I did a blog post about inspiring African feminists a while ago, but there are so many other inspiring women out there that I decided to do a follow-up post, this time about non-African women, who are worth knowing.
1. Emma Watson:
Best known for portraying Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series (who, by the way, is one fierce and powerful woman herself), Emma Watson is so much more than a pretty actress. She has a Bachelors Degree in English Literature from Brown University and is a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. It is in this role that she launched the ‘He For She’ campaign, which calls for men to advocate for gender equality. Watch her launch speech here.
2. Malala Yousafzai:
Malala Yousafzai is best known as the girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban when she was 16 years old for standing up for the education of girls in her native village in Pakistan. She has since won the Nobel Peace Prize (the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate) for her advocacy for the rights of women and children to receive an education. (Fun fact: Malala, only in 2015 after hearing Emma Watson’s He for She speech at the UN, decided to call herself a feminist, even though she had been fighting for the rights of women for years by then.)
3. Sheryl Sandberg:
Sheryl is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook and the founder of the Lean in Foundation, which aims to help women achieve their goals. It focuses on three areas: community, education and small peer groups where women are able to learn from one another. Sheryl became the first woman to serve on the Board of Directors of Facebook when she was voted onto the Board in 2012. She had previously served as the Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google. She is considered to be one of the most influential women in Silicon Valley.
4. Oprah Winfrey:
Oprah is best known for her talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, but is also an actress (she was nominated for an Oscar for her role in The Color Purple), media mogul who owns her own television network (The Oprah Winfrey Network) and magazine (O, the Oprah Magazine) and philanthropist. Oprah managed to enter the world of media when it was dominated largely by white males and is credited with inspiring other minorities such as non-white women and non-heterosexual women and men to enter the world of media as well. She was awarded Honorary Doctorates by Harvard and Duke University.
5. Michelle Obama:
Michelle Obama is the first African American first lady of the USA, wife of Barack Obama. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School and is a lawyer and writer. She is an advocate for women’s and LGBT rights and is particularly passionate about healthy living. She is an avid believer in education and in a TED Talk, she pleads with students to take education seriously.
6. Hillary Clinton:
Hillary Clinton is the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party for the 2016 USA National Elections. She made history by being the first female in the USA’s history to be the presidential nominee of a major political party. Hillary holds a postgraduate degree in Law from Yale University and became the first female partner at Rose Law Firm in 1979. She became the first female senator of New York in 2000 and served as Secretary of State to the Barack Obama administration from 2009-2013 after losing the Democratic Party’s 2008 presidential nomination to him.
7. Maya Angelou:
Maya Angelou (deceased) was an African American poet, author and civil rights activist. She has published plays, poems, essays and books, the most famous being a series of biographies, one of which is ‘I know why the caged bird sings’, which portrays her life up until the age of 17. Having grown up in an abusive household, her works have lent a voice to other black women who have come from similar backgrounds.
8. Coretta Scott King:
The wife of Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King (deceased) was also an activist, author and civil rights leader. After Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, she took on the leadership of the struggle for equal rights herself and was instrumental in the fight for racial equality in the USA. Afterwards, she became active in the Women’s Rights and LGBT Movements and publicly voiced her opposition to Apartheid in South Africa. She is still referred to as ‘The First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement’. She was also an accomplished singer.
9. Coco Chanel:
Coco Chanel (deceased) was a fashion designer and founder of the Chanel brand. She is credited with liberating women from restrictive clothing by designing and popularising more comfortable and chic wear. Her pants suits inspired women to wear more comfortable clothing and her designs were specifically intended to enable women to go about their daily business without exposing areas which they did not want exposed. Chanel is still considered to be the biggest name in fashion.
10. Gloria Steinem:
One cannot discuss feminism without talking about Gloria Steinem, who is widely considered to be the face of feminism. After the Civil Rights Movement, Steinem published an article ‘After Black Power, Women’s Liberation’, which catapulted her to fame as the voice and face of the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. A qualified journalist, her first article was about how women were forced to choose between a career and marriage, an issue which is still rife in many parts of the world today. Steinem now travels the world as a lecturer and spokeswoman on the issues pertaining to the equality of women.
11. Billie Jean King:
Billie Jean King is one of the most successful tennis players of all time, having won 39 Grand Slam titles. In 1972, she was the first tennis player and first woman to be named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the year. King was a champion for women’s rights and in 1973, she won the exhibition match ‘The Battle of the Sexes’ against Bobby Riggs, which she played over 5 sets (women usually only play 3 sets) after Riggs claimed that the women’s game was so inferior to the men’s game that he could beat the current top female tennis players at his age (he was 55 years old at the time). King was the founder of the Women’s Tennis Association, co-founder of World Team Tennis and the founder of the Women’s Sports Federation. King has had an abortion because she did not believe that her marriage was strong enough to carry a child and subsequently came out as gay. She has since been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for her work in advocating for the rights of women and the LGBT community.
12. Benazir Bhutto:
Benazir Bhutto (deceased) served as Prime Minister of Pakistan for two non-consecutive terms. She was the first democratically elected female leader of a majority Islamic nation and was the founder of her own political party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). She attended both Harvard and Oxford. She was assassinated in 2007, two weeks before the general elections of 2008. She was the leader in the race and was projected to win the election at that point. (Fun fact: Benazir Bhutto was a childhood hero of Malala Yousafzai’s, who also hopes to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan one day).
13. Marie Curie:
Marie Curie (deceased) was a Polish chemist and physicist who conducted ground-breaking research into radioctivity. In 1903, she won the Nobel Prize in Physics (becoming the first woman ever to win a Nobel Prize). In 1911 she won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry and is still one of only two people ever to win two Nobel Prizes. Together, the Curie family has won 5 Nobel Prizes. Marie Curie, regardless of her achievements, was not elected to the Academy of Sciences by virtue of her gender and the French press vilified her for being a foreigner and an atheist. In 1906, Marie Curie became the first female professor at the University of Paris. In 1934, she passed away from aplastic anemia, which is believed to have been caused by a prolonged exposure to radiation. (Fun fact: many of her papers from the 1890s are considered to be too dangerous to handle because of their prolonged exposure to radiation. Those who wish to consult them must wear protective clothing.)
14. Muzoon Almellehan:
Muzoon Alnmellehan is a seventeen year old Syrian refugee who, whilst living in a refugee camp, was advocating for the rights of girls in the camp to have an education instead of being married off. While in the camp, she was encouraging girls to focus on their studies and to prioritise getting an education before getting married as a method of having some independence and a method of escape should their marriages not work. She and her family currently have asylum in the UK, but she hopes to return to Syria after obtaining a degree in journalism to help rebuild the war-torn country. (Fun fact: she has been dubbed the Syrian Malala for her work and is close friends with Malala herself.)
15. Jessica Valenti:
Jessica Valenti is a feminist writer and blogger. She is well known for her blog ‘Feministing’, which she started in 2004. She has also authored and/or co-authored a number of books on women’s issues, the latest one being ‘Sex Object: A Memoir’. Other books include ‘The Purity Myth’, ‘Why Have Kids’ and ‘Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape’. She has a Masters Degree in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers University and currently works for The Guardian as a daily columnist.