This Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we shine a spotlight on trailblazing Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander women who have made lasting impacts on our world. While we’ve focused on Asian Americans, we have chosen to highlight women of Asian descent from around the world. All of these women have not only broken barriers in their fields, but they’ve also inspired girls to dream big. By showcasing their incredible achievements, we hope to empower the next generation to fearlessly pursue their passions and make their marks on the world.
The celebration of AAPI Month also serves as an opportunity to shed light on the accomplishments of Asian women whose contributions have frequently been overlooked. By featuring their stories, we challenge stereotypes and promote inclusivity, fostering a society that recognizes and values the diverse contributions of all its members.
There are so many women we could highlight, but we’ve chosen 12 today for the breadth of their achievements. Without further ado, 12 Asian women who have changed the world:
Senator Tammy Duckworth
Tammy Duckworth, born in Bangkok, Thailand, is an American politician and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel. She was the first disabled woman elected to Congress, the first Asian American woman to represent Illinois, and the first female double amputee in the Senate. In 2004, during her service as a helicopter pilot in Iraq, she lost both her legs when her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. As a senator, she fights for policies that support veterans, health care, and education. Duckworth’s relentless pursuit of justice and her unwavering commitment to public service make her an inspiring role model for young girls everywhere. You can learn more about Senator Tammy Duckworth in Rebel Girls Lead.
Talk about changing the world—Murasaki Shikibu literally invented the novel! Born in the 10th century in Kyoto, Japan, Murasaki Shikibu was a highly influential Japanese writer, poet, and lady-in-waiting at the Imperial Court during the Heian period. She is best known for her literary masterpiece The Tale of Genji, which is considered the world’s first novel and one of the most significant works of Japanese literature. The Tale of Genji provides a detailed account of the lives of the Japanese aristocracy and explores themes such as love, political intrigue, and the passage of time. Murasaki’s remarkable storytelling and poetic prowess have left a lasting impact on literature and continue to be studied and admired to this day. As a pioneering female writer in a male-dominated society, Murasaki Shikibu serves as an enduring symbol of the power of women’s voices and the lasting influence of their contributions to the arts.
Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong, born in 1905 in Los Angeles, California, was a pioneering Chinese American actor who broke barriers in Hollywood at a time when opportunities for Asian performers were scarce. Despite facing racism and discrimination throughout her career, Wong persisted and became the first Asian American actress to gain international recognition. Her talent and determination landed her roles in groundbreaking films like The Toll of the Sea (1922) and Shanghai Express (1932). Off-screen, Wong advocated for better representation and opportunities for Asian actors in the film industry. By challenging stereotypes and opening doors for future Asian performers, Anna May Wong left a lasting legacy in the world of cinema. Want to hear more about her? Check out her story in the app!
Yoko Ono is a multifaceted artist, musician, and activist known for her avant-garde work. Ono’s art has spanned various mediums, including visual arts, music, and filmmaking. She played a significant role in the development of the 1960s Fluxus art movement and later gained international fame as a peace activist alongside John Lennon. Their famous “Bed-ins for Peace” events became iconic symbols of the anti-war movement. Ono has also been a strong advocate for women’s rights and social justice. Her boundary-pushing art and activism have inspired generations to think differently and work toward a more harmonious world. You can learn more about her in Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.
Kalpana Chawla was born in 1962 in Karnal, India. She was a groundbreaking astronaut and engineer who became the first Indian-born woman to travel to space. Chawla’s passion for aerospace engineering led her to move to the United States, where she earned her master’s and PhD degrees before joining NASA. In 1997, she made history as a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Columbia’s STS-87 mission. Tragically, during her second space mission in 2003, Chawla and her fellow astronauts lost their lives in the Columbia disaster. Despite this, Kalpana Chawla remains an inspiration for millions of girls around the world, showing them that with hard work and determination, they can reach for the stars.
