Throughout history, women activists have been a source of inspiration and have made it possible for others to succeed in the work they do. We’ve collected together 13 quotes from pioneering women. May their words resonate through time and continue to inspire.
1. Kishida Toshiko
Kishida Toshiko was a writer, activist, and one of the first women in Japan to speak publicly about women’s rights. She began lecturing when she was just 20 years old! She was well known for her speech “Daughters Confined in Boxes” that criticised a family system that confined women at home.
2. Carrie Chapman Catt
United States, 1859-1947
As president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Carrie Chapman Catt helped revitalise the suffrage movement and ratify the 19th Amendment in 1919, which guarantees all women the right to vote. Not really that long ago, ladies!
3. Mother Teresa
Republic of Macedonia, 1910-1997
Maybe one of the most famous women on this list, Mother Teresa established the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation, in 1950. These sisters ran hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis at a time when such people were treated as outcasts by most of society.
4. Rosa Parks
United States, 1913-2005
Rosa Parks is known as the “first lady of civil rights.” Her arrest for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger led to the game-changing Montgomery Bus Boycotts, an important moment for the U.S. civil rights movement.
5. Eunice Shriver
United States, 1921-2009
Shriver founded the Special Olympics in 1968 in honour of her sister, Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. She firmly believed that if people with intellectual disabilities were given the same opportunities as everyone else, they could achieve far more than anyone thought possible.
6. Arundhati Roy
India, 1930 –
This Booker prize-winning author and political activist wrote The God of Small Things, which was eventually translated into 40 languages. But instead of writing more novels, Roy has committed to shining a spotlight on the dark side of her homeland, India, and focusing on its millions of poor, dispossessed and abused citizens, as well as environmental issues.
7. Shami Chakrabarti
United Kingdom, 1969 –
8. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Known as Africa’s “Iron Lady”, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first female head of state on the continent of Africa. She has been working tirelessly ever since to strengthen the institutions of national security and good governance in her home country of Liberia.
9. Juliana Rotich
Juliana Rotich is a technology entrepreneur and the co-founder of Ushahidi. Ushahidi was originally designed as a crowdsourced map to track violence after the troubled Kenyan elections in 2007-8. It was later made available as open-source software, and is now used to help distribute aid following natural disasters, among other things. This thought leader has been a champion for spreading internet connectivity in the developing world.
10. Leymah Gbowee
In collaboration with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee helped bring a period of peace to Liberia through her leadership of a women’s peace movement. Her efforts enabled a free election in 2005 that gave the presidency to Sirleaf.
11. Rebecca Lolosoli
Rebecca Lolosoli helped establish the Umoja Women’s Village in Kenya after she was beaten for speaking up for victims of rape. She continues to fight for women and their right to make decisions, own land and businesses.
12. Chrissie Wellington
United Kingdom, 1977-
Wellington is a record-holding triathlete. Retired now, she’s working to advance women in cycling by calling for a women’s Tour de France. She is also passionate about development and spent time in the conflict-affected west of Nepal working on water and sanitation.
13. Malala Yousafzai
A strong advocate for girls’ right to education, Malala was shot in the head by Taliban in 2012 after refusing to give up on her campaign. She survived and came back strong, starting the Malala Fund to help girls around the world reach their true potential.
You don’t have to be a president or cultural icon for your voice to matter.