International Women’s Day (IWD) is a holiday which serves to both celebrate the achievements of women throughout history and call for accelerating women’s equality today. 

For centuries, women around the world have struggled to gain financial and political independence in patriarchal societies. The initiative emerged from women’s labor, suffrage and political movements in the early 1900s, a time of great upheaval in the industrialized world. The United Nations observed International Women’s Day in 1975, and in 1996, the U.N. announced its first annual IWD theme: “Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future.”

The IWD theme for 2024 is “Inspire Inclusion.” The “Inspire Inclusion” campaign calls for breaking down barriers, challenging stereotypes and fostering safe environments where all women are respected. To that end, it is well worth acknowledging the women below for their activism in pursuit of advancing rights for all.


  1. Gloria Steinem
  2. Coretta Scott King
  3. Leymah Gbowee
  4. America Ferrera
  5. Winona LaDuke
  6. Oprah Winfrey
  7. Angelina Jolie
  8. Emma Watson
  9. Malala Yousafzai
  10. Beyoncé

Gloria Steinem is a writer, activist and feminist organizer who has founded multiple feminist magazines and political organizations. She earned the Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, won the Society of Writers Award from the United Nations and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, and that hardly begins to cover her list of accolades and achievements.

Steinem has championed the empowerment of women and girls as the founding president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, and she also created the organization’s Take Our Daughters to Work Day, now beloved around the world. She co-founded Voters for Choice, a pro-choice political group which later merged with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus, which seeks to advance women in office at all levels of government.

In addition to her feminist advocacy, Steinem was also a member of the Beyond Racism Initiative, which sought to bring together activists from South Africa, Brazil and the United States to compare and learn from the racial patterns of those countries’ populations. She produced an Emmy-winning documentary on child abuse called “Multiple Personalities: The Search for Deadly Memories,” as well as a feature film about abortion and the death penalty called “Better Off Dead.”


Coretta Scott King was a human rights activist for social justice and peace. She was married to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was herself a leading participant in the American Civil Rights Movement. She supported Dr. King as a strategist, partner and mother to their four children. The two traveled the world together to places like Ghana to mark that country’s independence and Norway, where Dr. King accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. Coretta Scott King led goodwill missions to countries in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia and spoke with prime ministers and presidents throughout her life.

Coretta Scott King prepares to speak at a rally

American civil rights campaigner and widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, stands behind a podium covered in microphones at the Peace-in-Vietnam Rally at Central Park in New York City on April 27, 1968. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A true renaissance woman, Coretta Scott King earned multiple degrees in music and education, which she put to good use in organizing Freedom Concerts. The critically acclaimed concerts used poetry, narration and music to tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement and to raise money to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference throughout the 1960s. She also brought together more than 800 human rights organizations to form the Coalition of Conscience, which sponsored the 20th Anniversary March on Washington, and she served as a Women’s Strike for Peace delegate to the 17-nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1962.

She spoke at many more peace and justice rallies of the era. She met spiritual leaders like Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama, stood with Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg when he became the first democratically elected president of South Africa and carried the message of nonviolence wherever she went. She lived her life at the forefront of social change and never stopped advocating for peace and love. 

Leymah Roberta Gbowee was a Liberian peace activist born in 1972. She rallied women to advocate for the end of Liberia’s civil war. The war forced her family to flee their home in the Liberian capital to a refugee camp in Ghana. When she returned to Liberia, she trained as a trauma counselor to work with former child soldiers who fought in Liberia’s civil war.

She was a leader in the Women in Peacebuilding Network, which rallied women to stand against Liberia’s ongoing war. She led protesters in fasting, praying and picketing in front of government buildings. Her groups dressed in white and gathered in such large numbers that they made themselves impossible to ignore. Eventually, Gbowee was granted a meeting with Charles Taylor, the president of Liberia, and advocated for peace. When Liberia’s two warring factions met for peace talks in Ghana, Gbowee followed, and hundreds of women followed her. They surrounded the meeting place and would not allow the leaders to leave until an agreement was reached.


