Trailblazers to Follow: Four Women Making a Difference

When you think of women trailblazers, your mind may consider key people like Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Susan B. Anthony, and countless others.

We’d like to spotlight four women today who are changing their communities, countries, and the world. You may not be familiar with them, but their impact can be felt. Their stories include moments of compassion and courage. Learn more about their life and work below!

Image Credit: BBC

1. Sarah Chan

Sarah Zeinab Chan was born in Sudan, Africa, but fled with her family to Kenya, Africa, due to the civil war. In Kenya, she was granted a scholarship to attend school and have the opportunity to play sports. In Sudan, sports and women in shorts are taboo due to religious beliefs. She excelled in one particular sport: basketball. After attending college and playing basketball in the United States, she went on to play professionally throughout Europe and Africa. After playing professionally, she returned to Nairobi, where she obtained a master’s degree in peace and conflict from the United States International University Africa.

Sarah is now the first woman to scout for the National Basketball Association (NBA) for Africa. She travels around Africa mentoring and scouting talent for the Toronto Raptors. In addition to her role with the NBA, she founded a non-profit dedicated to preventing child marriage, encouraging education and sports, and mentoring girls. The nonprofit Home at Home/Apediet Foundation was named after her mother. Sarah stresses that her hopes for the organization are to be there for the girls like the support system she had. She credits where she is today to that support throughout her life, including surviving sexual abuse, success in athletics, and more. In 2022, Sarah was named to the BBC 100 Women list. A video from the BBC featuring Sarah’s story is below.

Image Credit: Side-Note, Photographer: India Hartford Davis

2. Chanel Contos

In 2021, Chanel posted a story on her Instagram asking followers if they or someone close to them had been sexually assaulted by someone when they were at school. After an overwhelming response, Chanel created the website Teach Us Consent, asking for signatures for a petition to have consent teaching in Australian schools. With over 45,000 signatures and over 6,700 stories submitted, Chanel’s advocacy was working and uplifting. Everyone’s voices were heard, as education ministers around Australia in 2022 agreed to mandate consent education in schools every year starting in 2023 from foundation until year 10.

Chanel was honored with the Young People’s Human Rights Medal at the 2021 Australian Human Rights Awards and was also one of BBC’s 100 Women List in 2022. You can read more details of Chanel’s story here.

3. Judy Heumann

Judy is an internationally recognized disability advocate. Her story began in 1949 after contracting polio in Brooklyn, New York. For mobility, she began using a wheelchair, a decision that would impact her life in multiple ways. She wasn’t permitted to attend school for being a “fire hazard” and was later denied her teaching license after being failed on a medical exam. After successfully suing the Board of Education, she became the first wheelchair user to teach in New York.

Judy has been instrumental in several pieces of legislation and co-founded disability rights organizations. Some legislation includes Section 504, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and more. She is currently serving on several non-profit boards. Judy served as the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education for the Clinton Administration from 1993-2001. President Obama also appointed Judy as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State, where she served from 2010-2017.

Judy has a memoir, podcast, and has been featured in documentaries, shows, TED Talks, and more. She has several degrees and honorary degrees. Her TED Talk as she describes the historic Section 504 sit-in and other topics in disability is below.

Portrait done by artist Shepard Fairey for the “We the Future” campaign.

4. Amanda Nguyen

Amanda Nguyen was named Time’s 2022 Woman of the Year and a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee for her efforts in advocacy. While attending college at Harvard in 2013, Amanda was raped. At the time, Amanda wanted to wait to press charges at a time when she was ready. She then found out that although the statute of limitations is 15 years in Massachusetts, her rape kit would be destroyed after six months if the crime was not reported and an extension was not filed. Amanda then founded Rise, a non-profit aimed at protecting the rights of sexual assault and rape survivors.

In 2015, Amanda met with New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen to brainstorm legislation that would protect survivor rights on the federal level. Shaheen introduced the bill in 2016, and a petition was made on that received over 100,000 signatures. The bill was signed into law by President Obama in October of 2016. The new law protects a large umbrella of rights, one being the right to have the evidence of a rape kit preserved without charge for the duration of the statute of limitations. Amanda then went to the United Nations, getting a Survivors’ Resolution through the United Nations General Assembly.

Amanda has also spoken out in several other civil issues, including news coverage of anti-Asian racism in the United States. She has directed a film, and was a lead in an Emmy-nominated documentary. She formerly also interned at NASA and worked as the Deputy White House Liaison for the U.S. Department of State. To read even more accomplishments by Amanda, you can visit her website.

You are Leaders

So many other women are making a difference in the world, just like Sarah, Chanel, Judy, and Amanda. As supporters, you are a part of the change in the world for women and girls. Your efforts are appreciated and applauded! We encourage you to research other local women in your community and country doing great things in honor of Women’s History Month. Keep spreading the mission of, you never know who it can impact and inspire!

Sierra Snigier is the Global Marketing & Engagement Coordinator for Soroptimist International of the Americas. She enjoys reading non-fiction, watching her favorite shows, exploring the outdoors, and learning something new.