From Emmeline Pankhurst to Eleanor Roosevelt, history has given us many role models. Today, too, women across the globe are doing amazing things and changing the world. Here are some of the most prominent inspirational women still alive.
“I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls,” Mala Yousafzai says. Born in Pakistan, Yousafzai began advocating for education for girls and women as a child. Because of her efforts, the Taliban attempted to assassinate her. She survived and went on to become the youngest Nobel Laureate in 2014 at age 17. Today, she is a student at the University of Oxford and continues to advocate for girls’ education through the Malala Fund and other efforts. She is the author of I Am Malala and other books.
The woman who needs no introduction, Oprah Winfrey grew up in poverty and was the victim of rape and abuse. Despite setbacks early in her career, Winfrey went on to host The Oprah Winfrey Show, one of the most successful television shows to date, for 25 years and launched her own production company, Harpo Productions, and other media ventures. One of the wealthiest women in the world, Winfrey is also a noted philanthropist.
The leader of Burma’s National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi was the first female Minister for Foreign Affairs in her nation and currently serves as State Counsellor. In 1990, the NLD, which she had formed along with other critics of the military, won a majority of Parliament seats, but the military refused to hand over power. Suu Kyi remained under house arrest until 2010 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg currently serves as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States, the second woman appointed in the nation’s history. She graduated tied for first in her class from Columbia Law School, after transferring from Harvard. She made gender equality a focus of her legal career, serving as a volunteer lawyer and eventually member of the board and general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. She argued cases before the Supreme Court six times prior to her judicial appointments.
J.K. Rowling was an unemployed single mother struggling with depression when she wrote her first Harry Potter novel. After numerous rejections, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published by Bloomsbury, launching Rowling’s massive career as one of the bestselling authors of all time.
The first woman to fly to space and only woman to fly a solo mission, Valentina Tereshkova was just 26 years old when she orbited the earth 48 times in 1963. She also served in the Soviet Air Force, retiring in 1997, and held a number of political positions as a member of the Community Party of the Soviet Union and then the United Russia Party.
During her tennis career, Billie Jean King won 39 grand slam titles. She is most well known for beating Bobby Riggs in the match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” in 1974. King was also a fierce advocate for women’s equality in sports throughout her career, today serving on the Women’s Sports Foundation, and LGBTQ rights. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by Barack Obama.
Elected in 2005, Angela Merkel is the first female chancellor of Germany. Nicknamed “The Decider,” Merkel played an instrumental role in leading her country and others through the 2008 financial crisis, as well as expanding Germany’s open-door immigration policy, admitting more than one million refugees in 2015.
As a child, Emma Watson became known for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films. Today, Watson continues to act and is also a proud feminist, championing causes such as education for young women. She was appointed as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador in 2014.
Born in Iraq, Nadia Murad was kidnapped by ISIS and held captive as a sex slave at the age of 19. After escaping, Murad spoke publicly about her experience, creating the documentary On Her Shoulders about the Yazidi genocide and writing a memoir, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State. She also spoke before the United Nations Security Council and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018. She serves as the first United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.
Prior to becoming first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama served as executive director for the Chicago office of Public Allies, the associate dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago, and vice president for Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals, among other positions. As first lady, she spearheaded initiatives such as the Let’s Move! Campaign to combat childhood obesity. She continues to advocate for causes such as women’s education and is the author of the record-breaking memoir, Becoming.
Li Tingting is a Chinese gender-equality advocate. In 2012, she initiated a protest against domestic violence and served in the “Occupy Men’s Room” demonstration, demanding an equal number of women’s restrooms as men’s. She was arrested in 2015 for her involvement in planning a campaign against sexual harassment and was released after 37 days. She continues to advocate for women’s rights in China.
At the age of 15, Greta Thunburg led a school strike to urge the Swedish government to take action against climate change. Her demonstration prompted student protests across the country. She spoke at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2018, prompting student demonstrations around the world. In 2019, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Comedian and television host Ellen DeGeneres made waves when she came out as a lesbian the same year as the character she played on the popular sitcom, Ellen, did. The series was canceled, but it prompted an important national dialogue about the process of coming out and sexuality. DeGeneres now hosts the talk show The Ellen DeGeneres Show and has also hosted a number of awards shows, including The Academy Awards. She is also the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Christiane Amanpour rose to prominence when she covered the Gulf War for CNN. She is known for her active war-zone reportage and is one of the most prominent international correspondents across the globe, interviewing such figures as Yassar Arafat. Today, she serves as CNN’s Chief International Anchor.