Gender & Identity, Life

40 Women to Watch: The 2018 Edition

Presenting 40 of the boldest leaders transforming the world through music, art, journalism, business, philanthropy, politics and more.

2017 was intense. We began the year with the largest worldwide protest in history as more than 300,000 people gathered for the Women’s March. That was only the beginning, though. This year we have been blown away by the women leaders who have been innovating in every sphere of life, in every corner of the world.

This list wasn’t easy to create: we are spoiled for choice when it comes to strong, innovative, amazing women and the list is not presented in any order because we simply couldn’t bear to rank such a diverse group of change makers.

If this is what the future looks like, we can’t wait.

1. Brittany Packnett

Portrait of Brittany Packnett
TechCrunch

Brittany Packnett is a social justice activist, educator, organizer, writer, and speaker – basically the superhero we all need. Her achievements include being the co-founder of Campaign Zero – a police reform campaign, as well as being a member of Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force.

Additionally, Brittany is the vice-president of national community alliances for Teach for America and featured on Pod Save The People.

2. Carly Findlay

Portrait of Carly Findlay
Harper Collins

Carly Findlay is a writer, speaker and appearance and disability activist. Carly started writing about life with  Ichthyosis on her blog in 2009, and since then she’s become a leader in the disability rights movement in Australia. She was featured on the ABC’s You Can’t Ask That in 2017 and she’s working on a memoir.

Carly is working to change the way people think about people with visible differences, shattering the silence and making the world a better place for everyone.

3. Aditi Juneja

Aditi Juneja
Forbes.com

Aditi Juneja is a lawyer and activist who founded the Resistance Manual – a site which describes itself as ” focused on presenting truthful and actionable information to empower people to participate in their democracy.” It is a site with information to resist the Trump/GOP administration.

Due to her incredible work with the resistance, Aditi was included in the 2018 Forbes 30 under 30 list, and we had the privilege of interviewing her earlier in 2017.

4. Simone Zimmerman

portrait of Simone Zimmerman
Jewish Journal

Simone Zimmerman is the co-founder of If Not Now, which seeks to end the American Jewish community’s support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The movement aims to end the war on Gaza, end the occupation and demands freedom and dignity for all.

Simone is an inspiration and symbol of what can be achieved when one refuses to be silent.

5. Monica Jones

Monica Jones
aclu.com

Monica Jones is a sex worker and activist working in Arizona to combat anti-sex worker laws that target women of color, the LGBTQ community, and trans women. Monica was arrested under the law she was speaking against, the case was eventually dropped.

She is a badass who continues to speak out about injustices and refuses to allow herself to be intimidated.

6. Reina Gossett

Reina Gossett
reinagossett.com

Reina Gossett is an activist, filmmaker, and writer who produces movies about trans* women. She notably wrote, directed and produced “Happy Birthday, Marsha!” which follows trans* rights activists, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

Reina has also worked with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Queers for Economic Justice, and Critical Resistance.

7. Maysoon Zayid

Maysoon Zayid
thenational.ae

Maysoon Zayid is a Palestinian-American actress and comedian with cerebral palsy who made history by being the first person to ever perform stand-up comedy in Palestine and Jordan. Maysoon co-founded the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival, gave an incredible TED Talk, and also co-hosts the Fann Majnoon comedy show.

She spends three months a year running arts programs for orphans and children with disabilities in the Palestinian territories to help them deal with trauma.

8. Shareefa Energy

Shareefa Energy
shareefaenergy,com

Shareefa Energy is a London-based spoken word poet, writer, and force behind the play, ‘Wombs Cry.’ Shareefa uses storytelling methods to highlight issues in society and challenge stereotypes of Muslim women.

Her achievements include receiving the UK Unsigned Hype Best Spoken Word Artist 2014 award, being invited to perform in Berlin at ‘Poetry Meets Hip Hop,’ and being featured on Channel 4 for National Poetry Day 2015.

9. Imade Nibokun

Imade Nibokun
nowandafterwards.com

Imade Nibokun is a writer and activist who runs “Depressed While Black,” an online platform that shares stories about being depressed while black, fighting the idea that it is a white person’s disease.

Additionally, her written work has been featured in LA Weekly, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, VICE, and WNYC.

10.  Lauren Duca

Lauren Duca
teenvogue.com

Lauren Duca is a writer who changed the narrative of Teen Vogue by writing an article criticising Donald Trump, which spearheaded the direction the teen publication took into the space of political activism.

Lauren won the Shorty Award for Best Journalist, received the Eleanor Roosevelt Tomorrow Is Now Award, and was honored with an Engendering Progress Award.

