Throughout history, women have changed the world with their strength, resistance, passion, and determination to create a better future. While the fight for equality continues, it’s important to remember the accomplishments of well-known idols and discover new ones who are shaping the world today.
Here are 10 women from different countries and time periods who championed the fight for equality:
Wangari Maathai greatly improved the economic and social status of Kenyan women in rural areas by combining women’s rights and environmentalism. Her work illuminated the connection between poverty, environmental desegregation, and power. By tackling all these issues, her activism gave women the tools to combat all three.
Queen Nzinga Mbande
Queen Nzinga Mbande ruled the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms (in current-day Angola) with both strength and kindness. Throughout her reign, her kingdoms came into conflict with Portuguese colonizers and other kingdoms, but remained as a sanctuary for runaway slaves and African soldiers trained by the Portuguese.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia and the first female elected head of state in Africa, made huge strides for her nation. Her pro-women and anti-corruption political stance earned her a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 and the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership in 2017.
On the track, Maria Mutola was a three-time world champion and one-time Olympic champion in the 800 metres running event. Off the track, she founded the Lurdes Mutola Foundation, which encourages children to pursue sports and education. She also helped to create immunisation campaigns and housing initiatives.
Huda Shaarawi is often regarded as the founder of the women’s movement in Egypt. She is often remembered for removing her face veil in an act of protest at a Cairo train station. She also founded the Wafdist Women’s Central Committee, which played a key role in Egypt’s independence from Britain.
Rosa Parks will forever be remembered for refusing to give up her seat on a racially-segregated bus, leading to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. After the boycott successfully helped end segregation in public spaces, Rosa Parks sought to educate the nation’s youth about civil rights. Her multiple awards include the NAACP’s highest honour and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award.
While her claim to fame is music, Beyoncé Knowles has also made her mark as an activist. She has advocated for women’s rights both off and on stage, one example being her 2014 VMA performance, which incorporated Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay “We Should All Be Feminists.” She has also made statements against police brutality, including in her iconic visual album “Lemonade.”
Winona LaDuke founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project in 1989, which has successfully returned over 1,400 acres of land to indigenous communities. She also founded the Indigenous Women’s Network, which aims to empower indigenous women in the United States and aided in the NoDAPL protests.
The youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner of all time, Malala Yousafzai, has become an icon in the battle for girls’ rights. At the age of 15, the Taliban attempted to assassinate her for demanding an education for herself and other girls. She has since addressed the United Nations, started the Malala Foundation, and published a book.
Emmeline Pankhurst paved the way to the voting booth for women in the United Kingdom. She founded the Women’s Social and Political Union, whose members were suffragettes. She and her followers went on protests and hunger strikes for their right to vote, making great strides for women throughout the UK.