13 Women Activists Who Changed the World for the Better

3 Pictures Of Female Activists Who Changed The World For the Better: Simone Biles, Rosa Parks & Nadie Murad

Women are a force to be reckoned with. In fact, there’s countless data to prove that educated and empowered women are the driving force behind positive change in their communities. 

Interestingly, a study by the World Health Organization revealed that societies where women lead at the same rate as men see lower mortality rates and better mental health for all — including men!  McKinsey & Company found that diverse workplaces are more productive and more profitable. And the United Nations reported that when women are given equal access to education, poverty rates drop. 

Time and again, the message is clear: When women succeed, everyone succeeds. 

In this list, Good Good Good celebrates the work of historic and modern-day heroines and their lasting economic, cultural, and environmental impacts on the world. 

Meet These Women Activists Who Fought for Rights

Malala Yousafzai

A Picture Of Malala Yousafzai Speaking And Smiling
Photo courtesy of Southbank Centre (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani human rights activist who has spent years championing equal access to education. 

Born in Mingora, Pakistan in 1997, Yousafzai grew up in a time of turmoil as the Taliban was sweeping control of the country and banning girls from going to school. 

Despite her young age, Yousafzai found inspiration in her father — a teacher — and spoke up publicly about education injustice while continuing to attend school. 

In 2012, at the age of 15, she was riding the bus home from school when a masked gunman accosted her and shot her in the head. After months of rehabilitation, she made a full recovery and relocated to the United Kingdom to continue her fight for equal education rights. 

She would go on to become the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate in 2014 and continues her work as a human rights activist today. 

“This award is not just for me,” Yousafzai said in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech. “It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change. I’m here to stand up for their rights, to raise their voice.”

Helen Rodríguez-Trías

A Black And White Picture Of Helen Rodriguez Trias Smiling
Photo courtesy of National Center for Biotechnology Information (PD)

Dr. Helen Rodríguez-Trías dedicated her life to women’s health care and reproductive rights and was the first Latina director of the American Public Health Association. 

Rodríguez-Trías was born in New York City in 1929 and spent the majority of her childhood in Puerto Rico. She returned to the island many times in her adult life and became a prominent figure in the Puerto Rican independence movement.

In 1947, Rodríguez-Trías graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a medical degree and founded Puerto Rico’s first child care center for newborns. Due to her accomplishments in localized healthcare, Rodríguez-Trías halved Puerto Rico’s child mortality rate within three years. 

Rodriguez-Trias pursued a lifelong career in healthcare. In the 1970s, she founded the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse and the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse.

“I hope I’ll see in my lifetime a growing realization that we are one world,” Rodríguez-Trías once said. “And that no one is going to have quality of life unless we support everyone’s quality of life.” 

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson was an outspoken human rights advocate and Black transgender activist who was crucial to the Stonewall Uprising of 1969

Johnson was born in New Jersey in 1945 to a working-class family of seven and grew up in an era where LGBTQ+ rights were under constant attack and it was illegal to even dance with someone of the same gender. 

Johnson was only 23 years old when she was at the front lines of the New York City Stonewall Inn riots. During a police raid of the Stonewall Inn bar, Marsha began the uprising and encouraged fellow patrons to fight back against the cops. 

A beloved fixture of the Greenwich Village community, Johnson was a famous drag queen who continued leading the charge for gay rights in weekly rallies and protests. 

Today, a memorial bust of Johnson stands opposite the Stonewall Inn in Christopher Park. The plaque bears the iconic Johnson quote:

“History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable, it happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities.” 

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a famed marine biologist and policy expert who has shifted the modern political landscape with an optimistic, grounded approach to climate solutions. 

A Brooklyn native born in 1980, Johnson is a Harvard and Scripps Institution of Oceanography scholar who has dedicated her career to ocean conservation that is centered on social justice. 

In 2o13, Johnson co-founded the Blue Halo Initiative and spent a decade working with Caribbean fishing communities. She led the first-ever successful ocean zoning project in the Caribbean, which placed protections on the coastal waters of Barbuda. 

In “All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis,” Johnson curated over a dozen poems and essays from women all around the world and honed in on the intersectional voices driving modern climate movement. 

Her writing has been featured in various publications including The Guardian, Scientific American, and The New York Times, and she also hosts the “How to Save a Planet” podcast. 

“To care about a changing climate we don’t have to be a tree-hugger or an environmentalist,” Johnson wrote in “All We Can Save.” “As long as we are a human alive today, then who we already are, and what we already care about, gives us all the reasons we need.” 

