6 Influential Women’s Rights Activists Everyone Should Know

DFID - UK Department for International Development [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

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)]


  1. It’s powerful to see these influential women represented on here for viewers to learn about. Very nice article!

  2. I loved this article because it is very rare to see Marie Stopes written about in an article about historically influential women, and it was also exciting to see her in the same article as Malala Yousafzai. This was a great read, I learned about women I never knew before that are all from different cultures and backgrounds.

  3. This was a great article to read as we should all be informed and educated about the influential women of our past and present society. I found this article very interesting to read as I had not heard of some of these women before reading this. It is great to see Women fighting not only for women’s rights but also for those of all people in this world. Inspiring article!

  4. Articles like this open my eyes because it shows me more people that I have never heard of. These are such influential women doing good work so that every can live a life of equity.

  5. This is so interesting to me because I have never even heard of most of these women who shaped the world so impactfully. I am only familiar with those that helped with women’s rights in The United States. This really opens my eyes and make me want to look at more things through a global perspective.

  6. I love hearing about such influential and strong activists! I’d only heard of a few of these women, so I’m excited to do more research about their work.

  7. I learned a lot about feminism in general just by reading this article that highlights not only activists we should know but why they’re important and within what context. I think there’s a tendency to think of feminism as a modern concept when there are plenty of people throughout the world and throughout history, as exhibited in this article, who contribute meaningfully to conversations surrounding Feminist Activism. The only thing I want from this article, which is why it’s so great, is more examples of feminist activists!

  8. Great article! It’s amazing to see the number of influential activists for women’s rights. I love the global stance you took when writing about the activists. It allows readers who may not know much about other activists across the world to understand more about the strong women around the world.

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