In the past, a girl’s birth is looked at with disdain. She is a burden, forced to work for her worth. And yet, despite these challenges, some women broke through these false narratives and became inspirations for many.
1. Dolores Huerta
The Mexican-American activist, Dolores Huerta, has been fighting racial and economic injustices towards farmworkers since her mid-twenties. Habitually overshadowed by her longtime collaborator, Cesar Chavez, Huerta was instrumental in negotiating better working conditions, acquiring healthcare benefits, and improving wages for farmworkers.
Her famous slogan, “Si Se Puede,” has been heard worldwide and continues to be a source of inspiration for marginalized people.
2. Madam C.J. Walker
Even though the self-made millionaire was a smart businesswoman, Madam C.J. Walker is famous for her contributions to haircare. Born to recently freed slaves, Walker had a rough childhood.
Her life, however, began to turn around after enrolling in Annie Turnbo Malone’s college. The school specialized in treating African-American hair. She went as far as Latin America to promote her products and built her company into the legacy it still stands today.
3. Julia de Burgos
Julia de Burgos is one of the most influential literary writers of the Caribbean and Latin America. While living in Puerto Rico, Burgos immersed herself in politics and became Secretary-General of the women’s Nationalist Party.
Her poetry spoke to the colonization of the island and her angst against the anti-feminism she routinely faced. As an outspoken Afro-Caribbean, Burgos works speak of the difficulties many women still encounter.
4. Ilene Chaiken
Unfortunately, up until recently, the LGBTQ+ community didn’t have as much representation on-screen as other marginalized communities. Ilene Chaiken, whether she intended to or not, played a part in ending that inequality.
As writer, director, and producer, Chaiken is popular the creator of The L Word, the first television show ever to have lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people as its’ ensemble cast.
5. Rigoberta Menchú Tum
Rigoberta Menchú Tum was born during a tumultuous time in Guatemala’s history. Under the military leadership of Efrain Rios Montt, over 200,000 people were slaughtered.
The young Menchú would accompany her father as he urged residents to organize against the government. In exile, she spoke out publicly about the crimes committed to the indigenous people in Guatemala, which ultimately led to Montt’s conviction of genocide.
6. Stephanie Kwolek
Bullet-proof vests, helmets, and gloves are all made from Kevlar, a multi-purpose material created by Stephanie Kwolek.
She was instructed to come up with fibers that could withstand extreme conditions, and Kwolek did exactly that. Kevlar is five times stronger than steel and is most notably used by law enforcement and military personnel. To date, her contribution has saved countless number of lives.
7. Wangari Maathai
Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, Wangari Maathai’s legacy can still be seen in Africa today.
She established the Green Belt Movement in the late 1970s with the mission to eradicate poverty while simultaneously conserving the environment through planting trees. Her initiative expanded over the years. Furthermore, other African countries followed her example by doing similar projects in their regions. Because of this, more than 20 million trees have been planted.
8. Katharine Burr Blodgett
This American physicist was not only the first woman ever to earn her doctorate at the University of Cambridge. She was also the first woman hired by General Electric (GE) as a scientist.
In her lifetime, Blodgett had 8 patents under her name for various inventions. The most notable was non-reflective glass, which has been successfully used in military equipment and undercover operations since.
9. Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo’s use of magic realism to depict her physical and emotional struggles has greatly influenced generations of artists. And, her use of Mayan and Aztec symbolism exposes the beauty of indigenous culture to those unfamiliar with it.
Though a painter and writer by vocation, her life choices paved the way for people all over the world yearning to live freely.
10. Malala Yousafzai
When the BBC wanted an inside look into Pakistan, they found a young girl more than willing to be their eyes. As the Taliban sought to ban girls’ education in her village, Yousafzai’s father encouraged her to speak out against these injustices. The Taliban attempted to silence her in 2012 but ultimately failed. Malala continues to be an advocate for education and equality.
The smallest of steps can have the biggest impact when done with passion. These women used their voices, bodies, and minds to create a life they wanted to live. As a result, they created the change we needed.