Three Must-Reads for Daring Women (in honor of Women's History Month & International Women's Day)

For International Women’s Day, Pathfinder is honoring "Women Who Dare" by sharing stories of incredible women at all levels who are working to change women’s lives.

I can’t remember the last time I was this excited to read so many books—and I’m a pretty voracious reader. Just in time for Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, here are three must-read books about the state of the world’s women—two from international leaders and one from a US business executive. All showcase the importance of fighting for change. All highlight why we must continue to dare and challenge the status quo.

Mary Robinson, Everybody Matters

Everybody Matters

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, starts her new memoir, Everybody Matters, with a wonderful quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In small places, close to home…” And so Mary Robinson’s quest for human rights began, in a small town, in a “small country on the western periphery of Europe.”

The only girl of five children, she was poised to become a nun before she found her true calling: an activist on behalf of those who need it most. As a lawyer, she won landmark cases advancing the causes of women and marginalized people. For 20 years in the Irish Senate, she promoted progressive legislation, including legalizing contraception—a daring move in a strongly Catholic country. And in 1990, she became president of Ireland, the first female to hold that role. After her presidency, she continued her work as a global advocate in 1997 when she became the UN high commissioner for human rights. She now crisscrosses the world as a member of The Elders, a group of independent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela to work on peace and human rights issues.

Although I have yet to read Everybody Matters, I am eagerly anticipating cracking it open over a steaming cup of Irish Breakfast tea this coming weekend. The glowing book review from one Pathfinder colleague (who picked up an early edition when he was home in Ireland this past fall), as well as the incredibly inspired and warm response to her visit to Pathfinder’s JAGRITI initiative in India last year, are more than enough to convince me that this will be a memoir of inspiration.  

Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In

Lean In

A few years ago, Sheryl Sandberg’s incredible TED talk, "Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders", ignited the internet. Her candor in discussing the challenges women face in gaining access to America’s leadership positions (and particularly business leadership) has sparked a range of debate. Her new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, continues that conversation.

I was fortunate to get an early copy of the book, and I confess: I could not put it down. It is, in many ways, a feminist manifesto for my generation—a generation that wants to lead, and change the world. Sheryl’s argument is that women must “lean in” to their ambitions (and have the support to do so). She then lays out barriers that exist to both women and men being able to fully have choices in their lives and careers.

But one might ask, "What does a book about getting more women in America’s leadership positions have to do with international reproductive health?" The answer comes early on in Lean In.

Sheryl writes, “A guest asked [Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee] how American women could help women who experienced the horrors and mass rapes of war in places like Liberia.

Her response was four simple words: ‘More women in power.’ Leymah and I could not have come from more different backgrounds, and yet we have both arrived at the same conclusion. Conditions for all women will improve when there are more women in leadership roles giving strong and powerful voice to their needs and concerns.”

The focus of Lean In is the United States and developed world, but its message is applicable in a range of settings. Sheryl writes, “The shift to a more equal world will happen person by person. We move closer to the larger goal of true equality with each woman who leans in.” And she’s quick to point to having more men support women as well.

We will change the status for women everywhere when there are more women in power, more men “leaning in” at home, and there is more support for women’s health (including family planning and maternal care). Lean In offers a strong argument and one that hopefully, will continue to spark great conversations about improving the status of women everywhere .

Cathleen Miller, Champion of Choice: The Life and Legacy of Women’s Advocate Nafis Sadik

Champions of Choice book cover

Two weeks ago I had the honor of interviewing Nafis Sadik as one of Pathfinder’s "Women Who Dare" series. And I have now had the pleasure of almost finishing Cathleen Miller’s new biography of her and can report: it’s a great read.

Champion of Choice tells the remarkable story of how Nafis, born into a prominent Indian family in 1929, emerged as the world’s foremost advocate for women’s health and reproductive rights. She was the first female director of a United Nations agency (UNFPA) and The London Times called her “one of the most powerful women in the world.”

To round out Nafis’ life story, Cathleen circled the globe, interviewing a range of sources. In addition to the dramatic and inspirational personal history of Nafis, Cathleen includes short stories of women who share powerful perspectives and unique experiences related to child marriage, violence against women, female genital cutting, and other human rights violations Nafis has fought against. 

At 400+ pages, Champion of Choice is a commitment, but one that’s well worth it.

And two slight oldies, but goodies:

Half the Sky, Means of Reproduction

While the three books listed above are great new reads, I still run into people who haven’t read Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky or Michelle Goldberg’s The Means of Reproduction.

Nick and Sheryl do an incredible job sharing stories from around the world about what women still face in reaching equality—from stories of sex trafficking to maternal death. And they also feature ways in which we can all take action to make a difference. The book was also recently turned into a stellar PBS documentary.

For those passionate about reproductive rights, Michelle Goldberg writes eloquently about the trajectory of international reproductive health care over the past several decades. Her journalistic lens brings to light previously untold stories that are informative, engaging, and inspiring.

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