From challenging gender norms to putting the spotlight on issues like the #MeToo movement and period poverty, a new generation of activists, authors and entrepreneurs are driving conversations about freedom and equality across the region
1/16 Cho Nam Joo
Cho Nam-joo is the author of international bestseller Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, a novel that sparked fierce debate about gender inequality and sexism in South Korea. The book tells the story of a woman who experiences sexual harassment and discrimination throughout her life. The novel was praised by K-pop stars like Sooyoung of Girls Generation, Irene of Red Velvet and RM of BTS, and was eventually made into a film. It has since been translated and sold in more than 20 countries, taking off in China, Taiwan and Japan.
See also: 7 Inspiring Biographies And Memoirs From Notable Women Around The World
2/16 Fiona Nott
CEO of The Women’s Foundation
As the CEO of The Women’s Foundation in Hong Kong, Fiona Nott advocates for marginalised women and girls in the city. After a career as a lawyer and advisor to multiple leading corporations including PCCW, AIA and AIG, she is looking to empower women in poverty, raise awareness of sexual violence towards women, and advance women leaders.
3/16 Carmen Yau Ka-man
Sexual rights campaigner for the disabled
When it comes to debates about sexual rights, those with disabilities are often forgotten. Carmen Yau Ka-man, who is a quadriplegic and wheelchair-bound owing to spinal muscular atrophy, advocates for sexual rights and independent living for disabled people in Hong Kong and further afield. As well as being chairwoman of the Association of Women with Disabilities Hong Kong, a registered social worker, and pursuing a PhD in social sciences, Yau also writes a series of erotic stories involving disabled people.
4/16 Wai Wai Nu
Human rights and women’s rights activist, and lawyer
Lawyer and former political prisoner Wai Wai Nu has founded two non-governmental organisations: the Women’s Peace Network—Arakan, which focuses on building peace in Myanmar, and Justice for Women, which assigns female lawyers and legal aid to women in need. Through these organisations she has continually advocated for equality for all people in Myanmar, in particular the rights of the Rohingya people, a persecuted and stateless Muslim minority group in the country.
See also: 15 Of Hong Kong's Most Powerful Women
5/16 Sophia Huang Xueqin
Women’s rights activist
A leading figure in the #MeToo movement in China, former state media journalist Sophia Huang Xuequin conducted a landmark nationwide survey on workplace harassment in the news industry. She has also built an online platform through which victims of sexual harassment can share their stories using the hashtag #WoYeShi. Her work has encouraged many students to come forward, leading to the reprimanding of a significant number of university academics.
6/16 Mai Khôi
Musician and political activist Vietnamese singer
Mai Khôi started out as the Communist Party of Vietnam’s sweetheart, until she began to feel a disconnect between her personal values and those she was singing about. She then changed her tune, using her voice to speak out against the government on issues such as censorship and corruption. Her music is now banned in Vietnam, and Khôi has since been compared to the likes of Lady Gaga and Russia’s Pussy Riot. A documentary about her, Mai Khoi & The Dissidents, premiered at the Doc NYC festival in November 2019.
7/16 Manal Al-Sharif
Computer scientist and women’s rights activist
If it weren’t for Manal al-Sharif, women probably still wouldn’t be able to drive in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, during the Arab Spring, she shocked the country by posting a video of herself sitting behind a steering wheel. She was arrested for the video, which sparked the #women2drive movement, ultimately overturning the ban on female drivers in 2018. Today, Al-Sharif heads Women2Hack, an academy for female cybersecurity mentorship based in Australia.
8/16 Akiko Naka
Founder and CEO, Wantedly
Realising a traditional career path wasn’t for her, Akiko Naka left the safety of a job in finance, taught herself to code and went on to build the job search site Wantedly. Naka knew that most people choose jobs based on money and security rather than passion, so she committed to building a platform that connects users with companies based on shared values, hoping in the long run this will lead to more people enjoying their work. The company officially launched in 2012. Since then, it has grown to become one of the largest social recruiting platforms in Japan.
