At Refinery29, we've had the privilege of meeting some pretty amazing women. We've spoken to a Saudi princess working to register other women to vote, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and a millennial who refuses to leave Afghanistan until everyone there can be part of a brighter future. In Cameroon, a child bride refuses to be silent about her plight. In Turkey, a refugee from Syria bravely rebuilds a life for her family.
We decided to ask some of these extraordinary people for their best advice for other women. Their insights and goals are sure to inspire. Ahead, their words of wisdom — gathered from Saudi Arabia to Zambia, Syria to Japan, South Africa to Russia — to help guide you throughout 2016. Share your best advice, or suggestions for women we should feature, in the comments below. This story was originally published on December 9, 2015. We will continue to update it with great advice from women around the world.
Photo: Courtesy of Alexandra Lúgaro.
"Fear is one of the biggest reasons women don't go ahead and try new challenges. Women need to break free from that fear that culturally and socially has been taught to us,"
"We need to challenge the pre-established order. It's time for women to be innovative, creative, and to know that we need to help other women. As women, we need to support each other and open doors for each other."
said Alexandra Lúgaro, the first person to run as an independent candidate for governor of Puerto Rico.
Photo: Courtesy of the McMullin/Finn Campaign.
"Take some time to think about what really matters to you. What are the causes and ideas that you want to work on? Seek out opportunities to gain the skills and the experience to do those things.
"Be willing to jump into opportunities. It may not appear to be a linear path. It may be more like a jungle-gym path. But it’s all moving toward working on things that really matter to you. And that will ultimately be the most fulfilling and where you’ll be able to shine." — Mindy Finn, independent vice presidential candidate
Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto/Getty Images.
"Probably my biggest piece of advice is to have confidence in yourself, no matter what situation you find yourself in. Don’t kid yourself to think that once you become a college graduate, it’s not going to happen anymore — it still does. Or if you become a lawyer that it won’t happen anymore — it still does. Or if you become a partner at a really big law firm that it won’t happen anymore — it still does. Meaning, those situations where you walk in the room and you’re the only woman and nobody is quite sure what you’re doing there,"
"Young women have resilience because we have been through all of these experiences. All our lives, we've had to try harder. So young women should just know that when you come to that situation, you’re there for a reason. And you know your stuff. Just step up and seize your moment."
said Tina Tchen, chief of staff for Michelle Obama.
Photo: Courtesy of Pramila for Congress.
"I would just say: Be your whole self. Don’t try to be someone that you’re not. Listen to your heart. Remember that you’re very powerful and nobody has the ability to take that away from you. I find that a lot of young women of color often get so many messages saying that they’re not powerful or they’re not competent or they’re not smart,"
said Pramila Jayapal, a Washington state senator currently running for Congress. "And I will tell you that these young women provide so much inspiration for me and give me so much hope about the future of the country. I just want them to know that their voice is really important and that they as individuals can achieve whatever they want to achieve. They just have to stand up for it."
Photo: Matt Baron/BEI/Shutterstock.
"When a young girl comes and visits the U.N. and sees the Security Council with one woman ambassador, if she thinks that's normal, that's a problem. Because it shouldn't be normal." —
U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power
Photo: Courtesy of CNN.
"Listen to people's stories, listen to what's going on in other places — actually really take the time. So often in conversations, and this is what I've learned about interviewing people for
60 Minutes, there's a tendency sometimes where you're waiting for the person to finish their sentence so you can ask your next question," said CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward . "Stop that. Throw the questions away. Listen to what the person is saying and have an organic conversation with them. You will suddenly find — if you really open your ears and your mind to what's going on in the world, what people are saying, and get a sense of people's characters — you will find that the world is an unbelievable, fascinating, and exciting place... It's just about working hard and listening to other people's stories. It's the greatest privilege there could be."
Photographed by Chandler West.
"I have a message for young people like myself. We're all busy, but after being involved with the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women in the last few years as a board member, what I learned is that when you have a cause that is so dear to you and you actually support it, and do something every week or every month, it feels really good. Spend a couple of hours a week and do something about it. Make a contribution, and that makes you happy,"
said Wazhma Furmuli , a millennial Afghan woman who defied odds to get an education. "For those who want to support Afghan women, or other women in the region, or any other thing, my suggestion to them would be to find a cause that you really care about and then find a grassroots organization that supports that and try to get involved. There are a ton of those organizations. Even a small contribution, even giving up the price of your one cup of coffee a month will actually help a girl or a woman or a boy significantly."
