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FEATURE | winter 2002

2002 Women of the Year
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Ms. Winter 2002

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They have led, educated, inspired, entertained, and empowered us: meet the individuals and groups honored by Ms. magazine for their courage, humor, and humanity. Honorees are: Lourdes Portillo, Lisa Leslie, Greenblatt and Shamas, Barbara Blaine, Nia Vardalos, Sisters for Economic Dignity, Patty Bellasalma, Cristina Saralegui, Nancy Pelosi, three whistleblowers, Ruth Simmons, Jill June, and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Read about the December 2002 awards ceremony in a Ms. online exclusive!

PelosiCongresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is, quite simply, the most powerful woman in U.S. congressional history. Pelosi became the first woman to head a political party when she was elected House Minority Leader in November 2002. A member of Congress since 1987, she was previously the state and northern chair of the California Democratic Party and chair of the 1984 Democratic National Convention Host Committee. We love her for her determination and commitment to issues of importance to all women, including quality education, affordable housing, environmental protection and freedom of choice.

BlaineBarbara Blaine, a Chicago social worker and attorney, founded Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a group that fights for justice of victims of priest sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, in 1988, 14 years before the issue became a front-page news story. With more than 30 chapters and regional offices across the United States and Canada, SNAP works to prevent further abuse through outreach, public education and advocacy. Its online support group helps individuals in countries around the world. Photo by Paul Merideth.

VardalosNia Vardalos turned a one-woman show based on her own family into a low-budget movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. And that low-budget movie turned into the most successful romantic comedy ever, grossing more than $200 million in the United States alone. Born in Canada, Vardalos was a member of the Second City theater troupe before moving to L.A. to pursue her dream of acting. The Greek Wedding star resisted Hollywood stereotypes, then changed Hollywood itself by proving that movie goers fall in love with reality. Photo by Krista Niles.

Greenblatt and Abu-Dayyeh ShamasTerry Greenblatt and Maha Abu-Dayyeh Shamas are activists whose strength is multiplied by their commitment to working together. Greenblatt is the director of Bat Shalom, an Israeli women's peace organization. Abu-Dayyeh Shamas is the executive director of the Jerusalem Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling and a board member of The Jerusalem Center for Women, a Palestinian women's peace organization. Their respective groups comprise The Jerusalem Link, which brings together women working for peace. They are just as determined that women's voices be heard in places of power and have called on international leaders to recognize the vital role of women in the resolution of the Middle East conflict. Photo by Jenny Warburg.

BellasalmaPatty Bellasalma filed a racial discrimination class-action suit in Los Angeles county on behalf of police officers who patrol hospitals and parks - and won. The predominantly Latino, Asian and African-American department alleged that it were paid less for doing the same work than the Sheriff's Department, which is largely Caucasian. The $100 million settlement was the largest single race discrimination settlement in that county. Photo by Steve Goldstein.

JuneJill June, the president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa, stood up for the right to privacy by refusing to violate the confidentiality of patients' medical records. Police in Storm Lake, Iowa, subpoenaed the records during the investigation of the death of an abandoned newborn, seeking the names, addresses and birth dates of women whose pregnancy test was positive during a specific nine-month period. Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa fought the subpoena in court, arguing that pregnancy test results were private medical records protected under state and federal law. In October 2002, officials withdrew their subpoena. Photo by Dan Moore.

PortilloLourdes Portillo, a Mexican-born writer, director and producer, makes documentary films that break artistic ground, explore diversity and expose injustice. In the mid-1980s she collaborated with Susana Munoz on the film Las Madres: The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, which was nominated for both an Emmy and an Academy Award. Her latest film, Señorita Extraviada, Missing Young Woman, investigates the circumstances surrounding the rape and murder of hundreds of young women, many of whom work in the maquiladoras, in Juárez, Mexico. The murders, which first came to light in 1993, continue to this day. Photo by Lori Eames.

Group memberStand With Sisters for Economic Dignity showed up on Capitol Hill in September 2002, weaving their experiences with the 1996 welfare reform law into a theatrical performance, Stand With Sisters for Economic Dignity. Fusing together drama and song, the nine women, all single mothers and all former welfare recipients, sang about the lack of affordable housing and the need for child care. Their song "Caught Up in the WEP of Deception" offered a scathing critique of the Work Experience Program. The Hill is still shakin.' Photo by Teresa Horgan.

SimmonsRuth Simmons was named president of Brown University in 2001, becoming the first African American to lead an Ivy League school. She also holds a faculty appointment as professor of comparative literature and Africana studies. Previously, she was the president of Smith College, where she started the first engineering program at a women's college and launched a journal focusing on the concerns of minority women. The 12th child of tenant farmers, she has worked throughout her career on behalf of disadvantaged minority students and remains an inspiration for everyone. Photo by Clark Quin.

CurtisJamie Lee Curtis, best known for her film career, children's books and "the body," allowed herself to look less than perfect when she posed for More magazine in September. She had just finished her fifth children's book, I'm Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem, and she decided it was time to celebrate her own body, unflattering flab and all, in her next photo shoot, rather than advance the idea that all women's bodies are perfect. She banished the air-brushes and the photo editing tools and appeared, in a sports bra and underpants, au naturel. And women loved her - for dispelling the myths and portraying the truth. Photo by Andrew Eccles.

LeslieLisa Leslie, the starting center of the Los Angeles Sparks, is one of the greatest female basketball players. The first WNBA player to dunk in a game and first to score more than 3,000 points, Leslie was MVP of the WNBA Championship and All-Star game in 2002. She also played on the gold-winning U.S. Olympic teams in 1996 and 2000 and helped the USA Team win another gold at the USA World Championships in 2002. Off the court, she's been honored for her dedication to children and women's health issues. A role model always, we think she rocks. Photo by Al Bello.

WatkinsWhistle Blowers like Sherron Watkins, Coleen Rowley and Cynthia Cooper risked their careers when they spoke out against inside-company practices, making the choice for the larger good and making all women proud. Watkins alerted former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay about accounting irregularities and testified before Congress. Photo of Watkins by Kenneth Lambert.

RowleyRowley, an FBI agent, wrote a memo to bureau chief Robert Mueller suggesting the government missed important clues concerning Sept. 11. Cooper was the WorldCom employee who found problems with the company's accounts before WorldCom declared the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. Our hats are off to all of them. Photo of Rowley by Mark Wilson.

SaraleguiCristina Saralegui is a one-woman multi-media wonder. Born in Cuba and raised in Miami, Saralegui was introduced to journalism by her grandfather, a magazine publisher well known throughout Latin America. Today, the Emmy-award winning The Cristina Show is the number one talk show on Spanish-language television in the United States, with 100 million viewers worldwide. She also hosts a daily radio program and co-publishes a monthly magazine. In 1996, Christina and her husband, Marcos Avila, established "Arriba la Vida/Up With Life Foundation" dedicated to AIDS awareness and education among Hispanics. Photo by Pablo Blum.