11. Katrin Jakobsdottir

Katrin Jakobsdottir
news.sky.com

Katrin Jakobsdottir is Iceland’s new Prime Minister. Unlike some world leaders who don’t believe in climate change, Katrin is an environmentalist and badass anti-war feminist.

She is the second female Prime Minister of Iceland, part of the Left-Green Movement, and is one of the world’s youngest leaders.

12. Noorjahan Akbar

NoorJahan Akbar is standing in a desert, facing the camera wearing a bright blue Afghan dress with beautiful red, yellow and green embroidery.
Noorjahan Akbar

Noorjahan is the founder of  Free Women Writers in Afghanistan, which is a collective of Afghan writers and students that promotes the voices and stories of women in newspapers and on the radio.

In 2013, they published a collection of work titled Daughters of Rabia. In 2016, the Daughters of Rabia scholarship was founded to fund higher education for women in Afghanistan.

Their second book, You Are Not Alone, is a guide for women facing gender-based violence. It came out in English in September 2017.

13. Mashal Waqar

Mashal Waqar holding award, standing between Sophie Le Ray and H.E. Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori on stage. They are facing the audience. Purple screen in the background with text Young Leader of The Year and Mashal Waqar CTO and Cofounder The Tempest.
Mashal Waqar

Mashal is one of our fearless leaders: the co-founder and CTO here at The Tempest. Mashal is a fierce advocate for accessibility and inclusion, and in 2017 she was awarded the Young Leader of the Year award at the 19th Global WIL Economic Forum.

She has given a TEDx Talk on the impact of social media and continues to raise awareness on how to make online content more accessible.

14. Amelia Cook

portrait of Amelia Cook
photo by author

Amelia launched Anime Feminist, a groundbreaking website dedicated to discussing anime and Japanese pop culture through a feminist lens in October 2016. Amelia is a vocal advocate for fair compensation for her team of diverse writers that are often sidelined in the world of anime fandom and has built her business around that – something we discussed in an interview with her.

In 2018, she’s launching Otagai, a platform for creatives to discuss ways to make money doing what they love.

15. Wendy Zukerman

Portrait of Wendy Zuckerman
Podcasting Pro

Wendy is the host of the Science Vs. podcast, which she recently moved from Australia to the US. She tackles controversial topics by sticking to the cold, hard scientific facts.

By bringing science to popular, politicised topics, she’s changing the science journalism game.

16. Isabelia Herrera

Portrait of Isabelia Herrera
Feministing

As music editor of REMEZCLA, Isabelia’s accomplishments in 2017 include initiating partnerships with NPR and Apple Music, hosting Remezcla’s first music podcast, and being honored on this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30.

At only 25, Isabelia’s passion for music, and race/gender identity has created a diverse insight into the Latin culture. We love her dedication to representing diversity in an inclusive and supportive manner.

17. Alex Petri

Portrait of Alex Petri
Cosmopolitan

Alex Petri has been making us laugh with her column in the Washington Post since 2010. The youngest person to ever have a column in the Washington Post, her satirical take on politics has landed her many fans, including the White House.

In 2017, Petri came into the spotlight when the White House inadvertently shared her piece, “Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why”, on their daily email blast, making her satire “real news.” Her humorous approach to politics is a reminder that there is always light to be found, even in the darkest of timelines.

18. Lesley Nneka Arimah 

Portrait of Lesley Nneka Arimah
Brittle Paper

Lesley Nneka Arimah is a Nigerian writer whose short stories have appeared in many magazines, including the New Yorker. Her debut novel What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, a collection of short stories released in October 2017, has already won numerous critical accolades. She is a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree, winner of the 2017 Kirkus Prize, and nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Leonard Prize.

The stories explore the black female experience with incredible beauty and lyricism and are totally necessary for your bookshelf.

19. Princess Nokia

Princess Nokia performing on stage
Wikimedia

Destiny Frasqueri, known by her stage name Princess Nokia, is a queer feminist rapper who first came onto the music scene in 2010. She quickly spurned advances of record companies to become an independent artist.

Her album 1992 is filled with smart, witty lyrics about race, gender and gentrification and her podcast ‘Smart Girl Club Radio’ is further proof that the sky is the limit for this amazing human.

20. Molly Yeh

Molly Yeh holding a tray with a loaf of challah on it
My Name is Yeh

After attending Juilliard, Molly Yeh packed up her Brooklyn life to move with her husband to a sugar-beet farm in rural North Dakota and took the blogosphere by storm with her food blog, My Name is Yeh.

Molly’s blog filled with stunning food pictures, recipes inspired by her Chinese-Jewish roots, and fun anecdotes about farm life has amassed a loyal following which led to the release of her first cookbook, Molly on the Range, in 2017. We love her beautiful, creative recipes that blend her life on the farm with her cultural roots and a deep love for food.

