During his first week in office, President Donald Trump signed a series of controversial executive orders. One of them, which reinstates the “global gag rule,” blocks U.S. funds to any foreign organization that provides abortions or even offers information on abortions. It’s contentious not only because experts say it will have a negative impact on the health of millions of women and girls around the world, but because the president was photographed signing the orders surrounded only by men. Two weeks later, a similar photo appeared on social media [above], but this time a woman, Sweden’s deputy prime minister and climate minister, Isabella Lövin, was seated before an official document, flanked by a group of women colleagues. She was signing a bill to make Sweden carbon-neutral by 2045, addressing the issue of climate change, something the American president has called a hoax invented by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.
This powerful image inspired us to take a look at some of the women working to effect positive change in the political realm. This is not a list of the most powerful women in government, nor is it exhaustive. It merely serves as an introduction to some of the women around the world who are actively promoting women’s rights, protecting the climate, standing up for the dispossessed, or simply being positive role models. In honor of International Women’s Day, whose theme this year is achieving gender equality by 2030, we present 13 female politicians you need to know.
1. Laura Boldrini, president of Italy's Chamber of Deputies
The Italian parliamentarian is on a mission to stamp out hate speech on social media. She is one of many notable women who face a constant barrage of misogynist insults online, some threatening violence. One cause, she says, is fake news and disinformation, which she told BuzzFeed News “…whether it’s driven by profit or as political propaganda, is all too often an antechamber to hate.” She noted the thin line between online and offline violence, referencing the assassination last June of British Labour MP Jo Cox, who was shot and stabbed by a constituent with links to neo-Nazi groups. Boldrini has launched a public-awareness campaign and written an open letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, challenging him to take on the issue.
2. Park Cannon, state representative for Georgia’s House District 58
The new state rep ran for office to counter the lack of diversity in the state capitol. “[Women] make up 54 percent of the state’s population yet are only 18 percent of the elected officials,” she says on her official website. “The statistics involving African-American women are even worse.” As one of only four openly LGBT lawmakers in the Georgia house, Park is a champion of LGBT rights. She has co-sponsored legislation that would prevent private schools receiving state funds from discriminating against potential employees or students based on sexual orientation, and as a member of Georgia’s Black Caucus, she is fighting to ensure that the LGBT community has the same opportunities for housing and employment that everyone else has because as she told The Atlanta Voice, “LGBT rights are inextricably intertwined [with] civil and human liberties.”
3. Susan Collins, U.S. senator for Maine
She is known not only for her strong work ethic—Collins has never missed a vote in her 20 years in office—but for her efforts to reach across the aisle and work with her Democratic counterparts. Dubbed “the real Republican maverick” by the data-driven political blog FiveThirtyEight.com, Collins has a record of breaking with her party on issues that protect women’s reproductive rights and LGBT rights. She has been a vocal critic of President Trump’s immigration executive order, issuing a statement that “religious tests serve no useful purpose in the immigration process and run contrary to our American values.” And, most recently, she urged her friend and colleague, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s involvement in the presidential election.
4. Leila de Lima, senator of the Philippines
Since last June, when Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines, at least 3,600 people have been killed by police or vigilantes in a vicious war on drugs, according to human rights groups. One of Duterte’s staunchest critics is Senator de Lima, who has vowed to maintain the rule of law in the Philippines and investigate these extrajudicial killings. In response, the president’s supporters have falsely accused the senator of being involved in drug trafficking herself and arrested her last week in what appears to be a politically motivated attempt to silence her. De Lima issued a statement saying, “If they think that by jailing me, I will turn my back on my principles, they are mistaken. Instead, they have encouraged me more to pursue truth and justice.”
5. Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. senator for New York
In the eight years she has served as a senator, Gillibrand has proven to be a powerful advocate for women’s rights and other progressive causes, fighting for wage equality, paid family leave, and protection from domestic violence and sexual assault whether it’s on a college campus or in the service of the U.S. military. The senator also launched a movement called Off the Sidelines to encourage girls and women to speak up about and fight for the causes they care about and even consider running for political office.
6. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, president of Mauritius
The first woman president of Mauritius is a biodiversity scientist who is promoting investment in science and technology in Africa to bridge the gap between developed and developing nations. Addressing a conference for the Royal Academy of Engineering, Gurib-Fakim said her goal is to encourage more girls to study science and engineering. It’s important to abandon the old way of thinking that only “soft” subjects are suitable for girls, but on a more practical level, schools must also provide proper sanitary facilities, as it’s common for girls to stay home five days a month when they have their periods.
7. Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris
In 2014, when she was elected the city’s first woman mayor, Hidalgo said her first order of business was tackling social inequalities by creating more affordable housing across the city, not just in the banlieues. As an immigrant from Spain (she came to France with her parents at age 2), she grew up in public housing in an immigrant neighborhood of Lyon and saw the inequalities firsthand. Her other goal to achieve social parity? Fighting pollution by curtailing the use of cars in the city and creating more space for pedestrians. Madame La Maire—she flouts the proper masculine word for mayor, “le maire”—wants to make all public transport in the city electric by 2030, and all public buildings energy-efficient by 2050.
8. Pramila Jayapal, U.S. representative for Washington’s 7th congressional district
In response to the escalation of hate crimes and discriminatory practices against immigrant groups after 9/11, the then-new American citizen founded the advocacy organization Hate Free Zone, now OneAmerica, which helped over 20,000 new citizens register to vote. As a member of the state senate in Washington, she continued to fight for civil rights but branched out to advocate for other issues like paid sick leave and a living minimum wage for workers. Last November Jayapal was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, the first Indian-American woman to serve in that role, and she recently co-sponsored a bill to prohibit religious-based bans like President Trump’s executive order, which she believes is unconstitutional.
9. Fawzia Koofi, member of Afghanistan’s National Assembly
Born in Afghanistan to a father with seven wives, Koofi, the 19th of 23 children, was the first girl in her family to go to school, so making sure girls have equal access to education is a cause close to her heart. When the Taliban fell in 2001, she was part of a campaign to get girls back to school then later served as a child protection officer for UNICEF. In 2005, she was the first woman elected to the lower house of Afghanistan’s new parliament, and despite several assassination attempts and ongoing death threats, she continues to fight for women’s rights, particularly working to ratify a law that would help protect women against violence, underage marriage, and polygamous marriage.
10. Safak Pavey, member of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly
In a country where people still hide family members with disabilities as a source of shame, Turkey’s first disabled woman in Parliament has been a tireless advocate for the physically impaired. She is also active in promoting the rights of women, the LGBT community, and ethnic and religious minorities, which earned her an International Women of Courage Award in 2012, given by the U.S. State Department to honor women who have demonstrated leadership and the willingness to sacrifice for others. In 2014, she was named Secularist of the Year for advancing secularism and human rights, especially during a time of extraordinary political and religious upheaval in the Middle East. Said Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society: “Not only is Safak at the center of this titanic struggle between secularism and authoritarian religion, she is always looking to the rights and needs of others.”
11. Lilianne Ploumen, the Netherlands’ minister of foreign trade and development cooperation
One of President Trump’s first acts in office was to reimpose the “global gag rule,” which according to Bill and Melinda Gates, will have a negative impact on millions of women and girls, as the programs being cut help prevent and treat HIV, malaria, and the Zika virus as well as offer other life-saving health care, family planning, and sex education. In response, Ploumen launched She Decides, a global initiative to raise the estimated $600 million needed to sustain support for the family-planning programs affected by the gag rule. The Dutch government has pledged $10.7 million and has secured funds from up to 19 other countries. In January she told The Guardian, “This is also about millions of women and girls who often have no voice or live in countries where democracy is less deeply rooted, and when they speak up they need our support.”
12. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s education minister
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the French education system is one of the least egalitarian in the world, and Vallaud-Belkacem knows personally how difficult it is for children from working-class families to succeed in France. Born in rural Morocco, she didn’t speak a word of French when she arrived in the suburbs of Paris at age 4. She focused all her efforts on school, yet some teachers still discouraged her from pursuing higher education. She persisted, working two jobs to put herself through school, and eventually became France’s first woman education minister. She started her tenure by introducing reform to address gender stereotyping in schools, telling FranceInfo radio that she was “committed to the equality of boys and girls more than anything else.” In response to last year’s terrorist attacks, Vallaud-Belkacem is revamping the way secularism and civic values are taught in school so that students no longer feel marginalized for their beliefs.
13. Margot Wallström, Sweden’s foreign minister
She has pledged to advance a “feminist foreign policy” to ensure that women around the world have equal rights and equal access to resources as well as equal participation in decision making, even when doing so is inconvenient or causes indignation. In 2015, she criticized the Saudi government for its treatment of women, which may have cost Swedish arms manufacturers some contracts with the Saudis, but according to opinion polls, many Swedes commend her for doing the right thing. In a speech at a public university in Tunisia, Sweden’s top diplomat declared that women’s rights are human rights.