James Brown has said, “this is a man’s world,” but here are 8 women who’ve changed the world we live in today. They have revolutionized everyday tasks with their inventions, smashed the glass ceiling to smithereens in the business world, fought for our rights and continue to push for further inclusion and diversity. Take a look.
Here are women who have left a mark on the world that would change people’s thinking for decades — in some cases centuries — to come.
Originally from Macedonia, Mother Teresa was a Catholic nun. Although she spent the majority of her life in India, her international charity work included helping evacuate hospital patients in war torn Lebanon, doing earthquake relief in Armenia and ministering to famine victims in Ethiopia. She founded the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to helping the sick and poor. Among many other honors, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace.” In 2016, Mother Teresa was declared a saint in a canonization Mass held by Pope Francis in the Vatican.
- Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, General Aung San and she became involved in politics and activism after being inspired by the non-violent campaigns of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. In 1988, during a time of major political upheaval in Myanmar, she organized rallies calling for peaceful democratic reform and free elections. However, the demonstrations were brutally suppressed by the army, who seized power in a 1988 coup, and Aung San Suu Kyi, as Chairperson of the opposition party, was placed under house arrest.
She is one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners having been under house arrest for almost 15 until her most recent release in 2010. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her commitment to peaceful resistance against military-ruled Myanmar, and for a life spent championing democracy and human rights.
- Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani advocate for girls education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. In 2009, when Malala was just eleven she began blogging about life under the Taliban, speaking out directly against their threats to close girls’ schools. Pakistan has the second highest number of children out of school and two-thirds of them are female. The blog on BBC Urdu garnered international attention while also making her the target of death threats. In October 2012, a gunman shot her and two other girls as they were coming home from school. Malala survived the attack and in 2013 published an autobiography, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. In October 2014, Yousafzai received the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.
She was the first female prime minister of India. The charismatic and epoch-making personality of Indira Gandhi left her imprint not only in the affairs of her own country but also in international affairs. She belonged to that noble galaxy of great leaders who wielded extraordinary power. Indira Gandhi was an Indian to the core but at the same time her vision went far beyond her own nation and embraced the entire human race. By virtue of being the Prime Minister of India, the largest democracy in the world, she was able to make a significant contribution to the practice of inter-national relations. She enjoyed well-deserved prestige and profound respect on the international scene.
She was in power from between 1966–77 and 1980–84. She championed the cause of international peace, disarmament, anti-colonialism and anti-racialism. Under her dynamic stewardship India’s voice was heard with respect in various international oranisations and forums. Accused of authoritarian tendencies she only narrowly avoided a military coup by agreeing to hold an election at the end of the “emergency period” of 1977. She was assassinated in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards, in response to her storming of the Golden Temple.
- Kiran Bedi
Kiran Bedi was born and bred in the holy city of Amritsar, Punjab. She is a social activist and the first woman IPS officer in the country. She has not only served her department with full conviction, but has also made whole-hearted contribution to many social causes. A former tennis player, the multi-talented social activist from Amritsar is credited for bringing down the number of crimes against women in West Delhi during her service. She introduced several reforms at Tihar Jail, which gained worldwide acclaim and won her the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1994. In 2003, Kiran became the first Indian woman to be appointed as a Police Advisor to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in the Department of Peace Keeping Operations. She resigned in 2007 to focus on social activism and writing. She has written several books, and runs the India Vision Foundation.
- Irom Sharmila
Irom Sharmila popularly known as the “Iron Lady of Manipur” is the most recognizable face of the conflict-ridden state in the North East. In spite of not clearing her class XII, she has become an “icon of public resistance” in her state. For Irom, her father has had a great influence in her life. On November 2, 2000, she began a hunger strike after the “Malom Massacre” where 10 people were killed, which had a major impact on her. Having refused food and water for more than 500 weeks, she has been recognized as “the world’s longest hunger striker”. On International Women’s Day, 2014 she was voted as the top woman icon of India by MSN Poll. Though Irom has refused both water and food, the government continues to force feed her. Every year, she is arrested on charges of attempt to suicide and her resolve hasn’t broken yet.
- Laxmi Agarwal
Laxmi Agarwal is an Indian campaigner with Stop Acid Attacks and a TV host. She is an acid attack survivor and speaks for the rights of acid attack victims. She was attacked in 2005, at age 15, by a 32-year-old man whose advances she had rejected. She has also advocated against acid attacks through gathering 27,000 signatures for a petition to curb acid sales and taking that cause to the Indian Supreme Court. Her petition led the Supreme Court to order the central and state governments to regulate the sale of acid, and the Parliament to make prosecutions of acid attacks easier to pursue. She is the director of Chhanv Foundation, a NGO dedicated to help the survivors of acid attacks in India. Laxmi received a 2014 International Women of Courage award by US First Lady Michelle Obama. She was also chosen as the NDTV Indian of the Year. She is also the face of Viva and Diva, promoting all girls to reflect on their inner beauty rather than exterior appearance.
- Shaheen Mistri
Shaheen is the CEO of Teach for India and the Founder of Akanksha Founder. She has earned global recognition for her dedication and commitment to the fight for educational equity. Born in Mumbai to a Parsi family, she had an international upbringing. However, she soon realized that children living in the Mumbai’s city slums lacked access to quality education and were deprived of the skills necessary to compete in India’s formal, competitive job market. She founded the first Akanksha Centre in 1989, a non-profit education project that provides after-school tutoring to children from low-income communities. As the recognition of Akanksha’s work grew, Shaheen saw an opportunity to expand her reach even further and work for more transformative changes she launched Teach For India in 2008. Since then, the organization has recruited, trained, and placed nearly 1,700 Fellows in schools across seven cities. Shaheen is an Ashoka Fellow (2001), a Global Leader for Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum (2002), and an Asia Society 21 Leader (2006). She also serves on the boards of Ummeed. Shaheen has a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Manchester, England.
You are fearless, you are strong, you are a tigress on the prowl, what’s stopping you from changing the world?