2017 has been an interesting year to say the least. And while all news hasn’t been good news this year, one thing is for sure; women around the world are showing the world what we are capable of. I was inspired by various women throughout the year but these are the women whose stories particularly influenced me:

Tarana Burke

In October this year, we all witnessed social media activism at its peak. I remember reading #metoo on four friends’ Facebook walls when I woke up on October 16th. I immediately shared the post with the hashtag metoo because of course I have experienced sexual harassment. Which woman hasn’t? The rest of the day proved exactly how widespread sexual harassment is. As my timeline was flooded with #metoo posts I knew that something powerful had happened that day. The woman behind the ‘Me Too’ movement is Tarana Burke. Tarana is the founder of Just Be Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps victims of sexual harassment and assault. She committed to being there for people who had been abused and created Me Too over a decade ago in order to provide victims with a safe haven to share their stories. It is no wonder then that The Silence Breakers (women, including Tarana, speaking up against sexual harassment) were recognized as the coveted Time Person of the Year. More recently, The Times Square Alliance has granted another honor to Tarana; she’ll be pressing the button that kicks off the countdown for Times Square’s annual ball drop on New Year’s Eve.

Alyssa Milano

Tarana is the creator of the ‘Me Too’ movement but it was actor Alyssa Milano’s tweet that was responsible for the social media furore. On October 15th she tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” and then went to sleep. She woke up the next day to find that more than 30,000 people had used #MeToo. Alyssa has said in interviews that she burst into tears when she saw that. Facebook said that within 24 hours, 4.7 million people around the world engaged in the #metoo conversation, with over 12 million posts, comments, and reactions. And for those not convinced about the impact of movement, there’s the fact that various men in high-profile roles lost their jobs because they were called out for harassment by female co-workers using the ‘me too’ hashtag. Indeed actors like Alyssa Milano proved that when actors and those with social clout speak up against harassment, they can effect change.

Chanda Kochhar

No list about inspiring women is complete without ICICI Bank CEO and MD Chanda Kochhar. Every year she receives accolades for her role in shaping the retail banking industry in India. This year she led the list of five Indian women who made their way to the 2017 edition of The World’s Most Powerful Women List by Forbes.

She was also the recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Award for Global Corporate Citizenship from the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC.

The previous recipients of the award include Indians APJ Abdul Kalam and Narayana Murthy, and Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, among others. Chanda made history again by being the first Indian woman to be conferred with the award.

The award recognised Kochhar’s commitment to the common good – beyond the bottom line – and the work done by ICICI Group in improving the lives of people in the local communities and the world at large.

This year the ICICI group completed the transformation of 100 villages into ‘ICICI Digital Villages’ across 17 states in India in 100 days. It has provided vocational training to over 11,300 villagers in 100 days. It has also provided credit and market linkages, enabling many of them to set up entrepreneurial ventures.

A champion for women empowerment and technological innovation in India, Chanda never ceases to amaze.

2017 was the year that put Indian women’s cricket team captain Mithali Raj on the map.

Mithila Raj

2017 was the year that put Indian women’s cricket team captain Mithali Raj on the map. She led India to the final of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 and finally got the world to take notice of Indian female cricketers. Mithali was named one of the most influential women in the world in the BBC’s 100 Women list 2017. She’s played for India for the last 18 years and passion for the sport has been her driving force. While the male cricket team has always received adulation, endorsements and a handsome compensation, the only motivating factor for the Indian women’s cricket team has been love for the game. It is only now that they are being taken seriously and getting their due. Mithila Raj and the rest of the Indian women’s cricket team deserve all the credit they are finally getting now.

Sheryl has always been an inspiring role model but by sharing her grief and vulnerability with the world she showed women everywhere that even boss ladies are human.

Sheryl Sandberg

I remember being highly inspired when I read Lean in by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in 2013. The book addresses gender inequality and Sheryl points out the reasons women are still underrepresented as a valuable part of our global workforce, showing how they unintentionally hold themselves back, as well as outlining ways for us to enable and support them, including how you as a woman can take the lead and hold the flag of women in work high. The book made for a compelling read and I was convinced that every woman needed to read the book. Sheryl continued to empower women and lead her organization over the years. And then tragedy struck. Her husband, Dave Goldberg passed away unexpectedly while they were on vacation in 2015. A month after this happened, a Facebook post by Sheryl went viral. She wrote about the void she had felt for the last thirty days and how she would cry at work during meetings. Her post also doled out helpful tips to deal with those who are bereaved. ‘Don’t avoid the heartbroken (except when they obviously want to be avoided). Don’t tell them that every­thing will be O.K. because, well, how would you know? And don’t ask the bereaved how they are. Instead ask them how they are that day,’ she wrote. Her words resonated with those dealing with the loss of loved ones. Her post now has over 75000 comments. Sheryl used her experience and learning during this difficult time in her life and co-wrote Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, along with Adam Grant, a psychologist and bestselling author.  The book released this year and serves as a manifesto for those coping with loss, helping them to recover and find happiness.