Sky Brown, born in 2008 in Miyazaki, Japan, is a young skateboarder and surfer who has taken the world by storm with her incredible talent and fearless spirit. At just 13 years old, Sky became the youngest Olympic medalist in Britain’s history when she won a bronze medal in women’s skateboarding at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Raised by a British father and a Japanese mother, Sky has been a trailblazer for young female athletes, proving that age and gender are no barriers to achieving greatness. With her positive attitude, dedication, and drive to break records and challenge norms, Sky is an incredible role model for young girls. You can read more about Sky Brown in Rebel Girls Champions.
Vera Wang, born in 1949 in New York City, is an iconic fashion designer of Chinese descent who has revolutionized the bridal industry with her elegant and sophisticated designs. Wang started her career as a figure skater and journalist before discovering her true passion for fashion design. After working for Ralph Lauren, she opened her own bridal boutique in 1990 and quickly became a go-to designer for brides worldwide, as well as celebrities on the red carpet. Over the years, Vera Wang has expanded her brand to include ready-to-wear clothing, accessories, and home goods. Her artistic vision, attention to detail, and relentless pursuit of excellence have made her a pioneer in the fashion world and a shining example to girls everywhere.
In 2020, Kim Ng became the first woman and first Asian American in MLB history to be appointed as a general manager when she took the helm for the Miami Marlins. Ng’s impressive career in baseball spans over 30 years, with roles with the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, and the MLB Commissioner’s Office. Her dedication, strategic thinking, and perseverance have paved the way for other women and minority groups in the world of sports management. Kim Ng’s groundbreaking accomplishments serve as a powerful reminder for young girls that no dream is too big to achieve.
Malala Yousafzai, born in 1997 in Mingora, Pakistan, is a courageous activist for girls’ education and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate. As a young girl, Malala defied the Taliban’s ban on education for girls by attending school and advocating for her right to learn. In 2012, she survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban and has since continued her advocacy on a global scale. Through her foundation, she works tirelessly to ensure that all girls have access to 12 years of free, quality education. Malala’s unwavering commitment to human rights and her fearless pursuit of justice show young girls how to stand up for what’s right. You can learn more about her in Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.
Noor Inayat Khan
An international woman of mystery! Noor Inayat Khan, born in 1914 in Moscow, Russia, and raised in the United Kingdom and France, was a brave World War II heroine and secret agent. The daughter of an Indian father and an American mother, Noor was a descendant of Indian royalty and a talented writer and musician. During World War II, she joined the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and became the first female radio operator to be sent into occupied France to aid the French Resistance. Noor’s courage, resourcefulness, and determination made her a valuable asset in the fight against the Nazis. You can read more about Noor in Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Immigrant Women Who Changed the World or listen to her story in the app.
Okay, okay. BLACKPINK isn’t one person, but they’re among the biggest and most important musical acts in the world right now. BLACKPINK is a South Korean girl group that has taken the world by storm with their captivating music and empowering messages. Formed by YG Entertainment in 2016, the group consists of four talented young women: Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa. Hailing from diverse backgrounds, they have come together to create a global phenomenon in the music industry. BLACKPINK’s unique blend of K-pop, hip-hop, and EDM has earned them a massive international following and numerous accolades, making them one of the most successful girl groups of all time. Their influence goes beyond music—they have also become fashion icons and advocates for female empowerment. BLACKPINK encourages young girls around the world to be fearless and confident in their own skin. You can read more about the group in Rebel Girls Rock.
cSapphire, born in 2003 in the United States, is a young Filipina-American digital clothing designer whose work has captured the hearts of people worldwide. When she was 12, she started designing virtual clothes for Roblox avatars. In 2021, she won the Fashion Award for Metaverse Design, given out by the British Fashion Council. cSapphire is changing the world by embracing new technologies – like designing clothing in the metaverse – and pushing the boundaries of art. You can read more about her in Rebel Girls Level Up.