With each year, we see more and more inspiring women taking leadership roles across companies and organizations both large and small. But why are they never heard of? 

With a quick search through the TED database, I’ve found a goldmine of inspiring talks by women who are encouraging other women to speak up and find their voice, to challenge the patriarchy for the betterment of females all over the world. 

These women involve themselves tirelessly in efforts to end gender violence and sexism, to elevate and encourage their fellows to participate in social and political change, delve into entrepreneurship, build self-confidence and pass it on to others, and advocate for self-worth through education. 

For the women (and men) who are looking for female role models to inspire and motivate them to be their best selves, take a look at these few TED Talks by this generation’s brightest female minds. 

1. Meera Vijayann: Find Your Voice against Gender Violence

We don’t realize that when we’re standing up, we are not just standing up as individuals, we are standing up for our communities, our friends, our peers. 

Meera Vijayann

Meera begins her talk with an anecdote of her younger life in India, where she grew up in the face of sexual harassment by the men around her. She describes the horror and trauma of having to endure such treatment at a young age, and how her path has led her to becoming a speaker and advocate for women’s rights.

She cites an event in December 2012 as the turning point of her life when a 23-year-old female student boarded a bus with her male friend, and was gangraped by the six men on the bus. The news went viral on Indian and international media, and triggered responses brimming with victim-blaming by men in power. 

An Indian member of parliament was quoted saying: “Rape of grown-up girls understandable but assault on children unimaginable.”

It is a difficult talk to watch, but it opens our eyes to the horrors that women still face in certain parts of the world.

2. Brittany Packnett: How to Build Your Confidence and Spark it in Others

Confidence is the difference between being inspired and actually getting started, between trying and doing until it’s done. Confidence helps us keep going even when we fail.

Brittany Packnett

Brittany begins this insightful, motivating talk on building self-confidence with a brief look into her past when she was a child, and how a book by Septima Clark inspired her to become the activist that she is today. 

A former teacher, she recounts stories of two brilliant students in her class of children that came from minority backgrounds: dark-skinned, disabled, those that society did not regard as the archetypal figures of confidence. She affirms that having different thoughts and opinions are no grounds for one to shirk their self-confidence but rather to build it and share their perspectives with the world.

On a trip to Kenya to learn about women empowerment within the community, she met a group of Kenya’s first all-female rangers team that consisted of girls in their teen years standing up against poachers. When asked whether she ever gets scared of the poachers, one of the girls answered: “Of course I do, but I call on my sisters. They remind me that we will be better than these men and that we will not fail.”

A sense of community, a bond of sisterhood to light the fire of confidence within young girls everywhere – Brittany articulates it well in this light-hearted but inspiring talk.

3. Ashweetha Shetty: How Education Helped Me Rewrite My Life

I was conditioned to believe that the three identities that defined me – poor village girl – meant that I was to live a life of no voice and no choice.

Ashweetha Shetty

Many of us are privileged to be able to obtain an education – often for free, if you were to be part of a government or public school, with free textbooks, zero exam fees, and unlimited use of libraries. However, we often overlook these opportunities and sometimes even take them for granted, not knowing that there are those in other parts of the world who crave for and are being denied these same opportunities. 

Ashweetha shares her journey on how she broke free of the social constraints of her community and escaped an arranged marriage to become the first rural university student to join a fellowship in Delhi, to founding a non-profit organization, Bodhi Tree, with the goal of advocating and empowering youths in rural areas. 

She tells of the discrimination she faced during her fellowship, how those around her did not expect someone from a small village to be able to make any significant contributions, if any at all. She discusses how she was inspired to pursue something extraordinary in the eyes of a girl living in rural India – fight for her education, find her purpose in life and shed the expectations her community had of her.

Funny and insightful, this talk will remind you that education is not only important, but essential to finding your purpose in life, to become extraordinary and break free of the expectations society has imposed on you. 

4. Khalida Brohi: How I Work to Protect Women from Honour Killings

I truly believe, to create women leaders, there’s only one thing you have to do: Just let them know that they have what it takes to be a leader.

Khalida Brohi

Born in Pakistan, Khalida begins by sharing with us how she was moved to campaign against honour killings in her hometown – by learning of the death of a friend who was victim to the murder. 

An honour killing happens when a man and a woman are suspected of having a relationship before marriage, and the deed is done by a brother, uncle or father of the woman. 

With the use of Facebook, she built a huge following online within a few months, taking the protests to the streets of her home. But something unexpected happened – she was faced with resistance from the people of Karachi who deemed her influence unwelcoming, arguing that she was spreading Western ideals to taint their centuries-old customs that they thought were truly honourable.

