Contrary to popular (ahem, my) belief, Girl Power was not invented in 1995 by five spicy British gals in platform heels. Amazing girls and women have existed forever. There are some who have received the recognition they deserve, e.g. Joan of Arc, Marie Curie. However, there are countless others who are not so well known.
In celebration of the United Nation’s International Day of the Girl Child, we’ve put together a list of awe-inspiring women who have changed the world – albeit, quietly.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI (1997)
Even though she’s not technically ‘historical’, Malala Yousafzi did make history by becoming the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate at age 17.
Malala is a young woman from Pakistan who campaigned for the rights of girls to education. She survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban and has since become a global advocate for women’s rights, particularly in terms of education.
PATRICIA BATH (1942-)
Patricia Bath invented a device for removing cataracts quickly and painlessly using a laser. She is also credited with the following:
- First woman to lead a post-graduate ophthalmology training program;
- First African-American person to serve as an ophthalmology resident at New York University; and
- First African -American doctor to receive a medical patent.
ROBERTA “BOBBI” GIBB (1942-)
Bobbi Gibb was the first woman to run the full Boston Marathon in 1966. It almost didn’t happen, however, because the 1966 Boston Athletic Association denied her a bib on the grounds that women were “not physiologically able” to run long distances.
Luckily, Bobbi thought this was a load of hogwash. On the day of the race, she hid behind a tree and snuck into the race alongside the male competitors – beating over two-thirds of them!
AMELIA BLOOMER (1818-1894)
Anita Bloomer made important and enduring changes to the way women dressed through her work as a gender equality activist.
She started her own newspaper, The Lily, which supported women’s suffrage and also promoted the idea that women should dress for comfort and not to please men or adhere to societal standards. As such, she insisted that women swap petticoats and corsets for flowy tops, skirts and pants.
So this means that we ladies only have ourselves to blame if we choose to stumble around in tight skirts and 7-inch kitten heels.
Fun fact – the “bloomer” is named after her, even though she didn’t invent them.
ZELDA FITZGERALD (1900-1948)
The fact that she is often referred to as a “muse” for her more famous husband, author F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), severely understates the influences that Zelda Fitzgerald had on the literary world. It’s not widely known that her hubby actually stole excerpts from her diary to use in his books, some of which provided the books’ most genius lines.
She did publish many of her own works, but never reached her husband’s levels of fame.
ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF (1938-)
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first elected female head of state in Africa.
Her journey to the top was not an easy one. With four kids and a physically abusive husband, she managed to scratch together the funds to study in the US, eventually attaining a Masters degree from Harvard. She returned to Liberia and became President.
As a president elected by women, Ms Sirleaf enforced one of the most comprehensive anti-rape laws in Africa and established a fast-track court to deal with gender-based violence.
SORGHAGHTANI BEKI (c. 1190)
This remarkable lady embodies the saying that behind every great man (and in this case, great empire) is an even greater woman.
The daughter-in-law of Genghis Khan (ruler of the Mongol Empire) and mother of Kublai Khan (first Yuan Emperor), Sorghaghtani’s influence over pivotal moments in the mighty Mongol Empire means that she may just be the most powerful woman in history.
Although she herself was illiterate, she emphasised the importance of education for her sons. She also encouraged them to support rather than exploit the non-Mongol peasants in the lands they controlled. Sorghaghtani is cited as the reason that her sons practiced religious tolerance – a rare concept for occupying forces, even today.
CLAUDETTE COLVIN (1939-)
Mary Seacole was born and raised in slave-era Jamaica to a Scottish father and free black Jamaican mother. Seacole moved to England in 1854, and asked the War Office if she could help injured soldiers fighting in the Crimean War. She was refused.
Undeterred, she raised money herself and travelled to the Ukraine to look after wounded soldiers. Here, she cared for British soldiers who had been injured. Through her caring and sunny persona, she gained the affectionate nickname “Mother Seacole”.
MARIA BEASLEY (DOB unknown)