Top 10 Women Who Set 2013 On Fire

With so much in the news about what a tough year 2013 was for women and their rights, it got us thinking. What if, instead of focusing on the all the negatives around us, we repositioned ourselves to look only for the good?

What reverberations could that have? Could it be that we are unable to move forward into a new era of feminism because we let “setbacks” delay us from arriving at our desired destination?

That’s not to say that we forget our past, but rather we challenge ourselves to shift focus. To help us do that, we compiled a list of 10 women who totally rocked 2013. Let their stories of courage, vulnerability and fearlessness fuel your own story of hope and promise for 2014.

Top 10 Women Who Set 2013 On Fire from Women on Fire -

10) Marianne Williamson, the spiritual teacher, best-selling author and political activist, has recently placed her name in the running for the California District 33 congressional election in November 2014. Marianne is working to bring spiritual and political ideals into alignment with one another. On top of that, she’s just published a new book, A Year of Miracles: Daily Devotions and Reflections, to ring in the new year. #yougogirl

Marianne Williamson #10 on Women on Fire's list of the 10 Women who set 2013 On Fire

9) Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff of the PBS NewsHour became the first female co-anchor pairing last August. Although this isn’t the first time we’ve seen women take the lead on-air, this is the first time a network broadcast has had two female anchors. Television is the most powerful medium, and this duo of respected journalists provides the very best role modeling.

Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff #9 on Women on Fire's list of the 10 Women who set 2013 On Fire PBS

8) In September, Diana Nyad, an author, journalist, motivational speaker and world-record-holding long-distance swimmer, completed the more than 100-mile swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage. This was her fifth attempt, and it took her almost 53 hours to achieve her 35-year-old dream. “Find a way” is the motto she lived by, and find a way she did.

 Diana Nyad #8 on Women on Fire's list of the 10 Women who set 2013 On Fire

7) Thanks to her role on Orange Is The New Black, Laverne Cox has made television history as one of the most celebrated transgender individuals. She was also named by OUT Magazine as one of the 100 most influential gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people of 2013. It’s monumental to watch her opening the door for a more inclusive definition of what it means to be feminine.

Laverne Cox  #7 on Women on Fire's list of the 10 Women who set 2013 On Fire photo by Dan Hallman  Dan Hallman

6) Gloria Steinem has long been recognized as a leader of and spokeswoman for the Women’s Liberation Movement, and that recognition finally transcended through to the highest civilian honor when she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with Oprah Winfrey and Sally Ride, last November, with the acknowledgment, “This was a medal for the entire women’s movement.” Bravo, Gloria!

Gloria Steinem  #6 on Women on Fire's list of the 10 Women who set 2013 On Fire Getty Images Mandel Ngan Getty Images- Mandel Ngan

5) Angelina Jolie publicly announced that she was undergoing a double mastectomy in early 2013. Nothing says bravery like broadcasting such an extremely personal decision about a medical procedure with the hope of inspiring other women and starting a conversation on preventative medicine for breast cancer.

Angelina Jolie  #5 on Women on Fire's list of the 10 Women who set 2013 On Fire AP Joel RyanAP/Joel Ryan

4) Fawzia Koofi, Afghanistan’s first female Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament, announced her bid for the country’s presidency. She is a force within the Middle East for women’s rights and is hoping to run despite the dangers of challenging a government under the oppressive influence of the Taliban. She is looking to propel her country “out of the days of darkness, and bring about change.”

Fawzia Koofi #4 on Women on Fire's list of the 10 Women who set 2013 On Fire NBC News Rasheed Turkmen NBC News/Rasheed Turkmen

3) Wendy Davis, a Democrat from Fort Worth representing District 10 in the Texas Senate, staged an 11-hour filibuster of a measure to limit abortion in Texas. She is now running for governor of Texas and is an inspiration in advocating for the protection of the rights women in America have worked hard to acquire.

 Bob Daemmrich/Corbis

2) Eva (6) and Jasmine (8) were recently adopted by a foster family after releasing a prayer balloon with their desire to be adopted attached. This is the story of two extraordinary little girls who were brave enough to ask the universe for exactly what they wanted and, in return, were rewarded with the greatest gift—love.

