Throughout the history of the world, women have struggled to gain basic human rights. Here, we honor six women who’ve led or are currently leading movements around the globe.
“I don’t study to know more, but to ignore less.” –Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is a powerful figure for women’s intellectual rights. The 17th-century self-taught scholar, nun and writer is considered to be Mexico’s first feminist. Her most famous works include her plays, which starred bold and heroic women, and her poems “Hombres Necios Que Acusáis,” and “ Primero Sueño.” Known for defending women’s rights to attain knowledge, one of her most famous quotes remarks, “One can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper.”
“African women in general need to know that it’s OK for them to be the way they are – to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence.” – Dr. Wangari Maathai
Dr. Wangari Maathai was an activist, mother, and scientist from Kenya who became the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work towards sustainable development and democracy. She promoted democracy and fought to defend human rights to ensure equality between men and women. She helped the women of Kenya learn to plant trees in hopes that they would gain more control over their lives. For each tree that was successfully grown outside of the nursery, the planters earned money to help gain economic independence.
Photo: Demosh [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
“I speak not for myself but for those without voice… those who have fought for their rights… their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.” – Malala Yousafzai
From a young age, Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban in Pakistan by speaking out about how girls should be allowed to receive an education. In 2012, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman — and survived. And continued speaking out. She began blogging for BBC about living under Taliban rule and forged ahead in her work advocating for women’s rights and education. Her efforts led to her winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
Photo: DFID – UK Department for International Development [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
“You can take no credit for beauty at sixteen. But if you are beautiful at sixty, it will be your soul’s own doing.” –Marie Stopes
Marie Stopes was a leading advocate of women’s rights and birth control. A British author and palaeobotanist who worked to popularize the importance of the use of contraceptives, Stopes works include her books Married Love and Wise Parenthood. Her work was condemned by the church and other mainstream societal outlets, but that did not affect her success. Stopes later opened the United Kingdom’s first family planning clinic in 1921.
“Law and justice are not always the same. When they aren’t, destroying the law may be the first step toward changing it.” – Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem is a social activist, writer, editor and lecturer. Outspoken on women’s rights since the late 1960s, she once went undercover as waitress to expose New York City’s Playboy Club for Show magazine. She also cofounded Ms. magazine. In 1971, Steinem joined other prominent feminists in forming the National Women’s Political Caucus. She continues working toward social justice to this day.
Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]
“When you deprive people of their right to live in dignity, to hope for a better future, to have control over their lives, when you deprive them of that choice, then you expect them to fight for these rights.” -Queen Rania of Jordan
Queen Rania of Jordan is best known for her advocacy work in education and public health, as well as being outspoken on “honor killings.” She has become a progressive female voice in the Arab world and a powerful advocate for education reform, public health reform and cross-cultural dialogue.
Photo: Frédéric de Villamil from Paris, France [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]