According to Marie Claire magazine, “the future is female” and they just showed how literal that statement really is with the launch of their inaugural Young Women’s Honors, created in conjunction with Google’s Made With Code initiative among a number of sponsors. The awards were produced and hosted by award-winning ‘Jane The Virgin’ star Gina Rodriguez.
As the name suggests, the awards honor millennial women who are creating change in the world today, whether that be through social activism, philanthropy, technology and more. Back in October when the announcement was made about the awards, Gina expressed why it was important to her to be part of such an event.
“My goal is to generate positivity, inclusivity, unlimited potential, and the possibility every woman is born with. As a young Latina, I had to break down barriers and overcome naysayers. When you see someone following their dreams, it gives you allowance to follow your own,” she said.
The show was recently broadcast on the CW which allowed audiences to get familiar with the ten women who were being honored on the night. Along with the badass millennial, female change-makers who were the stars of the night, First Lady Michelle Obama’s ‘Let Girls Learn’ initiative was also honored and highlighted.
While we have a number of awards shows dedicated to celebrities and artists, having a ceremony focusing on the everyday work of social activists, pioneers, innovators, and change-makers is just as important, if not more. The role models highlighted at the Young Women’s Honors are part of a generation of badass women who deserve more attention for their impressive work. In a speech at the event, host & producer Gina talked about growing up wanting to see herself reflected back on her screen, but not finding any woman who looked like her.
“I wanted to know I belonged, I wanted to know I was enough, I wanted to know I was strong. I wanted to know I was capable. I wanted to know I was possible. And every single woman in this room who came to be part of this project, that is helping me bring this project to a reality, is all that and more,” she said.
Marie Claire magazine profiled the women in an article titled “The Unstoppables”, and that is certainly a fitting term.
The honoree who accepted the Google Made With Code awards was Fereshteh Forough from Afghanistan. She created a coding school for girls in her home country in a bid to inspire the younger generation to get interested in STEM and hopefully pave the way for them to be part of a “quiet revolution” in a conservative culture.
Olympic gymnast Simone Biles was given The Clinique Difference Maker Award. At 19 years old, she is the most decorated American gymnast OF ALL TIME! We already know her show-stopping performances at the recent Rio Olympics are burned into your memories. She has 3 World Championship titles under her belt, as well as 4 Olympic gold and 1 Olympic bronze medal. Although she has been compared to the likes of Michael Jordan and other legendary athletes, Simone is quick to set the record straight.
“I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps, I’m the first Simone Biles,” she told a reporter in Rio.
Speaking of sporting achievements, Paralympian Tatyana McFadden is also part of the YWH honoree squad. She won six medals in wheelchair-racing events at the Rio Paralympics, she has a total of 17 Paralympic medals and 15 World ParaAthletics medals, plus she’s won 16 major marathons. And her success wasn’t necessarily always a given.
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, with spina bifida, Tatyana was abandoned by her birth mother and grew up in an orphanage. At 6 years old she was adopted by American couple Deborah McFadden and Bridget O’Shaughnessy, who also adopted Tatyana’s younger sister Hannah. Both girls have become star athletes thanks to the love and support of two American women, and now they are inspiring a whole generation of disabled American athletes to reach for their own dreams.
Another name which might be familiar for those who are keen political observers, is Amanda Nguyen. As a sexual assault survivor and activist, Amanda was struck by shocking lack of cohesion in the justice system when it came to helping victims of rape and assault. When she learned how easily states would get rid of rape kits (while most people and victims are unaware of the statue of limitations, preventing many rape cases from going to trial and many rapists never being punished) she knew she had to change this.
Born from her own experience after being raped in 2013 and going through the agonizing process of having to file a special request for the state of Massachusetts NOT to destroy her rape kit after 6 months as was the law, Amanda wrote a law protecting the rights of rape and assault survivors, Survivors’ Bill of Rights, President Obama signed it into law in October (it had NO opposing votes from either the House or the Senate – something of a bi-partisan rarity in US politics these days!) She never set out to become a legislative hero by any means, but Amanda told Marie Claire if her actual dreams of becoming astronaut don’t work out, she’ll consider one day running for president!
Honoree Vanessa Kerry is the CEO and founder of Seed Global Health, an organization that sends U.S. doctors and nurses to train health-care workers in places where such professionals are scarce. Founded in 2011, Seed has so far trained 8000 doctors, nurses, and midwives in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Swaziland, and Liberia. Her mission is to get quality healthcare to parts of the developing world, the kind that is pretty much guaranteed for most of us privileged Westerners.
“I don’t think there’s a single health problem in the world that can’t be solved without some creative and intelligent thinking,”she said.
Jessica O. Matthews is an inventor and the founder of Uncharted Play. Her invention is called the SOCCKET, which is a soccer ball that generates energy as it is kicked around. In 2011 when she founded her organization, she began by distributing the SOCCKET and a similar jump ropes called PULSE to people in developing countries to be used to power their homes. Her inventions have been praised by President Obama and Bill Gates, and there is no doubt the list will continue to grow as her work expands.
Her plan is to work with other everyday items such as a stroller or a suitcase to be used as an energy generator. Jessica describes herself as a mix between Beyonce and Marie Curie. By that she means she wants to be the face of the changing entrepreneurial world (black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in America).
“It’s my prayer that I can be successful enough that when people think about the pattern for a CEO, they’re not just looking for a Mark Zuckerberg—they’re looking for a Jessica Matthews, too. Can you imagine being able to walk around as a black girl and people being like, ‘I’m going to assume that you’re going to run a $5 million business’?” she said.
Madison Maxey, who received the Lord & Taylor Rose Award, is a creative technologist and founder of Loomia, a wearable tech company on the cutting edge of creating fabric that can do everything from sensing if the person wearing the garment is cold and needs heating, to alerting the parents of a child who is being pushed around. She dropped out of college after securing a $100,000 grant from the Thiel Fellowship, which encourages people to forego college to pursue their entrepreneurial ideas instead, and today counts Topshop, North Face, and even the Obama Administration among some of Loomia’s clients.
Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski is a name you will most likely be hearing a LOT about in the future. This 23 year-old has been called the next Einstein, and already has a job offer from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on the table. She is an MIT graduate and Harvard PhD candidate who has been building planes form scratch since she was 12. Yes, 12. It took her 2 years to complete her first single-engine aircraft.
At the age of 16 she became the youngest person in history to build and fly their own plane. That was the year she was admitted to MIT. The motto she lives by is “what have you done lately?”
“Be optimistic about what you believe you can do. When you’re little, you say a lot of things about what you’ll do or be when you’re older—I think it’s important not to lose sight of those dreams,” she told Marie Claire. You can find out more about Sabrina at her website Physicsgirl.com.
When more role models like these women are giving greater visibility in the lives of young women, the possibilities are endless. Gina Rodriguez echoed this in her speech at the awards.
“Our honorees are everything I dreamed of having when I was a young girl. Now we get to do that for the next generation. We get to do that ourselves, for any generation, at any point, anything is possible. Especially now during this time we’re living in…this room is so beautiful. This room is so hopeful, this room is so strong, and we are only strong together,” she said.