Patsy Mink

A Black And White Picture Of Patsy Mink Smiling
Photo courtesy of J Curnow on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED)

Congresswoman Patsy Takemoto Mink was a record-breaking government figure and staunch advocate for equal education. 

A third-generation Japanese-American, Mink was born on the island of Maui in 1927. Despite having early aspirations to become a physician, Mink was rejected from over a dozen medical schools because of her gender. 

Mink eventually changed course and applied to law school. Post-graduation, Mink faced sexism and racism as she applied to law firms across the country and was denied time and again. 

Mink set up a solo practice and became active in the Democratic Party of Hawaii throughout the 1950s. In 1964, she accomplished trifold milestones for the U.S. government and became the first woman from Hawaii, the first Asian-American woman, and the first woman of color ever elected to Congress. 

Mink would go on to be a four-term member of Congress and was pivotal in defending Title IX of the Education Amendments, which protected students from discrimination on the basis of sex. 

In a campaign leaflet from 1977, Mink proclaimed: “I have been guided by a single principle: That everyone—rich or poor, powerful or weak—should get fair and equal treatment from government.”

Lucy Stone 

A Vintage Photograph Of Lucy Stone
Photo by Sumner Bradley Heald /Photo courtesy of Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (CC0 1.0 DEED)

Lucy Stone was a lifelong feminist and suffragist who worked hard for equal rights for men and women, regardless of race. 

Born in Massachusetts in 1818, Stone was raised as one of nine children. Her father was a veteran of the American Revolution and a staunch abolitionist. 

When Stone graduated from Oberlin College in 1847, she had a strong passion for public speaking. At nearly 30 years old, Stone was hired by William Lloyd Garrison to deliver abolitionist speeches for the American Anti-Slavery Society. 

In 1850, Stone organized the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Massachusetts. She traveled the lecture circuit for years, delivering speeches on gender equality. 

In 1869, Stone diverged from her contemporaries Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony when she supported the passage of the 15th Constitutional Amendment, which granted Black men the right to vote. 

In her final address to the public, Stone said: “Now all we need is to continue to speak the truth fearlessly, and we shall add to our number those who will turn the scale to the side of equal and full justice in all things.”

Greta Thunberg

A Picture Of Greta Thunberg Speaking Into A Microphone
Photo by Stefan Müller (Climate Stuff) on Flickr /Photo courtesy of Stefan Müller (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Greta Thunberg is one of the leading voices for climate activism in the world today and has been fighting for climate justice since she was just 15 years old

Born in Stockholm, Sweden in 2003, Thunberg took an early interest in global politics and climate change. In 2018, Thunberg skipped school for three weeks to camp out in front of the Swedish Parliament. 

As the days passed, hundreds of thousands of students around the globe joined Thunberg in her “School Strike for Climate,” and she gained worldwide recognition. 

Thunberg used her new platform early and often, speaking at climate panels and challenging world leaders to take action against climate disasters. 

Years later, Thunberg remains outspoken about environmental rights and continues to organize protests and raise funds for crisis relief. Twice in the past summer, Thunberg has been fined and arrested for police disobedience after refusing to abandon protest sites. 

“We will not let you get away with this,” Thunberg said at the U.N. Climate Action Summit in 2019. “Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.” 

Maya Angelou

A Black And White Picture Of Maya Angelou Speaking
Photo by Brian Stansberry (CC BY 3.0 DEED)

Maya Angelou was a beloved poet, author, and activist who was foundational to the Civil Rights Movement. 

Angelou was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1928 and grappled with mutism for six foundational years of her childhood in the wake of severe trauma. As she grew up, Angelou became fascinated with literature and wrote constantly. 

Amidst World War II and an absence of men in the workforce, Angelou tirelessly applied to jobs day after day until she was hired as the first African-American woman to work as a streetcar conductor in San Francisco. 

In 1969, Angelou published her lauded autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and sparked a national conversation about gender, race, and sexual abuse. 

Across eight decades, Angelou wrote countless poems, essays, and memoirs that encompassed prejudice, discrimination, and the triumph of the human condition. 

“Do the best you can until you know better,” Angelou famously told Oprah Winfrey. “Then when you know better, do better.” 

Simone Biles

A Picture Of Simone Biles Smiling Showing Her Gold Medal And Holding A Bouquet Of Roses
Photo by Abelardo Mendes Jr / Photo courtesy of Ministerio do Esporte (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED)

Simone Biles is a highly decorated Olympic athlete who has used her platform to spread mental health awareness, support children in the foster care system, and advocate for victims of sexual assault. 

