AAUW’s Women of 2009

December 30, 2009

AAUW is about to go on a “blogcation” until the new year, but first, we’d like to celebrate some women who have broken through barriers in 2009. In no particular order, AAUW is noting

Sonia Sotomayor
As the third woman and first Latina on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sotomayor’s confirmation was a historic one that further broke through barriers for all women. The day she was sworn in was a proud day for those of us who fight for gender equity and for judges who are committed to upholding the rights of all Americans. She brought with her more federal judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in more than 100 years, and she will help to move the court forward in the future. The Supreme Court, and our nation, will be well served with the addition of Justice Sotomayor.


Half the Sky Movement

Half the Sky book cover

Half the Sky Book Cover

This year, we tip our hats to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, for creating the Half the Sky Movement. This movement was born out of the book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which was released earlier this year. It is already in its 16th printing and has been featured on Oprah. This has been a huge awakening for many people about the barriers women face all around the globe and even provides information on what an individual person can do to help fight for women’s rights and equality. An AAUW partner organization, CARE, will present Half the Sky LIVE in theaters across the country on March 4, 2010. AAUW branches and members are encouraged to participate in this event celebrating International Women’s Day.


“I Am Neda”

On June 20, 2009, Neda Agha-Soltan became a rallying symbol for the Iranian “green movement” as millions watched Internet video of her dying on the streets of Tehran. The 26-year-old student had been shot on her way to participate in opposition protests to the results of the Iranian presidential election. Events surrounding the Iranian elections topped Twitter trending topics in 2009, illustrating the immediacy of social networks to facilitate global communications and their potential to develop community. While we still know little about Neda’s life, her death gave voice to a revolution.


Ursula Burns
There are 13 women running global Fortune 500 companies in 2009. After Anne M. Mulcahy retired as CEO of Xerox Corporation, Burns took over on July 1, 2009, becoming the first African American woman to head Xerox—or any Fortune 500 company for that matter. Burns earned a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of New York University and a master’s of science degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University. Burns was raised with her two siblings in the inner city by a single mother. After her appointment Burns told a reporter, “My perspective comes in part from being a New York black lady, in part from being an engineer. I know I’m smart and have opinions worth being heard.”


Carol Greider

Greider, an AAUW member, won the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology along with her two colleagues, Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak. She and Blackburn, who served as Greider’s mentor throughout her career, have been using the award as a platform to encourage women in science, technology, engineering, and math.

2009 was a record year: Five women won Nobel Prizes. Prior to this year, only 35 women total had ever received the honor. Greider and Blackburn were the first two women to simultaneously win the prize in medicine. The three other 2009 female laureates include Ada Yonath, who is sharing the Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Herta Mueller, who won the prize in literature; and Elinor Ostrom, who is sharing the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Ostrom is the first woman to win the economics prize.


Michelle Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama

Obama has touched the world with her intelligence, grace, and beauty and has made history as the first African American first lady of the United States. As a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, an avid ally for social justice, a fashionista, and a loving wife and mother, Michelle Obama inspires and empowers women on a daily basis and teaches us that the sky is the limit.


Lilly Ledbetter

Ledbetter is the namesake for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first bill signed into law by President Obama. She is the face of pay equity and attended AAUW’s 2009 national convention in St. Louis, Missouri. Now, with her help, we’ll convince the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.


Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer

As the first two women to anchor the evening news on traditional U.S. broadcast networks, Couric and Sawyer are leading the way for women in the media sector. Women still only account for 22 percent of the leadership positions in journalism. Despite the fact that women have been the majority of college journalism majors since 1977, the average male to female ratio for bylines at 11 of the top political and intellectual magazines is 7-to-1. The prominence of these two women will inspire and encourage young women to use their own voices.


Caster Semanya

Semanya is noted for being an extraordinary athlete and for reminding us that gender isn’t binary.



In 2009 Rihanna survived a domestic violence attack and educated us on how violent and complicated abusive relationships are. She also reminds all women that there are ways to leave these relationships.


Annise Parker

Parker is the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city. Kudos to everyone in Houston who voted for her.


Jamie Leigh Jones

In 2005 Jones survived a brutal rape at the hands of her co-workers and was locked in a shipping container by her employer to prevent her from reporting it. In 2009 she took her quest for justice to the courts and became an anti-assault activist. Jones’ case inspired Sen. Al Franken’s amendment to the defense appropriations bill, which withholds government contracts from companies that don’t allow their employees to take assault, battery, and discrimination cases to court.


Zainab Salbi

A former AAUW Woman of Distinction and CEO and co-founder of Woman to Woman International, Zainab Salbi was nominated by Bill Clinton to become a Harper’s Bazaar 21st Century Heroine.


“James Chartrand”

This blogger identified herself as a woman who had to use a male pseudonym in the blogosphere to get the respect, credibility, and pay she deserved. She exposed the depth of gender discrimination still present — and practiced — in our society.

Avatar By:   |   December 30, 2009


  1. Lisa Maatz Lisa Maatz says:

    Love this blog… worth the read, and worth tweeting too! 🙂

  2. Avatar megankillian says:

    Thank you for sharing such a robust list! very inspirational 😀

  3. Christy Christy says:

    The individuals listed above represent anyone who has had the courage, determination, and passion to try and overcome the barriers of gender discrimination still very prevalent today. Behind all of these stand those of us who believe in, support and/or work hard on behalf of the cause of equality.

    To me, the woman behind the “James” blog post represents all who face gender discrimination in the work place, showing that even in today’s online environment discrimination abounds. Too many women have experienced too many personal examples of inequality, whether in the brick & mortar or internet environment to discount this point of view.

  4. Avatar Marian says:

    I am interested in knowing if Edgar Louis is right or not. Have we been sold a bill of goods? James’ story is easy to believe because most if not all women experience discrimination throughout our lives.

  5. What an incredible list! Thank you for compiling!

  6. Avatar Edgar Louis says:

    For goodness sake. Can we stop treated James Chartrand like she’s some kind of hero? She’s not. She’s someone who continuously tries to get one over. She and her partner started a male oriented business as an experiment. The partner will tell you there was absolutely no gender bias. It was all a joke. When “James” was about to be outed she created a story so she wouldn’t lose credibility. You’ve been had. I wish people would stop equating James with some civil rights pioneer because she was anything but.

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