These Women Don’t Believe in Barriers—They Break Them

Female empowerment looks strong thanks to these forward thinkers.

Malala Yousafzai gives a speech as she unveils her official portrait, by artist Nasser Azam, at the Barbar Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham, England, on Nov. 29. (Photo: Richard Stonehouse/Getty Images)

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Sep 30, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Kelly Bryant is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer covering fashion, pop culture, and parenting for a variety of national publications.

In the new Disney film Queen of Katwe, the story of the Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi shows how one girl broke barriers—and records. Here’s a look at other women doing the same.

Kimberly Bryant
Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant is on a mission to change the diversity landscape in the tech workforce, starting with girls. Launched in 2011, the organization says its goal is to “provide African American youth with the skills to occupy some of the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available in the U.S. by 2020, and to train 1 million girls by 2040.”

Within two years of its founding, Black Girls Code had worked with more than 3,000 students and promoted interest in coding through hackathon events, workshops, and camps. “For me, if a company is really committed to diversity, that means everything. That means gender diversity, that means sexual orientation for me, that means race, ethnicity,” Bryant said in an interview with TechCrunch. “Everything should have a plan of focus at the same time—not one above the other.”
Malala Yousafzai
There may not be a braver barrier-breaking woman than Malala Yousafzai, the 19-year-old from Pakistan who resisted the Taliban in the name of education. After surviving a Taliban-issued shooting in 2012, Yousafzai became even more passionate about advocating education for girls. She is the youngest Nobel Laureate in history.
Phiona Mutesi
Nine-year-old Phiona Mutesi, who lived in the slums of Katwe, Uganda, with her single mother and siblings, had no idea stopping in at a makeshift chess program for a cup of porridge would change her life. Since then she has reached the international level as a chess player, she was the inspiration for the book and film Queen of Katwe, and she was honored at the 2013 Women in the World Summit for overcoming obstacles in the face of unimaginable adversity. Today Mutesi is in the equivalent of 12th grade, with dreams of becoming a pediatrician.
Jazz Jennings
On the brink of her 16th birthday (Oct. 6), LGBTQ activist and YouTube star Jazz Jennings has helped bring transgender issues to light in homes across the country with her TLC reality series I Am Jazz. Assigned male at birth, Jennings has been vocal about being female since early in life (she was diagnosed with gender identity disorder at age four), bravely tackling the national media spotlight in an effort to help other transgender youths. She wrote a children’s book about her life, also called I Am Jazz, and in a groundbreaking move became a spokesmodel for Clean & Clear’s “See the Real Me” digital campaign in 2015.
Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca
When former undocumented student Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca had to drop out of school to help support her family, she didn’t let it deter her from realizing her dream of a college education and made it her mission to help others in a similar situation. Now a graduate of Cañada College, she is also the founder and CEO of Dreamer’s Roadmap, an organization that assists youths by showing them there is a path to education after high school no matter what obstacles they face. Espinoza Salamanca was named a White House Champion of Change and one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” for her efforts.
As women shatter glass ceilings and lead the way for young girls, it shows there are no barriers that can’t be overcome.