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Who’s really going to change the world in 2016? Justine Greening reveals the five most inspiring women of the moment

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Who’s really going to change the globe in 2016? Secretary of state for international development and MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields Justine Greening reveals the five women inspiring the world right now

1. Malala Yousafzai

How many of us would continue to fight for something if it had already meant being shot by our opponents? Last month saw the latest high-profile stand by 18-year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai, who organised a ceremony to honour 134 children killed in a 2014 Taliban attack on a Pakistani school. Her belief that every young person deserves an education has already seen her and her family face countless death threats and, of course, that assassination attempt by the Taliban in 2012. Yet at the end of last year, world leaders at the UN echoed her calls for every child to have 12 years of education by committing to a new set of global goals for free education. She doesn’t only want girls to be able to read and write, she wants them to become the next world leaders. Her determination is infectious.

2. Michelle Obama

Last year, Michelle Obama and I announced a £116m partnership between the UK and the US to enable girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo not in school to access learning programmes. It’s a phenomenal project that will change the lives of more than 755,000 children over the next five years. Obama’s passion really struck a chord with me when she said, “I cannot look into the eyes of young women and not see myself and my own daughters, and not want the best for them.”

3. Aung San Suu Kyi

We often take for granted our democratic way of life. Despite being barred from presidency due to her sons’ foreign citizenship and having endured 15 years of house arrest for attempting to instil democracy in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, who I met in 2013, continues to show unyielding patience and determination, making her a symbol for peaceful resistance against oppression throughout the world. On 1 February, her party will take their seats in parliament for the first time after she led them to victory in the recent election.

4. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, remarkably steered her country through its recovery from a terrible civil war and more recently has led its battle against Ebola. She played a pivotal role in developing the next set of goals to eradicate poverty, including making sure gender equality was one of them. Having achieved so much herself, she is a huge advocate for the role women could and should play in politics.

5. Efua Dorkenoo

Next month marks the United Nations’ International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). So, it’s almost impossible to imagine that just a few years ago, FGM was a taboo subject until individuals like Efua Dorkenoo put it on the agenda. Her endless campaigning earned Dorkenoo an OBE in 1994. She sadly passed away from cancer aged 65 in 2014 – just a week after the launch of the Africa-led campaign tackling FGM, The Girl Generation – but her courage and fight to eradicate FGM lives on.

Justine Greening: My 2016 pledge to women

Justine Greening

“I will keep fighting for the rights and wellbeing of girls and women around the world. Britain can be proud of what we’re doing to tackle gender inequality – getting millions of girls into school, helping women to get jobs and supporting the movement to end FGM. But there’s more we can do. In 2016 we need to build a truly global movement for girls and women.”

Photography: Rex, Graham Turner/The Guardian

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