In light of International Women’s Day, here are 8 revolutionary, empowering and down-right incredible women who have continuously fought to improve the lives of others.
Malala Yousafzai (1997 – present)
To kick off the list let’s turn to 20-year old Malala Yousafzai. At the age of 11, when many of us were still dabbling in the world of make believe, Malala was writing for BBC Urdu. She described life in Pakistan under Taliban occupation, which caught the attention of the New York Times. Sadly her activism also put her on the radar of the Taliban, leading to her attempted assassination in 2012. Malala was flown to Birmingham to recover and has now settled in the UK.
Her brush with death has not put Malala off of educational activism. She set up the Malala fund, campaigning for the right of all children to receive an education. Her work received global recognition when she became the youngest person to ever receive a Nobel Peace Prize, she truly is incredible! It is almost certain that the world will see more of Malala Yousafzai.
Jo Cox (1974 – 2016)
Tragically murdered in June 2016 while working as an MP, Jo Cox’s energy and integrity in all that she did, remain a source of inspiration. Jo was strongly opposed to British Involvement in the Syrian civil war, leading her to set up the parliamentary group, Friends of Syria. Before her life as an MP, she worked as Head of Policy and Advocacy at Oxfam. She travelled to many war torn countries to offer humanitarian aid.
After her death, her husband Brendan Cox wrote ‘More in Common’ and throughout the book, Jo’s zest for life is apparent. Her personal life seemed as inspiring as her professional. They lived on a canal boat, raised two lovely children and Jo even climbed a mountain whilst pregnant. This book is definitely worth a read!
Princess Sophia Duleep Singh (1876 – 1948)
The term ‘Suffragette’ tends to invoke images of petticoated women breaking windows or the slightly hysterical mother in Mary Poppins. However Sophia Duleep Singh defies all these stereotypes. Born into Indian royalty, the Princess didn’t let her lofty upbringing stop her activism. She disagreed with women paying taxes, when they were not represented with the vote. Upon moving to London, she led the women’s tax resistance league and funded many suffrage groups. Her life in London, although far from her royal existence in India, was full of achievements. Particularly when she took over from Emmeline Pankhurst as president of the Committee of Suffragette Fellowship in 1928.
Bette Davis (1908 – 1989)
Remembered mostly for her perpetual chain-smoking and legendary feud with Joan Crawford, Bette Davis’ fiery convictions are sometimes forgotten. She was instrumental in bringing down the restrictive contract system of old Hollywood, which gave actors no choice over roles or working hours. She took Warner Brother’s to court over the lack of freedom in her contract. Although she lost the case, the standard was set and several other actors followed in her footsteps and working conditions improved.
Bette was a strong defender of Black Rights. During WW2 she set up the Hollywood Canteen to entertain visiting service men. Amid opposition, she insisted that there should be no segregation in the club. Thanks to her determination, service men of all colour were able to enjoy a break from the war effort.
Jacinda Ardern (1980 – Present)
When 37-year old Jacinda Ardern was elected as the new Labour PM of New Zealand in 2017, she was declared the youngest ever female world leader! Although she was raised as a Mormon, she decided to leave the church as she disagreed so strongly with their views of same sex marriage. Jacinda is tackling climate change, increasing New Zealand’s refugee intake and working continuously to reduce child poverty, all the while pregnant with her first baby.
As if Jacinda isn’t already cool enough, before her political career she used to work as a DJ. She performed sets at several festivals, notably Laneway in Auckland in 2014.
Harriet Tubman (1822 – 1913)
The achievements of Harriet Tubman deserve wider recognition. Born a slave in 19th century America, it wasn’t until 1849 that Harriet managed to escape her harsh existence. Once free, she returned to her captive home repeatedly to liberate her fellow slaves. She used safe houses to smuggle nearly 70 people to freedom.
When the American civil war dawned, Harriet saw it as a chance to abolish slavery for good. It wasn’t long before she was involved on the side on the Union, first as a nurse, then as a scout. In 1863 she became the first women to lead an armed assault during the civil war. Her efforts were rewarded; 750 slaves were freed following the raid! She is remembered today for her incredible work to improve civil rights and bring equality to a racially divided America.
The podcast ‘The Guilty Feminist’ is your one-stop-shop for learning about inspirational women. Deborah Francis-White hosts the show and invites guests to speak about their feminist hypocrisies and meaningful work. Deborah achieves the perfect balance between humour and serious, somehow making topics such as Weinstein, sexism and democracy easy listening! She is a big supporter of inclusion, making sure that the podcast has guests of all sexualities and ethnicities.
Millicent Fawcett (1847 – 1929)
The militant Suffragettes may be well-known, but their moderate sister movement, the Suffragists are not. Millicent Fawcett was their leader and paved the way for the Suffragettes by peacefully drawing public attention to the women’s vote campaign. She was a progressive woman, already fighting for proportional representation and trade unions in the early 20th century. Even after women received the vote, Millicent Fawcett didn’t put her feet up. She travelled to South Africa to investigate and improve conditions in post-war concentration camps.