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Photos: Women and girls who've changed their world

Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT) May 29, 2013
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Through his exhibition "Stirring the Fire," photographer Phil Borges is shedding light on gender issues worldwide and celebrating women and girls who have become catalysts for change in their communities. Many had to break through the same kind of barriers to achieve social and economic justice. Click through the gallery to see their courageous stories.
Transito, 91 (Cayambe, Ecuador)
For centuries after the Spanish conquest, many indigenous people in Ecuador were forced to serve as indentured servants in the hacienda system. One of them, Transito, was jailed in 1926 after speaking out against a hacienda owner who she said molested her. But by taking a stand and raising awareness about the plight of indigenous Ecuadorians, Transito became a legend in the country. She is often referred to as the "Rosa Parks of Ecuador," Borges said.
Courtesy Phil Borges
Akhi, 32 (Tangail, Bangladesh)
At 13, Akhi was sold as a sex worker to a Bangladeshi brothel. After three months, she regained her freedom by paying off her madam. She then created an organization to advocate for sex workers' rights, gaining support from various religious, political and social groups. Since the group's conception, the number of 12- and 13-year-olds working in the brothels has decreased, and condom use has jumped from near zero to 86%.
Courtesy Phil Borges
Abay, 28 (Awash Fontale, Ethiopia)
Abay was born into a culture in which almost all girls are circumcised before the age of 12. But when it came time for her circumcision, she said no and ran away to live with her godfather. Years later, she returned to her Afar village as an outreach worker and persuaded one of the women to let her film a circumcision ceremony. When she showed the film to the village's male leaders, they were horrified by it and called a special meeting to put an end to the tradition.
Courtesy Phil Borges
Akosiwa, 12 (Dogbo, Benin)
When Akosiwa was 3, her father sold her to a distant cousin who promised to give her clothes and an education. Instead, she worked in servitude 12 hours a day and went to bed hungry every night. Eight years later, she returned to her family and enrolled in a program to educate girls who have been trafficked. She is the only 12-year-old in a classroom full of children half her age. "I love all my subjects," she said. "I get the highest marks in the class because I study the hardest."
Courtesy Phil Borges
Fahima, 38 (Kabul, Afghanistan)
Fahima, a teacher since 1985, was one of the thousands of professional women who lost their jobs when the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. But in defiance of the Taliban and at great risk to herself, Fahima opened a clandestine school for young girls. At one point, 130 girls were coming to her home each week to study math, science and Pashto. Fahima was harassed by religious police and threatened with beatings and worse, but she operated her school until the Taliban's fall.
Courtesy Phil Borges
Rosa, 27 (Ixtahuacan, Guatemala)
Rosa is an unlikely hero in her rural community. She sought justice after being raped by four men, despite the expectation there that women keep quiet about such attacks. Initially, she hesitated to take action because her attackers threatened to kill her if she exposed them. But with encouragement from her mother and an outreach worker, Rosa became one of the first women in her village to take her abusers to court. She won her case, and the men were sentenced to one month in prison and fined $1,300.
Courtesy Phil Borges
Nana Gyetuah, 56 (Dekoto Junction, Ghana)
Nana Gyetuah, also known as Madame Koko, is the first female chief of her village. As chief, she has fought for the rights of the villagers whose cocoa trees were being destroyed by the timber industry. When loggers destroyed and refused to repair a bridge, she mobilized her fellow villagers to create a roadblock. Eventually, Madame Koko was able to successfully stop all logging in her territory. Her strength as chief makes her a strong role model for the young women in her village, Borges said.
Courtesy Phil Borges
Lucille Windy-Boy, 71 (Rocky Boy, Montana)
Lucille, a recent widow, is known across the reservation for the high-quality tepees she sews. Her husband was an important spiritual leader in the territory. When Borges met Lucille, she was surrounded by some of her 42 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren. They proudly told him that Lucille and her husband had started college five years ago and earned their bachelor's degrees together, inspiring all the young people in their community.
Courtesy Phil Borges
Dhaki, 11 (Yabelo, Ethiopia)
Dhaki's family is part of the Boran tribe, raising cattle and camels in southern Ethiopia. Because of their nomadic lifestyle and heavy workload, Boran children seldom attend school. But recently, a school opened in Dhaki's territory with flexible hours to accommodate the Boran lifestyle. Five months ago, Dhaki became the first person in her family to attend school. It takes her more than an hour to walk there.
Courtesy Phil Borges
Rufo, 7 (Yabelo, Ethiopia)
Rufo is also part of the Boran tribe, but she cannot attend the school that recently opened in her territory. Her mother could spare the labor of only one of her seven children, so she chose Rufo's sister Loco to get an education. Like most Boran girls, Rufo spends her days collecting water and firewood and helping her mother cook. Her labor plays a vital role in her family's survival.
Courtesy Phil Borges
Kalsang, 25; Ngawang, 22; Dechen, 21 (Dolma Ling Nunnery, India)
When photographed, these nuns had just arrived at Dolma Ling after fleeing Tibet. In 1992, they were arrested, beaten, shocked with electric cattle prods and imprisoned for placing posters that protested the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Borges said. Several times during their conversation, Dechen broke into tears and quietly excused herself before continuing her story.
Courtesy Phil Borges
Rachel, 34 (New York)
In order to escape an alcoholic family, Rachel dropped out of school at 13, Borges said. And like so many girls who end up on the streets, she was recruited into the sex industry. After a failed suicide attempt, she vowed to change her life and help empower young women in need. She returned to school, earned a master's degree and founded GEMS, an organization dedicated to ending the sexual exploitation of children.
Courtesy Phil Borges
Teke Foliwa, 42 (Have, Ghana)
Teke Foliwa was recently crowned "Queen Mother" of Have. Her first act was to form women's groups for microcredit, agriculture production and education reform. Initially, there was concern that she was gaining power too quickly. But the men became impressed with the progress being made by the women and asked for their own groups. "This has moved us forward toward becoming a true community," she said. "It's not just the men and the women but all of us moving forward together." See more from CNN's "Girl Rising" project
Courtesy Phil Borges