Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Top 10: Women in History

In celebration of International Women’s Day we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the greatest women in history – writers, musicians, politicians, civil rights activists and philosophers. Here they are in order of birth date – but let us know who else you think should be included...

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797)
Wollstonecraft is seen as one of the founding mothers of the feminist movement. Her most important work was A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) in which she attacked educational restrictions that kept women in a state of “ignorance and slavish dependence” and created an artificial inequality between men and women. Wollstonecraft was a powerful advocate of gender equality and contended that society should be divested of the monarchy, the church and military hierarchies.

Sojourner Truth (1797 – 1883)
Born a slave in New York, Sojourner Truth was originally called Isabella Baumfree but gained her freedom in 1827 and later, after going to court to recover her son, became the first African American to win such a case against a white man. Truth was an abolitionist and women’s rights activist whose 1851 speech on racial inequality – Ain’t I a Woman? – gave birth to the black feminist movement.

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858 – 1928)
Pankhurst was leader of the British suffragette movement and helped win women the right to vote. She formed the Women’s Social and Political Union and employed a number of militant tactics including direct action and civil disobedience. Pankhurst was imprisoned a number of times and undertook numerous hunger strikes. During World War One, Pankhurst encouraged women to do all they could for the war effort and, in 1918, the vote was secured for women over 30.

Rosa Luxemburg (1871 – 1919)
Luxemburg was an eminent Marxists theorist, philosopher, economist and activist. A leading member of the Social Democratic Party in Germany, she opposed revisionist and reformist elements within the movement and co-founded the anti-war Spartakusbund in 1915 with Karl Liebknecht. She played a leading role in the Germany Revolution at the end of World War One but regarded the 1919 Spartacist uprising as a tactical blunder. She was murdered along with Liebknecht by right-wing paramilitary Freikorps and became a martyr for the German far-left.

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)
Regarded as the mother of second-wave feminism, de Beauvoir penned the term “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. Her epoch-defining The Second Sex, was published in 1953, and remains a key text in western feminist thought. De Beauvoir was a socialist and existentialist, and wrote several books on politics, ethics and autobiography. De Beauvoir was the life-long companion of Jean-Paul Sartre.

Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005)
Parks was an African-American civil rights activist known as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”. On 1 December 1955, Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Parks’ defiance became a symbol of the modern civil rights movement and she became an icon of resistance to racial segregation.

Anne Frank (1929 – 1945)
Frank is one of the most renowned victims of the Holocaust and her diary – charting her family’s experience of hiding from Nazi forces in occupied Holland – has become one of the world’s most widely read books. Anne Frank’s diary is not just an important historical document; it stands as a testimony of Jewish resistance against brutal and systematic persecution.

Vilma Espín (1930 – 2007)
Espín was a revolutionary leader in Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement and a prominent advocate of women’s rights. The image of her and several other women shouldering rifles and wearing combat fatigues helped change attitudes about the role of women in Cuba. Espín founded the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) in 1960 which – with over three million members – is the largest women’s organisation in Latin America. Women now occupy 64% of university places in Cuba and hold 43% of positions in parliament – ranking Cuba third in the world for female political participation.

Joan Baez (1941 - )
Baez was the most prolific female singer songwriter in the 1960s, but her folk songs were backed by political conviction. Through music and action, she promoted civil rights alongside Martin Luther King Jnr and protested against the Vietnam war. She was an early champion of Bob Dylan (documented in her song ‘Diamonds and Rust’) and they frequently performed together in the 1960s and 70s. To this day, Baez is an advocate for peace and human rights.

Aung San Suu Kyi (1945 - )
Suu Kyi was at the forefront of Burma’s democratic uprising in the 1980s. She helped form the pro-democracy party and was appointed General Secretary in 1988. Suu Kyi was detained during the 1990 elections, which was won by Suu Kyi’s party, but denied by the dictatorship. Suu Kyi spent more than 10 years under house arrest in Burma, before being freed in November 2010. Her cause was internationally recognised and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

1 comment:

Martin said...

These top 10s are great!

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