“There is no greater multiplier in the fight against poverty than an educated female.”
—Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
An intrepid chronicler of strong and resourceful women, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of three New York Times bestselling books that follow people working to better their communities against long economic and geopolitical odds. Informed by her Harvard MBA and previously-held leadership positions in private sector national security start-ups, Lemmon combines a rare mix of business acumen with a gift for storytelling that distills global issues into approachable narratives.
Lemmon began her career as a journalist in Washington. From 1997 to 2004, she covered presidential politics and public policy issues for the ABC News Political Unit. She also served as an editorial producer during the first year of This Week with George Stephanopoulos. In 2004, she left ABC News to pursue her interest in international development and earn her MBA. While serving as a vice president at the global investment management firm PIMCO, she began reporting from conflict regions.
Since her first trip to the country in 2005. Lemmon has reported extensively on Afghanistan, writing about Afghanistan’s politics and economy, the evolving roles of Afghan women, and the country’s small but important cohort of young entrepreneurs. Her first book, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe, is the “transporting, enlightening” (People) story of Kamila Sidiqi, a fearless entrepreneur who started a dressmaking business under the Taliban. Eventually, this business that started in her living room grew to create jobs and hope for 100 women in her war-town Kabul neighborhood.
Lemmon’s second book, Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield, tells the story of Cultural Support Teams, the US Army’s pilot program to put women on the battlefield alongside Green Berets and Army Rangers on sensitive missions in Afghanistan. The idea was that women could access places and people that had remained out of reach, and could build relationships—woman to woman—in ways that male soldiers in such a conservative country could not. Ashley’s War was named to the 2016 Special Operations Command Commander’s Reading List and the 2018 Defense Intelligence Agency’s Reading List. A film adaptation is in the works by Universal Pictures with Reese Witherspoon producing.
Based on years of on-the-ground reporting, Lemmon’s newest bestseller is The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice, the “extraordinary and humbling story” (Angelina Jolie) of the women of the Kurdish militia that improbably helped to cement the territorial defeat of ISIS. In the process, they would spread their own political vision, determined to make women’s equality a reality by fighting—house by house, street by street, town by town—the men who bought and sold women. In their starred review, Publishers Weekly notes “Lemmon delivers a fascinating portrait.… This deeply reported account enthralls and informs,” and Kirkus highlights a “well-told story of contemporary female warriors and the complex geopolitical realities behind their battles.” Named to Foreign Policy‘s Summer 2021 Reading List and one of Amazon’s best history books of 2021 so far, a streaming series adaptation is in the works from HiddenLight Productions, the new production company founded by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sam Branson, and Chelsea Clinton.
“The Daughters of Kobani is an unforgettable and nearly mythic tale of women’s power and courage. The young women profiled in this book fought a fearsome war against brutal men in impossible circumstances—and proved in the process what girls and women can accomplish when given the chance to lead. Brilliantly researched and respectfully reported, this book is a lesson in heroism, sacrifice, and the real meaning of sisterhood. I am so grateful that this story has been told.”
—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and Eat, Pray, Love
Lemmon has served as a contributor to The Atlantic’s Defense One site and has written on national security and foreign policy issues for publications including The New York Times, The Financial Times, Fast Company, The Christian Science Monitor, Newsweek, and The Daily Beast. She appears frequently on broadcast networks including PBS, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, and National Public Radio.
In addition to her work on foreign policy and the fight to end child marriage, Lemmon has written a number of pieces about women and girls for The Atlantic, including “We Need to Tell Girls They Can Have It All (Even If They Can’t),” which earned a shoutout in Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Lemmon’s two TED talks have garnered almost two million views and her opening talk at TEDxWomen 2011, arguing that investing in women can positively transform the global economy, was named a TED Talk of the Day.
A sought-after speaker for her extensive experience in the worlds of journalism, business, and national security, Lemmon has spoken at Harvard, West Point, Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, the United Nations, Facebook, the RAND Corporation, the Arlington National Cemetery, the Air Force Women’s Leadership Symposium, Coldwell Banker, and Novartis Pharmaceuticals, among other university, military, and corporate audiences.
Lemmon graduated summa cum laude from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism. She earned an MBA from Harvard, where she received the 2006 Dean’s Award for her work on women’s entrepreneurship. In addition to being a Robert Bosch Fellow in Germany, she served as a Fulbright scholar in Spain, on the board of the international aid organization Mercy Corps and is a member of the Bretton Woods Committee. In 2018, she received an inaugural Cultural Vistas Award in recognition of her “notable contributions toward advancing global skill-building opportunities for students and young professionals.” She speaks Spanish, German, and French, and is conversant in Dari and Kurmanci.here.