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10 Women Who Changed the World

Guest Blog

10 Women Who Changed the World

Gill Donnell

Today's post is courtesy of Northland Family Planning, a women's health clinic in Michigan.

From Martin Luther King to Jonah Salk, it seems like most discussions that revolve around influential people centre around the same individuals. Many times, these individuals are men. While there’s no downplaying the role that men like King and Salk played in terms of shaping modern society, any discussion about the world’s most influential people that doesn’t include women is woefully incomplete.

Here are 10 pioneering women who changed the world in their own distinct way:

Millicent Fawcett: A leader in the women’s suffrage movement, Fawcett is known for her tireless and peaceful work campaigning for equal rights. While many of her contemporaries operated with a militant mindset, she employed a more rational approach. She’s well known for giving a controversial speech about suffrage in front of Great Britain’s Parliament, despite knowing how it would be received. She once said: “A large part of the present anxiety to improve the education of girls and women is also due to the conviction that the political disabilities of women will not be maintained.”

Marie Curie: Curie was a Polish-French chemist and physicist who contributed immensely to the study of radioactivity — a theory she both coined and developed. Curie’s achievements also include discovering two elements: polonium and radium. For her contributions to science, she was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize and the first person ever to win the award twice. “Life is not easy for any of us,” she once said. “But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”

Benazir Bhutto: When Bhutto was democratically elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988, she became the first woman ever to lead a Muslim state. She’s known for driving economic and national security growth in her country and ending a military dictatorship. “Democracy is the best revenge,” she once said. Bhutto was elected to two non-consecutive terms in office, serving her last year in 1996. Tragically, she was assassinated in a bombing in 2007.  

Rosa Parks: Parks is known for refusing to give up her seat in the coloured section of a bus to a white passenger in Alabama in the 1950’s. Thanks to her bold and defiant stand, which led to her arrest, she became an important symbol in the Civil Right movement and was able to collaborate with leaders like Martin Luther King. She once said, “People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Sappho: Sappho was a highly admired poet and the first published female writer. Centuries after her birth (sometime between 630 and 612 BCE), she remains a symbol of homosexuality and female empowerment. While most of her poetry only survives in fragmentary form, her work is said to have influenced modern poets such as A.E. Housman and Tennyson. She once wrote: “Would Jove appoint some flower to reign, in matchless beauty on the plain, the Rose (mankind will all agree). The Rose the queen of flowers should be.”

Nancy Wake: Nicknamed “The White Mouse,” Wake became the Gestapo’s most-wanted person after leading an army of 7,000 French Resistance fighters in guerrilla warfare to sabotage the Nazis. She’s credited with saving hundreds of Allied soldiers and downed airmen between 1940 and 1943 by escorting them through occupied France to safety in Spain. She will be remembered as the Allies’ most decorated servicewomen of World War II. “I hate wars and violence,” Wake once told an interviewer, “but if they come then I don't see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.”

Aung Sang Suu Kyi: In 1989, Aung Sang Suu Kyi was sentenced to 15 years of house arrest for her efforts to bring democracy to Burma. But that is only the beginning of her story. She won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, and in 2015, just five years after being freed, she led the National League for Democracy to a majority win in Myanmar’s first open election in 25 years. In office, she remains an advocate for the oppressed: “It is not power that corrupts but fear,” she said. “Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Simone De Beauvoir: A French novelist, existentialist philosopher and political activist,  De Beauvoir is credited for laying the foundation of the modern feminist movement. She’s best known for her book The Second Sex, which offered a detailed analysis of women's oppression and made her one of the most important feminist icons of her era. She was once quoted as saying: “Defending the truth is not something one does out of a sense of duty or to allay guilt complexes, but is a reward in itself.”

Amelia Earhart: In 1928, Earhart became the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She’s also the first woman to fly across both the Atlantic and Pacific. Those are just a couple of the many aviation records Earhart collected as she paved the way for other female aviators. Sadly, Earhart mysteriously disappeared in 1937 while attempting to circumnavigate the globe. Said Earhart: “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”

Marie Stopes: A British author and scientist, Stopes was an advocate for women’s rights who pioneered advances in birth control and sex education in the early 20th Century. Her sex manual Married Love, though highly controversial, successfully brought the subject of birth control into the public discourse. She once said, “An impersonal and scientific knowledge of the structure of our bodies is the surest safeguard against prurient curiosity and lascivious gloating.”

Northland Family Planning is proud to carry on Stopes’ legacy by giving women the tools, resources and information to make their own decisions regarding their bodies, reproductive options and sexuality. Our women’s health clinic in Michigan provides compassionate care to all women looking to explore options for contraception, family planning and more.

Sex education can be overwhelming and confusing, but in some cases the information can be life saving. Like Stopes once said, “People who know the truth have no business to allow the powers of darkness to silence them on any point that matters.”

Our Michigan women’s health clinic believes the world is a far better place when women have the freedom to make their own decisions regarding their pregnancy options and sexuality. We are on a mission to maintain those freedoms in the warmest and most supportive environment possible.

Visit us online or stop by one of our locations in Southfield, Sterling Heights or Westland for more information.

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