9 Inspirational Women Leaders From the Last 100 Years You Should Definitely Know
The Global Citizen Prize for World Leader finalists highlight that women make remarkable leaders.
Women have proven time and time again that when given the opportunity, or when they’ve created the opportunity for themselves, they can certainly rise to the occasion and lead with respect, empathy, and understanding.
Global Citizen this week announced four incredible women as finalists for this year’s Global Citizen Prize for World Leader, meaning that for the third year in a row, a woman will take home this title.
It also means that since the inception of the award in 2018, only women have won the award — with previous winners being Deputy Security General of the UN Amina Mohammed, in 2019, and Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg, in 2018 — which is a true testament to the impact that women have in positions of leadership.
You can learn more about the award and the four finalists for 2020 here, with the winner to be announced on Dec. 15. You’ll be able to tune in and watch the award ceremony as it’s broadcast and streamed around the world from Dec. 19, and can find global listings here.
As Global Citizen celebrates these women and their amazing contributions to society, it is also important to look back and celebrate the many women who led before them — women in law, politics, science, the arts, and environmental justice. There are also so many formidable female leaders who could not fit on this list, and they too deserve to be saluted.
"In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”
French fashion designer Coco Chanel designed garments that helped to change the way women were viewed in society.
She revolutionized the way the female body looked (and felt) in clothing by stripping back the layers and corsets women were known to wear in the 1900s, and highlighting the natural shape of a woman.
She led by modernizing and reinventing women’s fashion at the time, and is remembered as a feminist icon in fashion, who believed women could look just as elegant in a pantsuit as they could in a dress.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
Former president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was Africa’s first democratically-elected female head of state.
She was elected two years after Liberia’s decade-long civil war came to an end, and promoted democracy, peace, justice, and women’s empowerment. She went on to lead Liberia through reconciliation and recovery after the war, as well as the country’s most recent Ebola outbreak.
Sirleaf is one of just two African women to have won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in reconciliation and rebuilding the country.
“We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half.”
Political activist Emmeline Pankhurst was a leader in the British suffragette movement in the late 1800’s and is credited with helping women gain the right to vote in Britain.
Pankhurst went on several hunger strikes and was arrested numerous times on her mission to winning the women’s vote, and in 1918 this right was finally given to some women in the UK, those over the age of 30, who were property-owners or university graduates.
In 1999 Pankhurst was listed in Time Magazine as one of the “100 Most Important People of the 20th Century” alongside the likes of Albert Einstein and Anne Frank.
Grace Lee Boggs
“A revolution that is based on the people exercising their creativity in the midst of devastation is one of the great historical contributions of humankind.”
Born in 1915, Grace Lee Boggs was an Asian-American human rights activist, author, and feminist who called out capitalism and stood up against World War II and the Vietnam War.
Boggs had a history of establishing multiracial working-class movements, and working to create equal rights for women and people of color. She was involved in the labor, civil rights, Black power, women's rights, and environmental justice movements in her time as an activist in the United States.
She remained an activist throughout her life and worked with grassroots movements to initiate change.
"Why is it when a woman is confident and powerful, they call her a witch?"
As a fictional character, Lisa Simpson is definitely a wildcard on this list, however Simpson is certainly a young woman of influence as her feminist efforts and adoration of education truly inspired a new generation.
For many young adults today, Simpson was their introduction to feminism and gender equality and this should not go unnoticed.
“You must never be fearful of what you are doing when it is right.”
Polish-French physicist and chemist Madame Marie Curie, seated front, works in a laboratory, with her daughter Irene, in Paris France, April 20, 1927.
Polish-born French physicist, Marie Curie was the first woman in history to win a Nobel Prize.
Curie’s contributions to science are evident today as she is most prominently known for her research in radioactivity. She also advocated for the development and use of X-ray technology.
Curie dedicated her life to scientific research and became the first female professor at the Sorbonne in Paris.
“Girls are the future mothers of our society, and it is important that we focus on their well-being.”
Miriam Makeba, also known as Mama Afrika, was a South African singer, songwriter, and anti-apartheid activist.
Makeba used her voice and lyrics to share the story of what was happening in South Africa during the apartheid eera with the rest of the world.
She was exiled from the country as a result of using art as an expression against the government. In 1963, Makeba gave a speech before the United Nations General Assembly speaking out against apartheid.
In her time outside of the country, she continued to record music and her hit song Pata Pata charted worldwide.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
"Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg poses for a photo in her chambers at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a US Supreme Court Justice whom we lost just this year. Fueled by her own experiences of sexism, she used her profession as a lawyer to advocate for gender equality in the United States.
She volunteered at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and was central to the founding of their Women’s Rights Project in 1971. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court, making her the second woman to be appointed.
Her work in gender justice has inspired generations of women to break barriers as she helped to pass several laws in an effort to achieve gender equality.
“Human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy. These are things you fight for and then you protect.”
The very first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai, was a political and environmental activist whose initiative of planting trees resulted in her assisting women in her country, Kenya, to plant over 20 million of them.
She then founded The Green Belt Movement and inspired other people in surrounding African countries to keep up the spirit of planting trees and protecting the environment.
Maathai was also the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree and valued furthering her education. She also fought to protect the land and the rights of people living in poverty in her country.
Join Global Citizen on December 19, 2020, to celebrate the leaders among us who have stepped up against a backdrop of unprecedented global challenges to take action for the world we want — a world that is fair, just, and equal.
The broadcast and digitally streamed award ceremony will also feature inspirational stories of human strength and unforgettable performances that will bring together artists, activists, and global leaders to remind each of us that, together, we will come out of this year stronger. Find out more about the Global Citizen Prize here.