150 Women Who Shake the World

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They are heads of state and heads of household. Angry protesters in the city square and sly iconoclasts in remote villages. With a fiery new energy, women are building schools. Starting businesses. Fighting corruption. Harnessing new technologies and breaking down old prejudices. Whenever a woman or girl gains control of her destiny, the local standard of living goes up and the values of human rights spread. So this year, and every year, NEWSWEEK will honor local heroes, and the growing network of powerful women who support their efforts.

AMY LEHMAN U.S.A. She saves lives, one lake at a time The villages in Congo, Burundi, and Tanzania that ring Lake Tanganyika are extremely isolated, which is apparent when Chicago doctor Amy Lehman lifts her shirt, turns around, and reveals a tattoo of the lake's convoluted, rocky coast on her back. Delivering health care to these remote communities has become her passion. For now she rents local boats to deliver bed nets along the lake, where malaria is a leading cause of death. But her goal is to equip a floating hospital, which will bring medical care to some 3 million people. Although she trained as a cardiothoracic surgeon, childhood nerve damage prevented her from practicing. "I love chest surgery. No joke," she says. "When I think about what else I could do that would keep me as compelled, it's this." So she presses ahead on plans for the Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic, raising funds, commissioning a local shipbuilder, cajoling officials. "She'll die getting this done," says Damien Drake, who is collaborating with Fisher Stevens on a documentary film about Lehman.

HAWA ABDI When rebels attacked the hospital and camp for the internally displaced she runs in war-torn Somalia, Dr. Abdi backed them down--and even got an apology. By putting women in charge, the camp--now home to 90,000--has become a model of civil society.

GAO YAOJIE She exposed China's aids epidemic In 1996 she saw a string of patients in rural Henan province with mysterious complaints, and discovered that illegal blood banks using unhygienic methods had infected thousands with HIV. Authorities demanded the retired doctor keep silent, but she went public anyway. Barred from traveling to Manila in 2003 to receive an award, Gao, now 84, was allowed to emigrate to the U.S. in 2009. "I could be buried on foreign soil," she laments, yet she continues to tell the truth about China's hidden epidemic.

LYNSEY ADDARIO A fearless photographer of the human moments in conflict and war, in 2000 she exposed the everyday lives of Afghan women under Taliban rule.

MELINDA GATES She takes aim at polio Her goal is nothing short of wiping a disease off the planet, and she's likely to succeed. As part of the Gates Foundation's massive global health initiatives, she travels to the few remaining pockets of polio infection to help women inoculate their children.

MIA FARROW She refuses to forget With a hunger strike, an Olympic protest, and 11 trips to Sudan, Farrow has kept Darfur in the news since 2004. She shines the light of conscience on genocide because "as a mother, I can't imagine watching a child die."

TARYN DAVIS Winner of a $50,000 DVF award this year, she lost her husband in Iraq, then started a website for war widows.

CHOUCHOU NAMEGABE She used her radio broadcasts to document an epidemic of rapes in Congo and gave women microphones to bear witness.

LYDIA CACHO Mexico She reports, despite gruesome threats Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho describes a call she got on her BlackBerry. "They told me they would cut my head off," she says from her home in Cancon. "And they said they would cut my hands off for something I had written and give them to my husband." Even for the 47-year-old Cacho, who has survived assassination attempts and a sexual assault, the threat was unusually surreal. The call, she says, came from her own phone number--her BlackBerry had apparently been cloned. …