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International Women's Day 2024: Spotlight On Equality Pioneers

Updated: May 15

In honour of International Women’s Day (IWD), Voice4Change England is spotlighting fourteen incredible women who have revolutionised the equalities space, a cause devoted to our hearts as an organisation that advocates for racial equity.

Gender inequality presents a significant number of disheartening issues varying from violence, discrimination, harassment, accessibility and leadership on a global basis. Despite these entrenched barriers, these inspiring women possessed a deep-devoted commitment to gender equality and the feminist movement, changing the course of women’s rights, and indeed our world as a whole.

Such causes include: women’s suffrage, medical breakthroughs, mental health, humanitarian efforts, captivating feminist theories and narratives, climate change, public health crises, equality for transgender women, civil rights, education for girls and intersecting identities.

IWD's campaign theme for 2024 is #InspireInclusion. Many of these women continue to be empowering role-models due to their contributions to intersectional feminism, a standpoint which fosters an inclusive environment for all women, regardless of their race, gender identity, sexuality or class. We cannot achieve gender equality without extending solidarity to all women.

The 8th of March is a celebration of all the achievements of women and girls across the globe. Our list of women contributing to feminism begins from the 19th century, leading all the way to the present day.

Emmeline Pankhurst

“You must make women count as much as men; you must have an equal standard of morals; and the only way to enforce that is through giving women political power so that you can get that equal moral standard registered in the laws of the country. It is the only way.”

Born in 1858, Emmeline Pankhurst was an English political activist and the leader of the suffragette movement. A historical figure for women’s rights and first-wave feminism, Pankhurst’s activism was monumental in securing the freedom of women to participate in political elections.

Brought up in a household with a strong political presence, at the young age of fourteen Pankhurst was introduced to the women’s suffrage movement. In 1903 the Pankhurst household founded the Women’s Social and Political Union. (WSPU) The WSPU advocated for women’s suffrage through militant, radical and confrontational tactics by engaging in hunger strikes, physical confrontations and protests. The Party eventually renamed themselves as the Women’s Party.

Despite Pankhurst facing public disapproval, imprisonment and criticism for her radical activism, she remained devoted to achieving voting rights for women. Thus, the Representation of the People Act of 1918 granted voting rights for women over the age of 30 who met a particular property qualification. This Act granted over 8.4 million women the right to vote.

Pankhurst passed away in 1928, in Hampstead, London. In the same year, she witnessed the implementation of the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928, enabling the right of women over the age of 21 to vote, regardless of their class. Her legacy for advocating for women’s rights has profoundly shaped the course of history and first-wave feminism.

Nellie Bly

“I said I could, and I would. And I did.”

Born in 1864, Nellie Bly was a pioneering investigative journalist, described as an adventurous and daring woman. In her early journalistic works, she wrote about the importance of women and their freedom to pursue work rather than be expected to marry, alongside other harmful gender stereotypes. She also wrote in favour of reforming divorce laws.

Bly’s most impactful investigative report saw her go undercover to the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island in New York City. She recorded her time during the ten-day-period she spent there and published an article titled ‘Ten Days in a Mad House’ (1887) which covered the abuse, neglect and torture faced by patients with mental health difficulties.

By the 19th century, she was the most famous female American reporter. She passed away in New York in 1922. Her investigative publication prompted the asylum to implement reforms, and as such she is known as a revolutionary and brave figure for investigative journalism.

Simone de Beauvoir

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

Simone de Beauvoir, born in Paris, France in 1908, was a French existentialist philosopher, writer and feminist theorist. Her trailblazing philosophy and literacy revolutionised our understanding of gender dynamics.

With the release of her book ‘The Second Sex’ in 1949, de Beauvoir contributed to the birth of second-wave feminism and feminist theory. The Second Sex is often referred to as the social and philosophical foundational text for feminism. Through a Western context, de Beauvoir examined the discrimination and marginalisation that women dealt with culturally, economically and socially, citing marriage and motherhood as common examples. De Beauvoir conceptualised ‘The Other’ as the secondary role of women in society, detailing women’s oppression and encouraging liberation and independence.

De Beauvoir died in Paris, France, in 1986. Her ideas on ethics, gender, human freedom, and ethics remain influential to this day.

