Not long ago, women were not allowed to take part in competitions, sports, vote, or work outside the home. For many years, women have been assigned a domestic role for the exclusive care of the children and the house.
Officialized by the United Nations (UN) in 1975, the so-called International Women’s Day has been celebrated since the beginning of the 20th century.
Nowadays, the date is increasingly remembered as a day to claim gender equality.
Protests take place around the world – bringing it back to its origin in the struggle of women who worked in factories in the United States and some countries in Europe.
There is still a long way to tread in order to obtain a gender-equal society, however, much has already changed thanks to the efforts of pioneering and determined women all around the world.
To celebrate and get inspired on this 8th of March, here is a list of 10 influential women in history.
1. Marie Curie (1867 – 1934) – Twice Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry
The Polish scientist was the first woman to be buried in the Pantheon in Paris on her own merits. Not surprisingly, since she was a pioneer in several aspects: she was the one who discovered two elements of the periodic table (Polonium and Radio), she discovered and coined the theory of relativity, she was also the first professor admitted to the University of Paris and the first person to receive the Nobel Prize twice.
2. Joan of Arc (1412 – 1431) – Military Head of the 100 Years War in France
From a very humble background, the French Joan of Arc went from being an illiterate peasant to the head of an army during the 100 Years War, quite an achievement for her short life. One of France’s leading martyrs, she was executed as a heretic in 1431 to centuries later, be canonized by the Catholic Church in 1920. Today she is considered a saint.
3. Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005) – Symbol activist of the black civil rights movement in the USA
Rosa Parks became the pivot of the Montgomery bus boycott, which ended the city’s public transport racial segregation law. In the 1950s, many North American cities maintained this law, which divided seats between “whites” and “people of colour”, a term used at the time to refer to people of African descent. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man and was arrested. The case echoed in the 381-day boycott, with the black community refusing to use transportation until the segregation ended.
4. Valentina Tereshkova (1937 – ) – The first woman to go to space
Not only the first woman to go to space but also until nowadays she is the only person who performed a solo flight. The Russian Valentina Tereshkova stood out among other candidates with more studies for being an accomplished skydiver, something fundamental for the flight with the Vostok VI spacecraft. He received the two biggest national decorations, the Order of Lenin and Hero of the Soviet Union. Years later he entered the country’s political life.
5. Bertha Von Suttner (1843 – 1914) – The first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize
Author of the novel Die Waffen nieder! Down with the weapons! Bertha Von Suttner brought together in this work her two greatest passions: literature and the struggle for disarmament. The writer was involved in organizing the first International Peace Congress in Vienna and has always been present in subsequent editions. He published a newspaper dedicated to Peace with the same name as the novel and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905.
6. Kathrine Switzer (1947 – ) The first woman to participate in a marathon
Kathrine Switzer defied the rules and became the first woman to run a marathon in 1967, in Boston when only men were allowed to participate in street competitions in the USA. One of the event’s directors tried to stop her from running but was blocked by other competitors, all in front of the cameras. After this achievement, the athlete created the 261 Fearless foundation for the fight for gender equality in sports.
7. Maria da Penha (1945 – ) – Leader of women’s rights movements
The Maria da Penha Law in defence of victims of domestic violence exists today in Brazil largely because of this woman’s struggle to ensure that her aggressor was convicted. Maria da Penha was the victim of serious aggressions by her husband who left her paraplegic. This did not prevent her from acting in search of justice for her case and from creating movements in defence of other victims.
8. Malala Yousafzai (1997 – ) – The youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize
Internationally known for her commitment to Pakistani women and children to receive an education, even though it is against the orders of the Taliban regime. Malala Yousafzai received the Nobel Peace Prize when she was just 17 years old, in 2014. Her activism started very early, with only 11 years old she already wrote reports about the Taliban occupation, and at 15 she suffered an attack due to her actions activists.
9. Maud Stevens Wagner (1877 – 1961) – The first professional tattoo artist
The first known tattoo artist, Maud Stevens Wagner was a circus acrobat when she met her husband Gus Wagner, with whom he learned the craft of tattooing. It is attributed to both the expansion of the tattoo in the interior of the United States.
10. Yoani Sánchez (1975 – ) – Cuban Journalist
Known mainly for the articles he has published on his blog Generación Y since 2007, Yoani Sánchez fights for freedom of expression in Cuba. In the country where politics are centralized in the Cuban Communist Party, the media also ends up being controlled. Yoani was able to take internal information outside the country and became an important voice for Cuba’s rapprochement with the United States.
If you wish to know other influential women in history, a good start is a book called Good night stories for rebel girls, which also has a podcast version, available on the following platforms: spotify, apple podcasts and pandora.