Six Women to Inspire You on International Women’s Day

March 06, 2017

In her 2017 International Women’s Day address UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said that the United Nations “[wants] to construct a different world of work for women. As they grow up, girls must be exposed to a broad range of careers and encouraged to make choices that lead beyond the traditional service and care options to jobs in industry, art, public service, modern agriculture, and science.”

For us at AAUW International Women’s Day also serves as an opportunity to take a step back and think about our AAUW fellowship recipients, who represent a diversity of professions and who act on the belief that women’s equality benefits society as a whole. While it’s difficult to choose from among the thousands of bright and inspiring women we have funded since 1888, we’ve chosen six special women you might not have heard of.

Ayana Johnson, Ph.D.

2010-2011 AAUW American Fellow Ayana Johnson at work on the ocean

2010-2011 AAUW American Fellow Ayana Johnson at work on the ocean

Ayana Johnson, Ph.D., (2010–11 American fellow) is a marine biologist, policy expert, and independent consultant currently in residence at TED. Johnson’s mission is to build bridges among science, policy, and people. As the executive director of the Waitt Institute, Johnson cofounded and led the Blue Halo Initiative, a science-based overhaul of ocean management undertaken in partnership with Caribbean governments and community stakeholders. Previously Johnson was the director of science and solutions at the Waitt Foundation and held policy positions at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. As she continues to expand her conservation efforts and create new projects, Johnson’s hope for her future research is to “understand the perspectives of other individuals who use the oceans” and “help make the use of natural resources more sustainable.” Johnson is currently serving as one of the partnership outreach coleads for the March for Science.


Afia Nathaniel

An image of Afia Nathaniel, 2003–04 International Fellow and a computer scientist-turned-filmmaker. Her debut feature film is titled, "Dukhtar."

2003–04 International Fellow Afia Nathaniel

Afia Nathaniel (2003–04 International fellow) is a computer scientist-turned-filmmaker who enjoys “pushing the boundaries of narrative cinema.” Her debut feature film Dukhtar (daughter), which sought to bring attention to the global issue of child marriage, was Pakistan’s official submission for foreign language film at the 87th Academy Awards. The film has received critical acclaim in more than 20 countries and became a Critics’ Pick New York in 2015. Nathaniel said that thanks to Dukhtar she was able to “create an awareness campaign in Pakistan called I Support Dukhtar, which featured a lot of well-known Pakistani stars who supported the message of standing up against child marriage.”


Joyce Kim

2003–04 AAUW Selected Professions Fellow Joyce Kim

2003–04 AAUW Selected Professions Fellow Joyce Kim

Joyce Kim (2003–04 Selected Professions fellow) left her career as a lawyer to develop Stellar, a decentralized protocol for sending and receiving money. Since its development, Stellar’s low-to-no-cost infrastructure has translated into significant savings for immigrants and those in the developing world in particular. In its first pilot operation, which included six million transactions, Stellar saved end users more than $150 million in fees when compared to Western Union. Essentially, Kim notes, what Stellar provides is an opportunity for people to “[keep] more money in communities so that [they] can invest more into the well-being of their families.” Through her work Kim is using technology to make the world a better place.


Kimberley Hatchett

Kimberley Hatchett, 1990-1991 Selected Professions Fellow

1990-1991 Selected Professions Fellow Kimberley Hatchett

Kimberley Hatchett (1990–91 Selected Professions fellow) is an executive director at top investment firm Morgan Stanley, where she manages more than $2 billion in assets. For more than 25 years she has blazed a trail for black women who share her interest in a career as a financial adviser. Her tenacity and dedication have earned her spots on Barron’s Top 100 Women Financial Advisors (a list on which she is the only black woman) and Top 1,000 Advisors lists. She takes her confidence in part from her favorite quote from Josephine Baker: “I’m not intimidated by anyone. Everyone is made with two arms, two legs, a stomach, and a head. Just think about that.”


Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold, 1976–77 AAUW Creative Arts Award winner, is an internationally renowned artist, educator, and social activist who has used her art to draw attention to racism and gender inequality.

Photo by Graces Matthews, 1993

Faith Ringgold (1976–77 AAUW Creative Arts Award winner) is an internationally renowned artist, educator, and social activist who has used her art to draw attention to racism and gender inequality. Ringgold organized and participated in protests against museums who excluded artwork by black and women artists and cofounded the Women, Students, and Artists for Black Liberation group to demand that black art exhibitions equally represent women and men. Ringgold is best known for her story quilts, which are narratives painted on fabric. Her work can be found in permanent collections at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. Ringgold recently created an art-making app, Quiltuduko, which features thousands of beautiful images designed by Ringgold herself.


Anne Sofie Østvedt

1945–46 International Fellow Anne Sofie Ostvedt

1945–46 International Fellow Anne Sofie Ostvedt

Anne Sofie Østvedt (1945–46 International fellow) became involved in the Norwegian resistance after German forces invaded her home country in 1940 while she was still a student at the University of Oslo. Østvedt quickly rose through the ranks of the Norwegian resistance to become the deputy commander of the underground intelligence-gathering resistance group XU. According to the once top-secret document in her AAUW file, “From the summer of 1943 she functioned as the proxy of the chief and in that capacity had contacts with the leading underground organizations. During the stays abroad and inspection trips of her chief, she was the acting leader of the whole system, comprising that whole of south Norway (about 3,000 men).” Østvedt’s heroism continues to inspire us to stand up for what’s right and to believe in our capacity as women to make a difference in the world.


For all of these women, professional success has translated directly into social progress and innovation. We at AAUW count ourselves fortunate to have had some part in so many remarkable careers and to be able to continue sharing our support and work on a global field.

To celebrate women and the great contributions they have made to society, join the Twitter conversation about International Women’s Day by using the hashtags #BeBoldForChange and #IWD2017 or check out the International Women’s Day UN webcast “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” on Wednesday, March 8, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., live at



Thousands sing, chant, and rally for gender equality during a march to mark International Women’s Day in 2015. Photo via UN Women/Ryan Brown.

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By:   |   March 06, 2017

1 Comment

  1. Mary Peterson says:

    AAUW of North Carolina participated in an International Women’s Day event, Saturday, March 8th that was sponsored by the Parra Foundation in Rockingham NC. Tina Ganis of the Sandhills/Southern Pines branch and Mary Peterson, AAUW NC President made a presentation titled “Make Everyday International Women’s Day”. AAUW NC had a table at the expo and featuring a drawing for a free membership.

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