21. Doreen St. Félix

Speakerpedia.com

At only 25, Doreen St. Félix has an impressive resume which includes being the former editor of Lenny Letter, writing for the New York Times Magazine and being listed on Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2016.

Currently, she is a staff writer at the New Yorker. St. Félix’s cultural commentary on everything from Whitney Houston to the Alabama Senate Election keeps us engaged, woke and wanting more.

22. Rochelle Brock

wearyourvoicemag.com

The creator of Fat Leopard Photography, Rochelle Brock, is a 22-year-old Brooklynite is challenging beauty norms through her breathtaking photographs. Brock’s work focuses on inclusive fashion photography that reflects women of all sizes and races. Her images of diverse, confident and gorgeous millennials have taken the internet by storm and we can’t wait to see what waves she makes next.

Our advice? Follow her dreamy Instagram ASAP.

23. Rina Sawayama

Annebernecker.wordpress.com

If you don’t have Rina Sawayama’s mini-album RINA on your playlist yet, you are seriously missing out. Rina’s lyrics explore the messy interaction between femininity and technology. Her sense of style, the penchant for calling out online prejudice, and nostalgic ode to pop music, has got us stanning for this future pop-queen.

24. Mona Haydar

thetempest.co

Hailed as “One of the Best Protest Songs of 2017” by Billboard, Syrian-American Mona Haydar’s debut song Hijabi (Wrap my Hijab) became an anthem for Muslim women everywhere. Raised in Flint, Michigan, Mona calls out racism and violence within the Muslim community.

Her passion for exploring the intersections between art, activism, music, and identity led to an intriguing interview with us earlier this year, and we know this incredible rapper is just getting started.

25. Megan Tan

millennialpodcast.org

Creator and host Megan Tan began the podcast Millennial as a means of building a portfolio for potential future employers. Little did Megan expect, her podcast, a personal narrative about navigating life post-graduation in her 20’s, would hit a chord with the listeners and become a hit.

After three years of sharing her stories, Megan bid adieu in her last episode in August 2017. Though we miss her insights into life, we know she is just getting started.

26. Sara Shakeel

Twitter.com

Sara Shakeel is a Pakistani illustrator and artist who quit dental school to create art in the most unabashed and unfiltered way. Sara’s work came into the spotlight this year when she transformed images of stretch marks by adding glitter and crystals to them.

Her portrayal of stretch marks is a reminder to women everywhere that we have the ability to change the perception of beauty and see flaws as art.

27. Aisha Dee

fangirlish.com

Acting in television shows since 2008, Aisha Dee is no stranger to our TV screens.  In 2017, this young Australian made a splash on MTV’s ‘The Sweet/Vicious’ and then bagged one of the leads on ABC’s breakout hit ‘The Bold Type.’

Whether it be navigating her sexuality as Kat or being a supportive sorority sister as Kennedy, Aisha’s portrayal of young confident millennial women always has us rooting for her every step of the way.

28. Molly Tolsky

Portrait of Molly Tolsky
Alma

In 2017, Molly founded the website Alma, which is geared toward young Jew-ish women or, as the site puts it, “Ladies with Chutzpah.”

The website serves as a platform for Jew-ish women to share their personal stories, from an Orthodox trans* woman writing about being torn between her Jewish identity and the trans* community to speculating about Gwyneth Paltrow’s possible Jewish wedding. We can’t wait to see what Molly has in store for the coming year.

29. Aditi Mittal

netflix.com

Fierce and funny,  Aditi Mittal could absolutely be crowned India’s Comedic Queen. One of the first prominent comics in India,  Aditi has been featured on BBC World as one of India’s trailblazers and has performed across India, the UK, and Los Angeles.

In 2017,  Aditi released her first stand up special on Netflix ‘Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say’.  Her unapologetic comedic approach to sexism, misogyny and patriarchy is a reminder that humour can be a powerful tool used to instigate change.

30. Iman Meskini

moviezine.se
moviezine.se

Iman Meskini is a 19-year-old Norwegian actress who portrays a young, Muslim teenager named Sana Bakkoush on the TV show Skam. In a country like Norway that is predominantly atheist, Iman’s portrayal challenges tropes around Islam being radical, backward, and oppressive.

Iman hopes that her portrayal of Sana will help people to learn how to separate culture from religion. She joined the Norwegian military on a volunteer basis because, as she states, she “enjoys a challenge.” We’re so excited to see how Meskini grows as an actress and advocate for Muslim rights.

31. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer

suadabdulkhabeer.com
suadabdulkhabeer.com

As a scholar, artist, and activist, Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer is revolutionizing the world’s understanding of the intersection between Muslimness and Blackness through her anthropological research and performance art.

