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14 Inspiring women and the inspiring things they said

By Mary Scharffenberger and Anna Lemberger

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we thought we’d take the opportunity to round up some inspiring women activists who have both inspired us and made it possible for us to succeed in the work we do. May their words resonate through time and continue to inspire.

1. Kishida Toshiko

Japan, 1863-1901

Kishida Toshiko was a writer, women’s rights activist, and Japan’s first female orator. She began lecturing when she was just 20 years old! She was well known for her speech “Daughters Confined in Boxes” that criticized a family system that confined women at home.

2. Carrie Chapman Catt

United States, 1859-1947

Photo credit: Bettmann/CORBIS.

As president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Carrie Chapman Catt helped revitalize 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.

5. Eunice Shriver

United States, 1921-2009

Photo credit: EuniceKennedyShriver.org.There’s just something about those Kennedys and Eunice Kennedy Shriver is no exception. Shriver founded the Special Olympics in 1968 in honor 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. Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta

United States, 1930-

Photo credit: Harvey Richards.Dolores Huerta was first inspired towards activism while she was an elementary teacher in California. She noticed that many of her students, children of farm workers, were living in poverty without enough food to eat. Together with Cesar Chavez she founded the United Farm Workers Union and helped get Spanish-language ballots for voters, among other accomplishments.

7. Celia Cruz

Cuba, 1925-2003

Known as the “Queen of Salsa,” Celia Cruz was one of the most influential figures in the history of Cuban music. Although she’s not a traditional activist, her life was devoted to spreading Cuban music and culture which earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Eleven years after her death, she’s still a pioneer; Cruz was honored as the first Latin artist on the Apollo Theater’s Walk of Legends.

8. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Liberia, 1938-

Photo credit: Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank.

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. Cesária Évora

Cape Verde, 1941-2001

Photo credit: Joe Würfel/Lusafrica.

Cesária Évora is one of the greatest African vocalists of all time and was a WFP Ambassador Against Hunger. She was known for appearing barefoot on stage in support of the poor of Cape Verde. And we just love her soulful voice.

10. Aung San Suu Kyi

Burma, 1945-

Photo credit: Platon/Time.Can you imagine being locked away in your room for 15 years? Me neither, but it happened to this lady! Aung San Suu Kyi began speaking out in favor of the protests and rallies against the dictator U Ne Win and his policies, focusing her speeches on democracy and human rights. In retaliation U Ne Win’s military junta put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest with no communication with the outside world for almost 15 years. That certainly didn’t silence her.

11. Leymah Gbowee

Liberia, 1972-

Photo credit: Michael Angelo.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.

12. 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 and own land and businesses.

13. Chrissie Wellington

United Kingdom, 1977-

Photo credit: Tim Mantoani Photography.I’m always inspired by female athletes, mainly because I’m extremely un-athletic. 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.

14. Malala Yousafzai

Pakistan, 1997-

Photo credit: Global Moms Challenge.

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. Join the ONE Girls and Women movement and help make the world a better place for girls and women.

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