Lidia Thorpe, Australia
As a proud Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman, Australian politician Lidia Thorpe made history when she was sworn in as the first Aboriginal Victorian Senator. Photos of the Greens representative entering the chamber quickly went viral on her first day on October 5, 2020, with the newly sworn-in politician arriving wearing a possum skin cloak and her fist raised.
The senator also carried with her a memory stick, with a line burnt on it for each of the 441 Indigenous people who have died in custody since the 1991 royal commission. "No one has been held accountable for those deaths," she said. "Each mark is a family that has lost someone they love. It's a community still grieving after one of their own was killed. It's an injustice that hasn't been corrected. Every mark on this message stick is a scar on our nation—and I bring it to parliament to begin the process of justice and healing."
For years, Thorpe has been advocating for Australia's First Nations people. In 2018, she organised a historic gathering of Aboriginal Elders in the parliament of Victoria to discuss the state's treaty processes and is also the leader of the Pay the Rent campaign, which calls on non-Aboriginal Australians to voluntarily pay reparations on an individual basis through an organisation of the same name.
Thorpe says a First Nations treaty will be a priority in her new role.
Quote: "I am determined to work hard for justice in this place, every day.”
Petra De Sutter, Belgium
Belgium made history on October 1, 2020, with the appointment of Petra De Sutter—an openly transgender woman—as the country's deputy prime minister. De Suttor is now the highest-ranking transgender person in a political office.
“I am proud that in Belgium and most of the European Union your gender identity does not define you as a person and is a non-issue,” De Sutter tweeted. “I hope that my appointment as Minister and deputy PM can trigger the debate in countries where this is not yet the case.”
But while De Sutter recognises the significance of her appointment, speaking to Sister of Europe the politician stated she did not want to be "reduced to my transgender past, because it is only one part of my identity."
In addition to her work in government, De Sutter is a professor of gynaecology and fertility expert. She has strongly advocated for legislation to help improve access for medically-assisted reproduction, an important issue for the LGBTQI+ community.
Quote: "I want people to talk about me because of my work, because of my political actions. I don’t think your gender, skin colour, religion or sexual orientation should be that important."
Diane Rodríguez, Ecuador
Ecuadorian activist Diane Rodríguez made history in early 2017 as the first openly transgender candidate and second LGBTQI+ candidate to run for elected office in the South American country. The politician, who was once a sex worker, has been open about her experiences facing death threats, kidnapping and violence for her commitment to transgender rights. She is now a lawmaker in the National Assembly, the legislative branch of the Ecuadorian government.
In 2018, trans people in the Latin American country were granted the right to vote under their chosen gender identity for the first time, a change that Rodríguez had campaigned passionately for. She's also made international headlines when she and her partner Fernando, a transgender man, had a baby together.
Quote: “Being a public figure comes at a price, but I see that cost is a sacrifice for younger generations so that they don’t have to suffer the same experiences that I have to suffer through now.”
Penny Wong, Australia
While Penny Wong is a familiar face in Australian politics—currently the South Australian senator—her career has been marked by many 'firsts.'
She was the first Asian-born and the first openly gay member of an Australian cabinet and was also the first openly gay woman to serve in parliament. Since early in her career, Wong has been an advocate for poorly paid female migrant workers and advises the government on environmental issues.
In November 2017, a video of Wong bursting into tears, after it was revealed that Australia had voted ‘yes’ to same-sex marriage, went viral after years of her passionate campaigning. She was considered one of the instrumental campaigners in that historical vote.
Quote: "Marriage equality does not diminish the worth of your relationships; it simply recognises the worth of ours."
Sahle-Work Zewde, Ethiopia
Sahle-Work Zewde became the first female president of Ethiopia after a unanimous vote in 2018. She is currently the only female head of state in the entire continent of Africa and prior to her being sworn in, Zewde served as a representative of the UN's secretary-general and head of the UN office to the African Union.
Zewde is using her platform to promote peace, advance gender equality, and to build a “society that rejects the oppression of women.” Recently, the country has made strides toward gender equality and has even introduced a cabinet that is 50 per cent female.
Quote: "I dream of an Ethiopia, of an Africa that is free of hunger, a world where no mother should bury their child because of hunger or worst still because no one cares."
Krishna Kumari Kohli, Pakistan
In 2018, Kohli became the first female Dalit member of Pakistan's Senate. In Pakistan’s long history, a woman from a low-caste Hindu background had never done so. With no previous political experience, the activist worked in human rights and development, using her position to advance women’s rights, tackle child marriage and end the forced labour she and her family endured.
Quote: "I believe in equality and brotherhood. I reject the caste system.”