Henrietta Lacks

“If our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can’t afford to see no doctors?”

― Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life

of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman born in 1920. She was the source of the first immortalised human cell line, often referred to as ‘HeLa’.

HeLa cells have a high importance to scientific and medical research, contributing to key breakthroughs such as polio eradication, HPV and COVID-19 vaccines, and knowledge of radiation damage in cells. Lacks, nor her family, were aware that her cells would be used for medical experimentation.

In 1951, Lacks visited Johns Hopkins Hospital due to concerns about a mass in her womb. She had previously experienced a haemorrhage after giving birth. Doctors diagnosed her with a malignant epidermoid carcinoma of the cervix, later revealed to be adenocarcinoma. Samples were taken from her cervix during these diagnoses and treatments.

Without consent, these samples were passed to George Otto Gey, a researcher at Johns Hopkins, who used them to develop the HeLa immortal cell line. While Lacks' cells have become widely used in biomedical research that saves lives till this day, neither Lacks not her family received reparations. Lacks sadly passed away in 1951 at the John Hopkins Hospital, aged 31, but her cells continue to impact the world.

Patsy Mink

“What you endure is who you are. I can’t change the past. But I can certainly help somebody else in the future, so they don’t have to go through what I did.”

Born in 1927, Patsy Mink was an Asian-American politician from Hawaii. She made history as the first woman of colour and the first Asian-American elected to Congress. Mink is widely recognised for championing legislation that supports civil rights, women's rights, public education, and organised labour.

Mink attended a predominantly white school and was said to feel isolated. Despite the exclusion she faced in her formative years, she was the first girl to serve as president of the student body in her high school. Mink envisioned a medical career and started at the University of Nebraska in 1946, a school which upheld racial segregation in their student accommodation. This motivated Mink to create a coalition to end the university’s segregation which was successfully implemented that same year. She went on to study law at The University of Chicago, being one of the only two women in her class.

Her political career began in the 1950s and achieved various gendered and racial representative milestones. Mink became the first woman from Hawaii to be elected to congress and the first woman of colour elected to the U.S House. Later in her career, she became the first Asian-American woman to run for presidency.

Mink pioneered various legislations in favour of women and recognised the importance of intersecting identities. In 1972, she achieved one of her most noteworthy accomplishments, the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities.

She passed away in September 2002 but her legacy of equality, formulating policies on behalf of women and other marginalised identities, continues.

Angela Davis

“Whenever you conceptualise social justice struggles, you will always defeat your own purposes if you cannot imagine the people around whom you are struggling as equal partners.”

Angela Davis is a prominent activist, scholar, feminist, prison abolitionist, philosopher and academic. For many decades, she has been deeply committed to advocating for economic, racial, and gender justice. She continues to symbolise the ideals of Black liberation, equality for marginalised groups, and feminism.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1944, Davis was exposed to racism and activism during her early years. Growing up in a segregated city fuelled with racial tension and terrorism, her role-model was her mother, who refused to stay silent. As a Girl Scout, Davis marched and picketed to protest racial segregation.

Her drive for racial and gender equality continued into adulthood as she became a significant figure in the second-wave feminist movement of the 1960s. As a strong critic of the prison-industrial complex and systemic racism within the criminal justice system, Davis garnered national attention after facing charges for assisting a prisoner's escape during a courtroom altercation in 1970.

Davis continues to be an influential mark for the equalities space through her work in academia, her knowledge on racial equity, systemic barriers and inequality.

Sylvia Rivera

“Before gay rights, before the Stonewall, I was involved in the Black Liberation movement, the peace movement… I felt I had the time, and I knew that I had to do something. My revolutionary blood was going back then. I was involved with that.”

Sylvia Rivera, born in 1951, was a Latina-American activist advocating for gay liberation and transgender rights in the US. She assisted in the charge of the Stonewall Riots, a milestone that reshaped and transformed LGBTQ+ equality in the twentieth century.  She was one of America’s first transgender activists and co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with her friend, advocate and activist, Marsha P. Johnson. STAR was a groundbreaking activist organisation that provided refuge for LGBTQ+ youth and sex workers. Rivera also founded the Gay Liberation Front.

