Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goals call for equal rights for women and girls around the world. While right now feminism is experiencing one of its biggest moments ever — it’s also important that we celebrate the women throughout history who, although many of them remain unrecognised, have risen against the odds to push for social change. You can join us by taking action to support the fight for gender equality here

BBC History magazine has released the names of 100 women who were voted to have had the most significant impact on world history. 

In the year that marks 100 years since some British women first got the vote, the magazine compiled a list of “women who changed the world” chosen by an expert panel.

It then asked members of the public to rank them and the results, according to the magazine, “may well provoke debate.” 

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In the top spot is scientist Polish-born French scientist Marie Curie, who “changed the world not once but twice,” said the magazine. 

Curie founded the new science of radioactivity — even inventing the word — and her discoveries “launched effective cures for cancer.”

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“Curie boasts an extraordinary array of achievements,” Patricia Fara, president of the British Society for the History of Science, who nominated Curie, told BBC History magazine. 

“She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, first female professor at the University of Paris, and the first person — note the use of person there, not woman — to win a second Nobel Prize," Fara added. 

“The odds were always stacked against her,” continued Fara. “In Poland her patriotic family suffered under a Russian regime. In France she was regarded with suspicion as a foreigner — and of course, wherever she went, she was discriminated against as a woman.” 

Second on the list was Rosa Parks, who, in 1955, famously challenged the race segregation that existed in parts of the US by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. 

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Her actions received the support of many other African Americans and sparked the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the British suffragette movement, came in third. Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903, to campaign for the vote for women. 

“Pankhurst roused thousands of women to demand, rather than ask politely, for their democratic right in a mass movement that has been unparalleled in British history,” said the magazine. “Always in the thick of the struggle, she endured 13 imprisonments, her name and cause becoming known throughout the world.” 

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Others that appear in the top 10 were Marie Stopes, Scottish advocate of birth control and sex educator, who “brought to women worldwide the opportunity of planned pregnancies,” and Florence Nightingale, who led the first official team of British military nurses to Turkey during the Crimean War.

Rosalind Franklin, who provided the “crucial piece of evidence” in discovering the double helix structure of DNA, came in fifth, and mathematician Ada Lovelace — considered to be the first computer programmer — was fourth. 

One of the more controversial figures in the list is first female prime minister of the UK, Margaret Thatcher, who was ranked sixth; while English writer and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, who penned A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, one of the “foundational texts of modern feminism,” was in at eighth.

One of the lesser-known names in the top 10 is Angela Burdett-Coutts, the first woman to have been made a peer. She was made a baroness by Queen Victoria, and was a “pioneer in social housing, and building homes for the poor.”

The rest of the top 20 are: 

  • Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • the Virgin Mary
  • Jane Austen
  • Boudicca
  • Diana, Princess of Wales
  • Amelia Earhart
  • Queen Victoria
  • Josephine Butler
  • Mary Seacole
  • Mother Teresa 


Demand Equity

These Are the Women 'Who Changed the World' — But How Many Have You Heard Of?

By Imogen Calderwood