Dr. Khabeer brings her research to life through one-woman performances like “Sampled: Beats of Muslim Life,” a performance ethnography on Islam and hip-hop. In addition to this, Dr. Khabeer leads Sapelo Square, an incredible online resource documenting the Black American Muslim experience.

32. Kehlani Parrish

kehlanimusic.com
kehlanimusic.com

Kehlani Parrish is a 22-year-old African American, Caucasian, Spanish, Filipino, and Native American singer, songwriter, and dancer whose recent album SweetSexySavage (2017) received critical acclaim. She has been nominated for a Grammy, AMA, and BET award.

As a queer person having gone through an attempted suicide, as well as difficulty in her early career, Kehlani is a role model to us for her bravery and honesty.

33. Yara Shahidi

blavity.com
blavity.com

17-year-old Yara Shahidi is well known for her role as Zoey Johnson on Black-ish and her upcoming spin-off Grown-ish, but she is also an activist for representation and diversity in Hollywood. In a recent article for i-D, Shahidi explained that she wants to use her platform as an actor to discuss politics in a way that is accessible to everyone.

Her belief in advocating for the understanding of the “spectrum of humanity” is what we all need in the current political climate around the world.

34. Saher Sohail

indianwomenblog.org
indianwomenblog.org

24-year-old Saher Sohail, better known as the Pakistani Martha Stewart, is famous for her witty artwork challenging western stereotypes around Desi culture, and oppression within Desi culture itself. Sohail provides a platform for South Asian women to revel in their shared experiences and discuss important political topics.

We’re looking forward to seeing how Sohail’s art will grow in the future!

35. Thi Bui

nbcnews.com
nbcnews.com

Thi Bui is the author of The Best We Could Do, a graphic memoir about her family’s immigration from Vietnam to the U.S during the Vietnam War. Bui wrote the novel empathizing with her parents’ experiences as human beings, rather than parents.

In the difficult political climate around immigration in the U.S, Bui hopes that her novel will encourage people to see immigrants as human beings rather than “Others.” We are so excited to see the effects Bui’s book will have on the public, and what she has planned for the future – a nonfiction book about climate change in Vietnam.

36. Nayla Al Khaja

arabianbusiness.com
arabianbusiness.com

39-year-old Nayla Al Khaja is the first female film director/producer in the United Arab Emirates. She has received numerous awards and accolades for her films, including the Jury Special Prize for “Best Short Fiction” for ‘Animal’ at the Italian Movie Awards in 2017.

Al Khaja is also the CEO of her own film production company, Nayla Al Khaja Films, and is the founder of Dubai’s first film club, The Scene Club.

37. Reima Yosif

The Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship

Reima Yosif is likely the quietest about the work she does, but if you do some digging around, you’ll definitely find it. She is the Founding President of Al-Rawiya Foundation, a non-profit organization promoting empowerment of Muslim women through education, arts, and integration. As part of her non-profit work, she worked on a research project for Religions for Peace USA, commissioned by UNICEF in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Armed with a diploma in Classical Arabic, she has scholarly licenses to teach books of Hadith and Tafsir – a powerhouse amidst a space that is dominated today by men. She has extensively studied and written on comparative Islamic Jurisprudence. She has translated over 200 Islamic texts into English and is also a published poet.

38. Lena Waithe

Portrait of Lena Waithe
Autostraddle

In 2017, Lena Waithe won an Emmy for “Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series” for ‘Master of None,’ the first Black woman to do so. Her portrayal of Denise on the show is a revelation: a portrayal of the kind of gay woman that rarely makes it on TV.

Her moving Emmy acceptance speech went viral and had LGBTQIA+ people around the world reaching for tissues. Her next project is a show she created and wrote, ‘The Chi,’ about her hometown on the South Side of Chicago.

39.   Jean Liu (Liu Qing)

Portrait of Jean Liu
Wikimedia

Jean Liu is the president of Didi Chuxing, China’s largest mobile transportation platform. A breast cancer survivor, mom of 3 and one of very few women executives in the country (in 2015, just 3.2% of CEOs were women).

At the helm of Didi, the company has outperformed its competitors, including Uber!, and is paving the way for the sharing economy to revolutionize China.

40. Becky G

gazettereview.com

Becky G, a Latina singer, actress, and model, had a pretty busy 2017. Her single Can’t Get Enough with Pitbull charted #1 on the Billboard Latin Charts and she starred in her first film role in the Power Rangers movie franchise.

As the Yellow Power Ranger, not only did Becky G kick some supervillain behinds, but she also knocked out stereotypes with her portrayal as the first visible queer superhero in mainstream cinema.