Rivera dealt with many complex issues, including homelessness, trauma and substance abuse. She originally identified as a drag queen, and later a transgender woman, although she disliked labels. The centre of her activism focused on issues affecting LGBTQ+, systemic poverty, race, inclusion and discrimination faced by the queer community.

Rivera died of liver cancer at the age of 50, in 2002. Her legacy lives on, evident in the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. The organisation’s objectives is to ensure that individuals have the freedom to determine their gender identity and expression, irrespective of their economic status or race, and without being subjected to harassment, discrimination, or violence.

bell hooks

“Feminist thinking teaches us all, especially, how to love justice and freedom in ways that foster and affirm life.”

Gloria Jean Watkins, originally from Kentucky and born in 1952, is most renowned under her pen name, 'bell hooks'. She was an American author, activist, cultural critic, feminist theorist and activist. Her name stemmed from her great-grandmother, honouring her legacy.

Hooks was best known for her significant contributions to feminism and intersectionality, bringing race, class, gender and capitalism into the gender equality movement. Throughout her career in academia, she taught English and ethnic studies at a range of universities in the United States including Stanford University, her alma mater.

Her first published work, ‘Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism’ , was heavily influenced by Sojourner Truth, an American advocate for the abolition of slavery and an activist championing African American civil rights and women's rights. Throughout her extensive career, she published around 40 books which covered a range of topics including race, gender, cultural politics, intersectionality, identity, feminism, masculinity and patriarchy. Her most well-known book ‘All About Love’ offered pioneering viewpoints into the interconnectedness and complexities of love in contemporary society.

She passed away in December 2021. Her commitment to advocating for equality for all has continued to inspire generations of feminists, activists and scholars on a global scale.

Stella Dadzie

“On the whole, history has been told by men. History is an interesting word, literally “his story”. Women have been hidden from history, and it’s only thanks to the efforts of a new generation of historians that we’re beginning to hear different stories emerge.”

Born in London in 1952, Stella Dadzie is a feminist pioneer thanks to her publications, activism and influence. She is the founder of the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent, an activist group for Black British and Asian women. The organisation aimed to empower women of colour who were often neglected from the mainstream feminist movement.

Growing up in the housing prejudice era of ‘No Irish, no Blacks, No Dogs’ in a single-parent household, Dadzie suffered from racial discrimination, homelessness and instability. She reconnected with her father in her later years in Paris, and spent a year in Germany learning about Black liberalisation in Africa with a group of Eritrean students.

Her journey to activism continued as she published her works, such as 'The Heart of Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain'. This book became a symbolic voice and a milestone for the Black Women’s movement in the UK by providing a platform for Black British women to share their experiences. Dadzie has contributed to various anti-racist strategies in education and youth services. In 2020, she published a new book based on enslaved women fighting against the oppression ‘A Kick in the Belly: Women, Slavery and Resistance’.


Angelina Jolie

“Our diversity is our strength. What a dull and pointless life it would be if everyone was the same.”

Angelina Jolie is an actress, producer and humanitarian. She is one of the world’s most famous people and has been named Hollywood’s highest-paid actress on several occasions.

Jolie was born in 1975 and career began early thanks to her actor father, Jon Voight. She continued to appear in various films including Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Salt, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider which propelled her into international fame. She won an Academy Award for her role in Girl, Interrupted.

Jolie is well known for her dedication to humanitarian efforts. She witnessed the outcome of the humanitarian crisis in Cambodia, where she filmed Lara Croft in 2001. This experience inspired her activism. She has promoted causes pertaining to environmental conservation, education, and the advancement of women's rights. Notably, as a Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner, Jolie conducted over 60 field missions until she stepped down in 2022. Her work involved observing both suffering and resilience, advocating for immediate solutions to safeguard the rights and safety of displaced individuals. Her humanitarianism has inspired many around the world and earned her a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

Jolie is a vocal proponent of gendered issues affecting women. This is shown in her commitment to renewing the Violence Against Women Act in the United States and her role as a co-founder of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), which she initiated in May 2012 alongside the-then UK Foreign Secretary, The Rt Hon William Hague MP. In May 2013, she revealed to the world she'd undergone a preventive mastectomy, a moment which was hailed as the ‘Angelina Effect’. The Angelina Effect was praised for reducing stigma and increased testing, raising awareness and outlining the importance of hereditary illnesses for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha

“I have gotten so many cards and letters from young girls who see me as a role model, like here’s somebody who used her brain to do good. But if I can inspire one future strong woman, it will all be worth it.”