Sheryl has always been an inspiring role model but by sharing her grief and vulnerability with the world she showed women everywhere that even boss ladies are human. More importantly, she serves as a living example of how one can continue living and find meaning and joy, when everything seems meaningless.

Vidya Balan

Vidya Balan is one of the most inspiring actors in Bollywood today. In an industry where leading actresses are expected to be a certain size, dress a certain way and follow a conventional path, she has always been unconventional. I have personally always struggled with body image and my weight. I have never been morbidly obese but I have always been a few kilos more than my ideal body weight (except for two periods in my life; when I decided to lose weight with a vengeance when I was twenty one, and when I got jaundice earlier this year!) I have now gained all the weight I lost during jaundice (and maybe a few more kilos). When it comes to my body image, I oscillate between ‘so-what-if-I’ve-put-on-weight-I’m-more-than-what-I-look-like’ and ‘Damn-it-why-can’t-I-be-as-thin-as-her’ and it is for this reason that I admire Vidya Balan so much. Our society is increasingly more obsessed with being skinny and here is someone working in a field where she’s always in the public eye yet she’s always confident about her size. Vidya Balan puts the focus where it should be for actors; on acting skills. She is bloody good at what she does and that’s all that matters. She proved that with her portrayal of Sullu in the 2017 movie ‘Tumhari Sullu.’ She played a woman who wants more out of life and grabs an opportunity that finally allows her to be more than just a wife and mother. Vidya made news when she stood up to a reporter who asked her if she planned on losing weight for ‘glamorous roles’ in the future this year. Vidya’s response was on point; ‘I’m very happy with the work I’m doing. It would be great if you could change your perception.’ Vidya summed it up in a recent interview she did; ‘We have no right to comment on anyone’s appearance. This has happened many times with me. When they see me happy, they are confused. As women, when you are successful, this is a way to drag you down. And I don’t give anyone that power.’ Amen.

She proved that with her portrayal of Sullu, she played a woman who wants more out of life and grabs an opportunity that finally allows her to be more than just a wife and mother.

Aditi Ashok

She’s the first Indian woman to qualify for an internationally ranked tour (the Ladies European Tour) last year when she was just 18.

She became the first Indian woman golfer to make it to the Olympics in 2016, and won two consecutive titles in her first year on the Ladies European Tour (LET); the inaugural Qatar Ladies Open after the Hero Women’s Indian Open. And this year she won the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open. This was Aditi’s third LET win in less than 12 months.

She was named Rookie Of The Year in the circuit in 2016.  Aditi finished seventh on the Order of Merit at the Omega Dubai Ladies Classic in Dubai this month.  Unsurprisingly she made it to the 30 under 30 list by Forbes India in 2017.  The 2016 Olympics proved that Indian women are excelling in sport, and Aditi Ashok is another young sportsperson doing the country proud.

Sunita Krishnan

Sunita Krishnan set up the organization Prajwala (eternal fire), in 1996 to combat sex trafficking and also protect and rehabilitate women and children.

Sunita started her first transition home and learning centre with just five children. Today, she has a 300-strong team and has rescued 18,500 victims. Add to that another 3,000-4,000 cases where rescues took place, but the people concerned did not want to involve the police. Prajwala has helped rehabilitate a total of 14,800.

According to Krishnan, a Padma Shri awardee, rescue is a small part of the anti-trafficking activity and what matters most is rehabilitation and skills training. Professional training requires a lot of funding, and it comes from all – large-hearted poor people to corporate houses.

She received the Padma Shri in 2016 in recognition of her work.

The women she has rehabilitated are achieving their dreams thanks to her efforts. Just this year, one of her young charges, a third-year medical student topped all her semester examinations.

With sex trafficking statistics alarmingly high, Sunita’s work is the need of the hour.

Sunita is a gang rape survivor but she channeled her anger to better the lives of others.

She has been attacked 17 times for the work she does, but that has not deterred her from providing a better life for these women and children.

Indeed this year has been all about the rise of women in various fields. Several women deserve to be mentioned for their work; from Manushi Chillar to Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut and Ashley Judd, women are speaking up, demanding gender equality, working hard to establish themselves and bringing about social change. And as we step into a new year, I cannot wait to see more women emerge as leaders and social influencers.

Anjali Kirpalani is the author of the novels Never say Never and Written in the stars. Her new novel, 19 till I die will be published in Feb 2018. Anjali is also an anchor with Shethepeople.tv and the Co-founder of NLNR media; a production house specializing in digital content.

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