PHOTO: COURTESY OF KHADIJA GBLA/DAVID MARIUZ.
"I think the first thing is finding something you’re passionate about. And when you find something that you’re passionate about, be confident in your convictions in fighting — whether advocating for something or advocating against something.
"For me, I always just start with my story, my experience. The personal is political. If it’s happened to you, there’s a chance that it’s happened to someone else. So when you speak up, you are validating another woman’s experience. When you speak up, you’re giving someone else a voice." — Khadija Gbla , a survivor of female genital mutilation and executive director of No FGM Australia. Read about Gbla's inspiring work to end FGM here.
Photo: Courtesy of Emily David.
"The one thing I would say is: Be kind to yourself and to others. I think that’s a lesson learnt for me in life... Everything you do, do it based on your belief, and be really kind to yourself. I think we judge ourselves very harshly, as well. It comes with self-care, that you always treat yourself with kindness, and you treat others with kindness.
"A friend once said that to me when I was being hard on myself. I was saying, 'I could have done that better,' and blah blah blah, and my friend turned to me and said, 'Emily, if you had a friend saying what you’re saying to yourself, would you still be friends with them?' And I said, 'No, I wouldn’t.' And she said, 'Well, then why do you treat yourself that way?' And I said, 'You know, that’s very true.'" — Emily David, Emergency Protection Coordinator with the International Rescue Committee Read more about how David has 48 hours to get to some of the toughest places on Earth here.
Photo: Isabella Rozendaal.
"Know what you are passionate about and then go photograph it. Don’t worry about whether what you find important is also important for others. If it truly matters to you, it will shine through in your photographs. Don’t be afraid to try things. It’s far more rewarding to look at a picture you've taken than wondering about the picture you'd like to take."
— Julia Gunther, photographer See more of Julia's stunning portraits of the Proud Women of Africa, including the all-female Black Mamba anti-poaching squad and LGTBQ advocate Chedino and her family, on Refinery29.
Photo: Courtesy of Hayley Adams.
"Just because you don't see the path doesn't mean you can’t make it yourself. And you really can make an impact on a small scale — every individual can make a difference.
"I think we all hold the seeds within us to unlock the keys to making this world a better place. We just have to remain true to ourselves. And don’t listen to the naysayers!" — Dr. Hayley Adams, veterinarian and founder of the Silent Heroes Foundation Read how Adams and her team are helping save Africa's elephants one beehive at a time here.
Photo: Courtesy of Poulomi Basu.
"To do this kind of work, you have to be very strong and you have to be prepared to work very hard. There is still a gender imbalance in this kind of work, especially in Asia, so you have to be very committed to your work and focused in pursuing the kind of stories and subjects on which you want to work."
— Poulomi Basu, photographer See Poulomi's haunting portraits of Nepal's child widows here.
Photo: Courtesy of Alex Potter.
"I would say if you want to do something, just do it. Even if it takes you a while, even if you have to do what you want part time and something you have to do part time, don't worry about it. If it's a money issue, you can make it work. At least three of the many times I've been working overseas, I've had to go back to Minnesota and work as a nurse, because I'm still paying off my university loans. When your heart is really into something, you can make it work.
"As far as being a woman, 90% of the time I've found that as an advantage in conflict zones, so don't worry about that holding you back. Just be smart, tough, and dedicated to something you feel matters." — Alex Potter, a freelance journalist covering Yemen's civil war View Alex's breathtaking photos of life in Yemen and how she and her neighbors survived an airstrike on their homes here.
Photo: Courtesy of The New York Times.
"My advice to young women is: The so-called glass ceiling has been pierced and has been shattered. You can go as high as you want and as far as you want, as long as you keep going, as long as you don’t take yourself out of the race."
— Rukmini Callimachi, New York Times foreign correspondent Read about how Rukmini exposed the way ISIS uses rape as a weapon of war here. Read her quick, expert primer on ISIS here.
Photo: Desiree Navarro/WireImage/Getty Images.
"There is a great expression that has become a little bit of a mantra for me over the years which is: 'Never compare your insides to somebody else’s outsides.' A lot of girls, even with the progress that's been made, even as they attain parity with boys and young men in terms of education, still just have more anxiety and more insecurity. I think a thing that distinguishes us girls is that we look at other people and we think they've got their act together, because their butterflies or what I call the 'bat cave of their heads' is not on display.