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha - a paediatrician, public health advocate and professor - was born in Sheffield in 1976. Her research work revealed the elevated levels of lead in the water of Flint, Michigan.

A daughter of Iraqi scientists, Hanna-Attisha moved to the United States at an early stage of her life where her passion for activism, justice, and environmental consciousness blossomed. This was evident in her role as class president and her participation in the student environmental organisation.

Hanna-Attisha studied the children’s blood-lead levels in Flint. This revealed a crisis which became known on a global scale – the water in Flint was filled with toxins, poisoning almost 30,000 children. Devastatingly, this led to serious medical, cognitive and mental implications. Her research highlighted a national and international public health emergency . It was also a sobering example of environmental racism, injustice and inequality – African Americans make up over 56% of the city’s racial demographic.

Hanna-Attisha published her experiences in the acclaimed book 'What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City'. As a member of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People (2016), Hanna-Attisha continues to advocate for environmental justice and public health. 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Some people ask: 'Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?' Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender.” 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian author, activist and feminist born in 1977. A revolutionary individual for modern-day feminism, she is known for her compelling narratives and exploration of themes such as identity, feminism, and the intricacies of Nigerian society.

She has written several novels, including ‘We should All Be Feminists’ (2014), which is rooted from her TEDxEuston talk in 2012, which has accumulated almost 10 million views. Adiche’s philosophy is based on the belief that everyone should identify as a feminist, citing examples from her childhood where her teacher favoured a male classmate over her, or from her adulthood experiences, where she recounts experiences of the pervasive nature of gender bias.

Her vital work in literature surrounds the importance of the representation of diversity in literature and media, and the importance of challenging and dismantling gender stereotypes. Her story remains revolutionary and inspiring to millions of women around the globe.

Vanessa Nakate

“There is one thing I almost never hear leaders talk about, and that is loss and damage. For many of us, reducing and avoiding is not enough. You cannot adapt to lost cultures, you cannot adapt to lost traditions, you cannot adapt to lost history, you cannot adapt to starvation. You cannot adapt to extinction.”

Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from Uganda, is recognised for her dedication to increasing awareness of the effects of climate change, with a particular focus on Africa. In August 2020, just a year after she began her environmental activism, Jenue Afrique magazine named her as one of the top 100 most influential Africans.

Born and raised in Kampala in 1996, Nakate’s path to climate activism began with her concern of Uganda experiencing historically elevated temperatures. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, she began her own climate movement in Uganda by protesting, collaborating with other climate activists globally and conducting speeches.

During the 2020 Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture, Nakate urged global leaders to promptly acknowledge climate change as a worldwide crisis, impacting poverty, illness, conflict, and violence against girls and women. She has also led the awareness campaign for Congo’s rainforests, which are facing a deforestation crisis.

Nakate was one of the 20 climate activists who attended the COP25 climate summit in Madrid. She is the founder of The Rise Up Climate Movement, which platforms African climate activists – a cause close to her heart spotlighted in her Time Magazine interview with Angelina Jolie.

Malala Yousafzai

“I tell my story not because it is unique but because it is the story of many girls.”

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani women’s education and human rights activist who became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of seventeen. Born in 1997, her activism began when she was eleven, inspired by her father who was an advocate for education as a teacher.

Yousafzai protested for the rights of women and girls through interviews, media appearances and anonymous blogging through the BBC. Despite the tensions between Pakistan and the Taliban increasing, Yousafzai continued to campaign with her father on the right for Pakistani girls having a free access to education. After being identified by members of the Taliban, Yousafzai was shot in the face on October 9, 2012, as a response to her activism and advocacy.

After rehabilitation and recovery from her facial paralysis in the United Kingdom, she began to attend school in Birmingham in 2013. In the same year, Yousafzai published her autobiography 'I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.'

Founded by Yousafzai and her father, the Malala Fund is a non-profit organisation which funds education for girls in Afghanistan, Brazil, India, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Nigeria and various other countries.


All accessed w/c 19th February



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