Theresa Kachindamoto, the senior chief in the Dedza District of Central Malawi, wields power over close to 900,000 people… and she’s not afraid to use her authority to help the women and girls in her district. In the past three years, she has annulled more than 850 child marriages, sent hundreds of young women back to school to continue their education, and made strides to abolish cleansing rituals that require girls as young as seven to go to sexual initiation camps. With more than half of Malawi’s girls married before the age of 18, according to a 2012 United Nations survey — and a consistently low ranking on the human development index, Kachindamoto’s no-nonsense attitude and effective measures have made her a vital ally in the fight for women’s and children’s rights.