"Sometimes that anxiety and that insecurity holds people back and causes them not to take a risk that they might otherwise take... So never compare your insides to somebody else’s outsides. Everybody’s got some version of a bat cave where the bats are swarming around saying, 'No you can’t, you can't!' And that's in lieu of saying: 'I want to be U.N. ambassador' or 'I want to be attorney general' or 'I want to be Taylor Swift.'" — Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Watch Power's full interview on how she is using social media to draw attention to women's rights around the world here.
Photo: Courtesy of Mustafa Najafizada.
"Pick an issue and stick with it. There are so many battles to be fought in this world. I think it’s very easy to stop and think and feel bad and maybe donate some money or spend an hour volunteering time, or two, but the real work [happens] when you stay with an issue. ...
"Really sticking with something has the potential of affecting some kind of change, of bringing change into another person’s life. Just clicking a 'like' on a social-media platform or buying a T-shirt with a logo... really doesn't." — Gabriela Maj, photojournalist and author, The Almond Garden. See Maj's powerful photos of female prisoners in Afghanistan here.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S HEALTH COALITION.
"I want to tell young girls around the world not to accept going into marriage quickly. Don’t accept it if you are forced into marriage. Go to school, do your studies, do an activity — like job training — but do not go into marriage and stay there without working."
— Mairamou, a former child bride who escaped from her abusive husband Read how Mairamou now works with other girls in her community to end child marriage here.
Photo: Chris Usher/ CBS/ Getty Images.
"I've worked with a lot of young people in my various jobs over the years, and often when I come to a young woman and I say, 'I want to give you more responsibility' or 'We think you're ready for a bigger job,' she will say, 'Do you really believe that?' or 'Are you sure?' And that's kind of ingrained in us: 'Wait a minute — are you really talking to me?' When I go to a young man and I say, 'We're looking for greater responsibility for you, maybe a different job,' honestly, they will say, in not exactly these words, but the message will be, 'What took you so long? Of course, I am ready, I am able.' So part of my message to young women is, 'First and foremost, believe in yourself, believe in who you are. You have a unique contribution to make to the world; we all have gifts and they are all different gifts. And you have something that can make life better. Not just in your home, with your relationships, but in the broader world of work and society and politics.'
So study what experts — people who have been very successful, like my friend Sheryl Sandberg and others — tell you about how to do this, and how to take that deep breath. It is scary, but go ahead and try it out with your friends, and just be specific, like, 'Here is what I've done, here is the feedback I've gotten. I really believe I am the best person to continue this project or this work plan, and I want to be sure that I am paid accordingly.' It's scary, but we need women supporting other women, too; we need to remove the mystery about pay. In some places, you can't even find out what somebody else doing the same job is getting. And so, we have to get more transparency and more information, so that young women are supported in the risk they feel they are taking in trying to get paid fairly and equally." — Hillary Clinton on the importance of negotiating and asking for equal pay. Read Refinery29's exclusive interview with the presidential candidate here.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S HEALTH COALITION.
"At home, if you are a girl, you come last…. As a girl, if someone says, 'Take this,' sometimes you will say, 'No, it is my brother who will take it.' But if we say, 'Take this,' when you are a girl, my advice is to stand up and try to take it. You have to be very brave."
— Danedjo Hadidja, the first woman in her village to refuse to be a child bride Read Danedjo's full story of founding an organization to help other girls to stay in school here.
Photo: Courtesy of rincess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud.
"Face the challenge, no matter how hard it is, because something wonderful can come out of it, if you’re open enough to the opportunity that’s presented."
— Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family, entrepreneur, and women's health advocate Read Refinery29's full interview with Princess Reema and why she believe Saudi Arabia's government needs more women here.
Photographed by: Tarek Turkey.
"Even your family does not have a right to control your life. As a woman, I can’t imagine anyone knowing what is best for you as much as you do. Even if you can’t do anything, you should at least live however you want."
— Mira Obed, a Syrian refugee who fled war and violence to become a Turkish radio station's first female sound engineer You can read Mira's full story of rebuilding her life as a refugee here.
Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images.
"Never allow others to influence how you think, or to tell you what you can or cannot do. People will always say negative things, but when you believe in yourself, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks."
— Jaha Dukureh, a survivor of female genital mutilation and founder of Safe Hands for Girls . Read about Dukureh's inspiring work to end FGM — both abroad and here in the United States — here.
Photo: Courtesy of Toshiko Tanaka.
"It is so important to make friends with a lot of people around the world and plant the seeds of peace. I don't have a lot of money or political power, but I have the power to make friends with people around the world, and connect with them to create a world without war and a world without nuclear weapons."