See also: 10 Women Entrepreneurs You Need To Know In Hong Kong
9/16 Scarlett Hao
PR expert and fashion influencer PR guru
Scarlett Hao, who is based in New York but grew up in China, is using her Instagram account to banish the belief that being slim is the gold standard for beauty with her hashtag #asiangotcurves. Hao, who has more than 180,000 followers on Instagram, hopes to encourage greater diversity in media and revolutionise the plus-size retail scene in Asia and beyond.
See also: 7 Asian Makeup Artists To Follow On Instagram
10/16 Sonam Kapoor Ahuja
Actress and LGBT activist
Ahuja has more than 20 film credits to her name. On the heels of India’s landmark ruling to decriminalise gay sex in 2018, she starred in the 2019 film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga—When I saw that girl, I felt…— the first mainstream Indian movie with a lesbian love story. Although it wasn’t a major hit at the box office—conservative moviegoers were seen leaving the screening midway through the film—it was a game-changer for the LGBTQ community in India.
See also: Female Entrepreneurs: Meet Ankiti Bose, Zilingo's 28-Year-Old CEO
11/16 Mira Rai
Ultra-runner and founder of Exchange and Empower
Where Mira Rai is from, most girls leave education on the cusp of puberty when they either start work to earn money or are married off. The Nepalese athlete burst onto the trail-running scene in 2014, but wasn’t content with just winning races: from 2016, she focused on elevating a new generation of young Nepalese runners. Her charity Exchange and Empower offers athletic coaching, English tuition, allowances for professional development and more, so that more young women can have the same opportunities as Rai.
12/16 Olivia Cotes-James
Founder of Luüna
After learning about the devastating impact of menstrual taboos on the lives of women around the world—from school girls in impoverished rural areas to CEOs of global companies—as well as the traditional feminine care industry’s use of toxic ingredients, Olivia Cotes-James founded Luüna, which makes affordable, safe, nontoxic pads and tampons, while also offering an engaging curriculum about menstrual health to companies and schools across Asia. Cotes-James also established The Luüna Period Collective, which offers taboo-free menstrual health education and period-care products to communities in need around the world.
See also: Hong Kong's Power Women And The Women Who Inspire Them
13/16 Chantawipa Apisuk
Campaigner for the rights of sex workers
Sex workers are estimated to generate as much as 10 per cent of Thailand’s GDP, but have no legal rights and face discrimination in a country where prostitution is outlawed. For more than three decades, Chantiwipa Apisuk has campaigned for the rights of sex workers and challenged stereotypes about the sex industry. As director of the Empower Foundation, she offers support to women working in the Thai sex trade, of which there are an estimated 250,000 around the country.
14/16 Hannah Chung
Hannah Chung became one of Hong Kong’s zero-waste leaders when she attempted to live for a year without producing any rubbish in 2016, documenting her progress on Instagram and bringing attention to the city’s shocking wastefulness. She is now head of business development for Singapore start-up Muuse, which is revolutionising takeaway dining and delivery by introducing a new circular system of reusable containers, keeping plastic out of landfill.
See also: Tatler Hot List: 25 Entrepreneurs Who Are Shaping Our Future
15/16 Miao Poya
Miao, a member of the Social Democratic Party, became one of the first ever openly lesbian politicians in Taiwan when she was elected to Taipei City Council in 2018. Following her election, she said in a live stream speech on her Facebook fan page that her election “will turn a new page in Taiwan’s politics, and it is just the beginning”. Miao has since gone on to become a driving force advocating for issues such as the abolition of the death penalty, judicial reform, gender equality and labour rights.
16/16 Shiori Ito
Journalist and filmmaker
Shiori Ito made headlines in 2017 when she filed a suit against a prominent TV journalist, Noriyuki Yamaguchi, claiming he sexually assaulted her in a hotel room. After she made the allegation, Ito faced a torrent of abuse, but she persisted and became a powerful voice behind the #MeToo movement. She has since published Black Box, a nonfiction book that explores and exposes sexual violence in Japan, and taken part in a documentary based on her experiences, Japan’s Secret Shame, for BBC2.
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