With the hurdles that she has to go through, Khalida discusses the many ways she utilized to mobilize the community and guide the local women towards entrepreneurship. She and her team succeeded in nurturing potential and encouraging women to use their skills in order to earn money and contribute to the household, to the point where their husbands would think twice before preventing them from joining Khalida’s movement.

A heartwarming talk fueled by Khalida’s dazzling personality, it’s a great look into the efforts done to challenge an age-old tradition. Wait for the end where there’s a Q&A that provides a little more insight into the future plans of her organization.

5. Shabana Basij-Rasikh: Dare to Educate Afghan Girls

[…] in the context of a society like in Afghanistan, we must have the support of men.

Shabana Basij-Rasikh

At 22, Shabana is a graduate of Middlebury College, and also co-founder of SOLA, the first boarding school in Afghanistan. With hard eyes that offer a mere glimpse of the horrors she has had to endure, Shabana shares a personal story in which she celebrates the man in her life who believed in her abilities and would go through any lengths to provide her with an education so that she could build her own future. 

That man is her father.

When she was younger, Shabana had to pretend to be a boy to escort her older sister to go to school as it was illegal during the Taliban occupation for girls to attend school. She wanted to quit many times, out of fear and frustration of not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel, but her father would always push her to keep going, telling her that education is what will stick with you when all else is taken.  

6. Sakena Yacoobi: How I Stopped the Taliban from Shutting Down My School

We cannot only train women but forget about the men, because the men are the real people who are giving women the hardest time.

Sakena Yacoobi

Her mother had sixteen pregnancies and only five of them survived. Growing up, Sakena had to watch “women being carried to graveyards” and children heading to graveyards. She resolved to become a medical doctor, but when she got accepted into university, there was no dormitory for females. Her father had to send her off to America instead. 

While she was there, Russia invaded her country, Afghanistan. For a long period of time, she had no idea what happened to her family, who had been moved to a refugee camp during the war. With her newfound knowledge and position in America, she managed to extricate her family and bring them over to where she was.

With a well-paying job as a university professor, her family around her, and a good settled life in the States, Sakena still wasn’t happy. Her heart was with her people back home, in Afghanistan, where the Taliban had taken over and peace was shattered. 

In this lovely talk, sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing, but every bit inspiring, Sakena discusses the difficult, life-threatening situations she had to endure to bring education to the women and eventually, men of her home. 

She believes that gender equality and education go hand in hand, for without involving men in the process, it will be difficult if not impossible to elevate women to reach their full potential. 

7. Leila Hoteit: 3 Lessons on Success from an Arab Businesswoman

Convert their shit into fuel.

Leila Hoteit

Graduate of Imperial College London with a Bachelor’s and PhD in electrical engineering, Dr Leila Hoteit shares how she copes with being a career-driven Arab woman with two children and a family to care for. She had a hiccup at her previous firm where she wanted to make partner, but upon presenting her work in a room of MBA students, she was told by her colleague that she was not meant to be an activist, and that once a woman has had children, her place was in the home.

Instead of allowing herself to feel discouraged, Leila took those words as fuel to keep working at her career while juggling family life. She speaks with the quiet confidence of a woman who has been there, done it all and stood up to the discriminating eyes of those who mistakenly assumed that she was incapable of things her male counterparts were doing. 

Now partner and managing director of The Boston Consulting Group based in Dubai, Leila is responsible for education and human capital development of the Middle East. Her work requires her to travel a fair bit, but that doesn’t prevent her from showing up for her children. She encourages women to learn how to apply skills learned in the workplace to personal life, such as delegating tasks and “talent management.” 

Leila makes it a point to block out a certain period of time every single day to be present with her children, showing us that no matter how busy a life you have, if something is important to you, you will do whatever it takes to make time. She also advocates for women encouraging other women, for without the two senior women in her life who gave her opportunities to advance her career, she wouldn’t be where she is today. 

As an Arab businesswoman, Leila shares her hopes that she would be seen in the same light by her children as their father. At present in many parts of the world, men are still not contributing equally at home, while the women who are working have to play the dual roles of breadwinner and homemaker.

This enlightening talk goes to show how much more women have to do in order to be seen as equal to men, and argues that it is absolutely possible to be a successful career woman with a loving family. 


This is a non-exhaustive list of the many brilliant TED talks by inspiring women around the world. There is simply so much to learn from experienced people who have been there and done it all. My personal favourite from this list would have to be Dr Sakena. I hope you enjoy them and do share your thoughts!

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash.

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