her in a sexual and inappropriate manner when she had worked as his assistant at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She had, in fact, quit the EEOC because of his behavior and gone into academia. Grant cc’d the senatorial committee on the allegations, but the Senate whipped through the approval process with nary a word about Hill’s report and prepared to vote for confirmation of Thomas. Then journalist shero Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio and New York Newsday’s Timothy Phelps broke the story wide open to a shocked public. Seven women from the House of Representatives marched in protest to the Senate building, demanding of the sheepish Senate committee to know why the committee had ignored Hill’s complaint.

Nothing in Hill’s background could have prepared her for the media onslaught. Born in 1956 as the youngest of thirteen children, she was raised in rural Oklahoma in a deeply religious family. An outstanding student, she graduated as valedictorian of her integrated high school, earned top honors in college, and was one of only eleven black students out of a class of 160 at Yale University Law School.

Even through Anita Hill had been promised immunity and total confidentiality, she appeared before the committee in a special session before the scrutiny of the nation. The Judiciary Committee was dismissive, as only Old Boys can be, of Anita Hill and her testimony, even going so far as to ask her if she was taking her revenge as the “woman scorned,” and they suggested that she was a patsy for radical liberals and feminists. While Anita’s allegations were ultimately disregarded and Clarence Thomas was voted in, Anita’s grace under pressure won many admirers who protested the Thomas appointment. The controversy remained headline news for months; polls of public opinion showed Anita Hill gaining and Bush losing points as I Believe You Anita! bumper stickers appeared on thousands of cars across America. For her outspokenness, she was awarded the Ida B. Wells Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and named one of Glamour’s Ten Women of the Year in 1991.
Anita Hill’s courage of conviction made her a shero of the late twentieth century. In her words, “I felt I had to tell the truth. I could not keep silent.”

“You just have to tell the truth and that’s the most anyone can expect from you and if you get that opportunity, you will have accomplished something.” — Anita Hill

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.