Women’s suffrage first began in Germany in 1707 by the efforts of Dorothea von Velen who managed to overturn the couverture that stated all women’s legal rights and obligations were subsumed by her husband. Several years later, women’s suffrage officially began when Sweden became the first to trailblaze partial suffrage by allowing female taxpayers to vote in 1718, and in 1893, New Zealand became the first government to allow voting rights for all women. Following leading countries’ paths to freedom and inclusiveness, the United States passed the Nineteenth Amendment that granted women the right to vote on August 18, 1920. Since 1972, the US has commemorated its anniversary as an extraordinary achievement for women in basic universal rights where prior, women had been “treated as second-class citizens.” The United States’ Women’s Equality Day serves as “a symbol of the continued fight for equal rights.”
“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that August 26 of each year is designated as “Women’s Equality Day,” and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote, and that day in 1970, on which a nationwide demonstration for women’s rights took place.
Women still have a long ways to go before they are treated equal to their male counterparts in terms of sociopolitical culture, income, positive sexuality, and civil rights. In Sweden, for example, pay differences remain between men and women, and in the Swedish private sector the proportion of women in top positions remains weak, despite the fact that gender equality is viewed as a cornerstone of Swedish culture. In the United States and other melting pot countries, women of color have an even longer ways to go to gain intersectional justices. However, we cannot move forward without celebrating those who have devoted their lives to upending hurdles that women worldwide have faced and are currently battling. Here are a handful of incredible women from all over the world who have fought for universal freedom:
1. Susan B. Anthon
Anthony is perhaps the most well-known activist during the US women’s suffrage movement where, despite the fact that she did not live to see it ratified, the Nineteenth Amendment is also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. She championed the New York State Married Women’s Property Bill, allowing married women to own property, keep their own incomes, and have custody of their children. She also influenced an onslaught of women’s rights activists following in her example, including Amelia Bloomer, a women’s rights activist who began the trend of wearing Turkish-inspired trousers, which has evolved into women’s modern day fashion. Anthony also wore the Bloomer’s Costume as a way to symbolize dress reform and how, as Bloomer states, “the costume of women should be suited to her wants and necessities. It should conduce at once to her health, comfort, and usefulness; and, while it should not fail also to conduce to her personal adornment, it should make that end of secondary importance.”
2. Dorothy Height
Height is a modern day civil rights and women’s rights champion. Before her death in 2010 where President Obama and the First Lady attended her funeral, she was one of the “Big Six” leaders in the US Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s where she organized “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” an activist group that brought together black and white women from the North and South to create a dialogue of understanding. She served as President of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, and her achievements in civil liberties and women’s rights became so well-known that her counsel was often sought by high-level officials in championing positive political change for black Americans and, especially, black women. She is known for being a part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s reforms in school desegregation and also influenced President Lyndon B. Johnson to appoint African-American women into government positions. Her book Living with Purpose is available for purchase on Amazon.
3. Shirin Ebadi
Ebadi is a modern day activist for women’s rights in Iran. One of the first female judges in Iran, she served as president of the city court of Tehran for four years before becoming Chief Justice. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, she was dismissed from her position and later became a lawyer as a controversial advocate for defending political dissidents and establishing the non-governmental organization called the Million Signatures Campaign that demanded an end to legal discrimination against women in Iranian law. For her efforts in championing universal human rights in Iran, she won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize and later established the Nobel Women’s Initiative with several other Nobel laureates as a promotion for including women in peace processes.
4. Maria Skłodowska Curie
Curie is perhaps the most famous female scientist in history, a title rightfully earned as the first woman to win the Nobel Prize and the only woman to win two Nobel Prizes in different sciences. Born in 1867 in Russian-partitioned Warsaw, Poland, Curie sought for education in a time when when women were not allowed to enroll in university. She succeeded in gaining entrance to the University of Paris at 24 years old, and through vigorous research alongside her French physicist husband, Pierre Curie, she developed the theory of radioactivity (a term she coined), invented techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and discovered two elements inducted into the Periodic Table. She named the first element polonium after her homeland. The second was radium, which she used in needles she created to treat wounded soldiers in World War I and also to build mobile x-rays for the war effort. Her high exposure to radioactive elements, however, ultimately caused her death in 1934. Sixty years later in 1995, her body, along with her husband’s, was transferred from a local cemetery to the Panthéon, Paris. She became the first woman to be honored with interment in the Panthéon on her own merits.
5. Laverne Cox
Cox is best known for her emotional role as Sophia Burset, an imprisoned transgender woman facing discrimination and violence, on the popular Netflix series, Orange is the New Black. Her role serves as a platform for speaking on trans rights, and she elaborates on justice for transgender people as a writer for Huffington Post. In addition, Cox is the first African-American transgender woman to produce and star in her own television show, TRANSform Me and the first openly transgender person to be on the cover of Time magazine, be nominated for a Primetime Emmy, and pose for Allure magazine’s “Nudes” photoshoot. Her incredible work in gender equality has inspired many in the transgender community to open up and has derailed countless stereotypes against trans peoples.
6. Fu Ying
Fu is the current vice minister of the Foreign Ministry of the People’s Republic of China and the former Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, the Philippines, and Australia. Fu was born in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China in 1952, and since her appointment as Vice Minister, she has helped foster relationships and build consensus between China and other countries, especially Western countries. She is known for challenging status quos on the role of women and on China’s role as a world leader — playing a large part in promoting an “international order” system and China’s ascension to the world’s center stage and inspiring women everywhere.