Born in Texas in 1997, Biles began training in gymnastics at the age of 6. At 19 years old, Biles competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and became the first American Olympian — and the sixth female gymnast of all time — to win four gold medals in the same year. 

Due to stress and a disorienting diagnosis of “the twisties,” Biles withdrew from a majority of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic competitions. 

With a global spotlight on her mental health, Biles handled the pressure with poise and urged young people in similar circumstances to seek out support systems and “use every outlet given to you.”

A year later, Biles gave a powerful testimony in the sexual abuse prosecution of former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and condemned multiple organizations for their negligence. 

“We have been failed, and we deserve answers,” Biles told U.S. lawmakers in May 2022. “Nassar is where he belongs, but those who enabled him deserve to be held accountable. If they are not, I am convinced that this will continue to happen to others across Olympic sports.”

Nadia Murad

A Picture Of Nadia Murad Speaking At #ForSurvivors
Photo courtesy of Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Nadia Murad is one of the leading voices against human trafficking and global terrorism in the world today.

Born in 1993, Murad was raised in the village of Kojo, Iraq. In 2014, when Murad was 21, the Islamic State targeted Kojo and committed acts of genocide against its Yazidi natives. 

In the massacre, Murad was captured and trafficked by Islamic terrorists. After months in captivity, Murad escaped to Germany and reported the stories of violence and trauma to the international community. 

In 2016, Murad was named the United Nations’ first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. 

A year later, Murad released her memoir “The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State,” which recounted her personal stories of captivity, abuse, and escape. 

In 2018, Murad became the first Iraqi to win the Nobel Peace Prize

“Let us all unite to fight injustice and oppression,” Murad said in her Nobel acceptance speech. “Let us raise our voices together and say: No to violence, yes to peace, no to slavery, yes to freedom, no to racial discrimination, yes to equality and to human rights for all.”

Gloria Steinem 

A Picture Of Gloria Steinem Speaking
Photo by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Gloria Steinem is a political activist and journalist and a crucial figure in second-wave feminist history. 

Steinem was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1934 during the Great Depression. She grew up studying politics and government in school and became invested in grassroots activism after travels abroad in India. 

Post-graduation, Steinem worked as a journalist but struggled to be taken seriously by her male peers. In 1963, she worked undercover at the Playboy Club in New York and wrote a scathing expose of the club’s rampant sexism. 

In 1968, she created New York Magazine and stayed on as an editor and journalist. After years of reporting on politics, Steinem stepped into the spotlight and began performing speeches on gender equality and abortion rights. 

In 1972, Steinem joined forces with Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, and Shirley Chisholm to form the National Women’s Political Caucus. 

Today Steinem continues her fight for social justice. In 2022, when Roe v. Wade was overturned, Steinem told the Associated Press: “Obviously, without the right of women and men to make decisions about our own bodies, there is no democracy.”

Byllye Avery

Byllye Yvonne Avery is a healthcare activist and prominent advocate for reproductive rights

Avery was born in Waynesville, Georgia in 1937 and attended a segregated high school as a teenager. At Talladega College, Avery studied special education and became unwaveringly vocal about reproductive rights. 

After the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973, Avery and her colleague raised the funds to open an abortion clinic in Gainesville. 

In 1984, Byllye founded the National Black Women’s Health Project, a nonprofit organization centered on sex education and accessible healthcare. 

Today, she continues to dismantle the stigma of abortion and fight for inequality and inequity. 

“If we really want to make social change, if we really want to make economic change, if we want to have our society become responsive to everybody, we have to first deal with the lives of the people who struggle on the bottom,” Avery said in an interview in 2005

Rosa Parks 

A Picture Of Rosa Parks Smiling And Wearing A Medal Around Her Neck
Photo courtesy of John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Rosa Parks was a racial justice activist who was crucial to the civil rights movement. 

Parks was born in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1913. She worked most of her life as a seamstress and she began serving as the secretary of her local NAACP in Montgomery, Alabama in 1943. 

In 1955, Parks was arrested for violating segregation laws when she was forcibly removed from the “colored section” of a city bus to accommodate a white man. Her arrest sparked outrage and the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, which led to the Supreme Court ruling that segregation on buses was unconstitutional. 

After her arrest, Parks used her newfound fame to organize protests and collaborate with Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. 

For her activism, Parks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. 

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear,” Parks wrote in her memoir “Quiet Strength: the Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a Nation.”

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October 30, 2023 8:17 AM
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