— Toshiko Tanaka, a Japanese artist and activist who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima when she was 6 years old Read Toshiko's full story of how she survived the atomic bomb here.
Photo: Courtesy of Hannah Morris.
"As a woman scientist, you want people to be talking about your research and the science and your cognitive capabilities as opposed to the size and shape of your body. That’s a huge issue in American society, I feel.
"…I would rather be known as a good researcher than a hot researcher…. That’s what we should be talking about, instead of the size and shape of our bodies." — Hannah Morris, one of six daring female scientists who descended into South Africa's Rising Star Cave to discover the bones of Homo naledi, a new species of human Read Hannah's full account of the expedition and what the discovery of Homo naledi means for the world here.
Photographed by: Erin Yamagata.
"Be more engaged in what’s better for your country. There are lots of issues that you can participate in, and you can take a role in. Your role is not just to get married and have kids, as is the stereotype. You can see some of these women, Syrian women, who were always treated according to this typical picture, but now they’re doing everything."
— Ahed, a Syrian paramedic and pro-democracy protester Read Ahed's full story of protesting against both the Assad government and Islamic State group in her home of Aleppo, Syria, here.
Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Sinclair.
"You really have to believe you can do it, and you really have to have something to say. It takes a lot of soul-searching to find that, but if you understand these things and believe in the work you are doing, people will support you."
— Stephanie Sinclair, photojournalist and founder of Too Young to Wed, an organization dedicated to ending child marriage worldwide Read more about the heartbreaking stories of child brides around the world and Stephanie's fight against child marriage here.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF SHAHARZAD AKBAR.
"I really believe in global sisterhood. We need to remember every day that some of the things that we are doing, we are not just doing them for ourselves, we are also doing them for women around the world. Some of our success is beyond just personal successes.
"…I have learned so much from my mentors that you cannot find in a textbook. So cultivating woman-to-woman friendships, looking out actively for women, is very, very important." — Shaharzad Akbar, head of Open Society Afghanistan Read Refinery29's full interview with Shaharzad on how she's using her organization, Afghanistan 1400, to bring young Afghans into the political process here.
Photo: Courtesy of Miyako Taguchi.
"I want young people to know that they can do something…. Everyone can do something, and that's using your heart to tell these people's stories. Individual stories touch people more than a history book ever could.
"But we don't often hear the personal story. We hear about the number of people who died, the statistics. But not the experience of the person. So everyone needs to keep talking, to keep sharing. Share it with your younger sister, or your parents, or the person sitting next to you — that is a good start." — Miyako Taguchi, second-generation atomic bomb survivor and anti-nuclear activist Read Miyako story about why she had to leave Japan to be able to speak out here.
Photo: Tarek Turkey/Refinery29.
"I want to say to other girls to focus on their lives, to study, to enjoy lives. Enjoy your friends, your family, enjoy everything because life comes once, not twice."
— Ayat, an 18-year-old refugee living in Turkey who was blinded and disfigured by an explosion in her native Iraq. Read Ayat's heartbreaking story here.
Photo: Courtesy of Anna Nemtsova.
"I tell women and men, ‘Hit the road. Get on the road and travel.’ The only way to find a good story, to tell a good story, is by going places. You cannot sit in New York and write about Russia."
— Anna Nemtsova, winner of the 2015 Courage in Journalism Award Read how Anna is speaking truth to power with her coverage of the crisis in Ukraine here.
Photographed by: Tarek Turkey.
"They say that women make up half of the community, but from my experience, I feel that they are the entire community. I personally feel that the woman is the person capable of truly achieving something. Don't give up, never depend on anyone. And don't say that the man is the one who is supposed to work hard; the conditions of war truly distance men from the field. The women are the ones who stand on the forefront."
— Najlaa Al-Sheikh, founder of the Honorable Women's Center Read how Najlaa became a "rebel mother," rising up against the Assad government in Syria, here.
Photo: Courtesy of Mwape Kumwenda.
"We always say that when you educate one woman, you help a nation or the entire community where that woman comes from. Because women are naturally kind, loving, and caring. So for women, you have to be passionate and concerned about the lives of others.
"We have to be ready to take risks, we have to be ready to look at other alternatives that are outside of our strength. We need to go an extra mile to see that there is indeed effort that has been made to help people lift out of that miserable life. "I want to encourage a spirit of selflessness, of thinking about others more than you do about yourself, because, probably, you are more privileged than the other person." — Mwape Kumwenda, winner of the 2015 Courage in Journalism Award Read Mwape's story of tackling corruption in her native Zambia here.