Eva and Jasmine #2 on Women on Fire's list of the 10 Women who set 2013 On Fire Photo by Inside Edition Inside Edition

1) Malala Yousafzai was an absolute beam of light in the world in 2013.  This Pakistani schoolgirl was shot and nearly killed by the Taliban for taking a stand on the importance of education. Months later, after her miraculous recovery, she graced us all with a powerful speech at the United Nations — on her 16th birthday.

Her book I am Malala, shot straight to the top of the lists of best-sellers. She continues to demonstrate unrelenting hope, unwavering courage and a fierce intellect that can come only from facing danger head-on. She’s absolutely a young Woman on Fire and an unstoppable force for the next generation of feminism.

Malala Yousafzai

with love,

The Women on Fire Team

One thing we must NOT be

I just returned from the inspiring Women in the World Summit in New York City, hosted by Tina Brown of Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

Some of the most dynamic global advocates for women spoke – from Hillary Clinton and Oprah to Angelina Jolie and Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, who may soon campaign to become the president of South Africa.

I was very honored to represent Women on Fire as one of the 2,500 attendees from around the globe.

During the two days, there was so much presented to digest about the condition of women — our rights, our health, our education and our future.

So, my personal goal was to return from the conference with at least one concrete step or strategy that could improve your life, mine and other women’s as well.

Thanks to hearing so many courageous women tell their stories at the Summit, I found what we must do — or rather, what we must not do.

What these women who survived being raped, beaten, starved, kidnapped, abused, marginalized, shot at, married off at age 11, sent to orphanages, denied education and more had in common was this:

They did not view themselves as victims. Ever.

They found a thread of hope and clung to it.

(See orphan-turned-ballerina Michaela DePrince)

They turned their pain into advocacy.

(See Pakistani girls’ education advocate and Angelina Jolie’s hero Malala Yousafzai)

They transformed their seemingly impossible dreams into reality.

(See humanitarian and Oprah’s hero Dr. Tererai Trent)

And in doing so, they are alive and well and telling their stories and advocating for women who are still under the most adverse and sub-human conditions.

It is disheartening in this 21st century that so many women and girls continue to be owned and traded like cattle, defiled, denied education and physically and emotionally abused – and worse, if that’s even possible to imagine.

I hope you have a chance to watch Michaela’s, Malala’s and Tererai’s video stories and be inspired by how they transformed their extreme adversities into an ocean of hope for all of us.

To wild applause, Hillary Clinton reinforced what nearly all speakers said:

“Women are not victims. We are agents of change and drivers of progress.”

My beloved Women On Fire, we must band together and create the changes so necessary for the world.

(And, thank you to so many of you reading this who are working so hard to help women move forward.)

“A thousand spider webs can tie up the fiercest lion” has always been one of my favorite African proverbs.

We must make sure we are not holding ourselves back from sharing our gifts with the world because we feel or act as though we are victims — on any front.

When I became a coach nearly two decades ago, a therapist friend of mine shared with me the five behaviors that characterize people acting as victims:

  • They blame.
  • They avoid.
  • They whine.
  • They label negatively others or the situation.
  • They are sarcastic.

I shudder to think of the times I play a victim.  I really prefer to think I don’t, but that would not be true.

I blame when things don’t go my way; I whine when I think I’ve been treated unfairly; I label negatively and plot revenge (even though I don’t act on it) when I think someone has mistreated someone I love or care about.

What became so clear last week is that none of my being a victim will ever change anything for the better.

What I must do is re-dedicate my energy to stand tall and brave, alongside my fierce sisters in this country and around the world, who courageously stand up to outdated traditions that limit women, who are peacemakers in face of violence, and who rise above deplorable conditions to achieve better lives for themselves and others.

The least I can do is to not play a victim in my own daily, privileged life.

Thank you all for being a part of this amazing circle of incredible women working toward your own dreams and goals.  I cherish each one of you and what we are able to do together in the world.

P.S. To see the powerful sessions on video from the Women in the World Summit, please go here.

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