Even after the end of the Liberian civil war, Gbowee pressed for women’s empowerment and for peace. She was a founder of the Women Peace and Security Network–Africa, which advocated for women’s participation in government and security. Her awards include the Nobel Peace Prize, the Blue Ribbon for Peace, she was awarded by the Women’s Leadership Board of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. In 2011, Gbowee published her memoir, “Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War.”

America Ferrera, who starred in the highly successful “Barbie” movie, is known not only as an actor, but also as an advocate for women’s rights and for the advancement of Latinas. Ferrera helped found the Time’s Up legal defense fund, a nonprofit that raises money to support victims of sexual harassment, and Poderistas, a nonprofit that serves as a digital community created by and for Latinas. She was also the opening speaker at the 2017 Women’s March on Washington.

Ferrera has spoken about growing up poor and leveraged her platform to advocate for change. She supported Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid, which led her to get more involved with political and social issues like environmentalism, education access, reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy. In 2016, she addressed the Democratic National Convention.

Ferrera also founded Harness, which works to connect cultural figures with grassroots leaders to bring visibility to vulnerable communities. She is active on X, frequently sharing articles and causes important to her.

Winona LaDuke is a Native American activist, economist and author. She is an Anishinaabekwe (or Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg. She advocates for Indigenous autonomy, leveraging economic and environmental approaches with the goal of creating a prosperous community for her White Earth reservation and Indigenous people across the country.


LaDuke graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in rural economic development and from Antioch University with a master’s degree in community economic development. She got involved in a lawsuit filed by the Anishinaabeg people to recover land promised to them by an 1867 federal treaty that was ultimately dismissed. After that, she only got more involved in the protection of Native lands. LaDuke helped found the Indigenous Women’s Network, which empowers Native women to take active roles in tribal politics and culture, and the White Earth Land Recovery Project, whose mission is to buy back reservation land previously purchased by non-Native people in order to create sustainable development and provide economic opportunity for the Native population. 

LaDuke has also been involved with politics, running with Ralph Nader on the Green Party presidential ticket in 1996 and 2000. She was a leader at the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests, seeking to preserve water access and sacred Indigenous lands in North Dakota. Time magazine named her one of the Fifty Leaders for the Future in 1994, and in 1998, Ms. Magazine named her one of their Women of the Year.

Oprah Winfrey is an award-winning talk show host known for her show “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which aired from 1986 until 2011. She is considered a female and African American pioneer in the television industry who has interviewed various high-profile religious, political and cultural influencers, including former President Obama and Prince Harry. 

Moreover, Winfrey was the only Black billionaire during the 20th century and the richest African American of the century, with an estimated net worth of over $2.5 billion, according to Forbes. 

Over the course of decades, Winfrey has dedicated her life to philanthropic activities through organizations such as “Oprah’s Angel Network,” which raised funds to rebuild the homes of those hurt by Hurricane Katrina. She also gave tens of millions of dollars to various non-profit organizations and received the highest civilian honor in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Beyond the big screen and the red carpet, Angelina Jolie has spent years advocating for women’s rights and environmental conservation, as well as working with non-profits to help end human trafficking. She became a UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador in August 2001 at their headquarters in Geneva and spent millions helping the organization resettle Afghan refugees in Pakistan. 

She is also a human rights advocate, establishing the Jolie Legal Fellowship, which provides funds for lawyers and attorneys to protect human rights in developing countries across the Earth. Additionally, Jolie has raised money for organizations advocating against sexual assault in the military and provided funds to civilians in war-torn nations such as Yemen and Ukraine. 


Another Hollywood icon and female role model over the years is Emma Watson, who initially gained fame in the role of Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” film franchise. Likewise, she has gained an international presence on the world stage for years as a chief advocate for equality of gender, sexual orientation, class and race. 

Emma Watson

Actress Emma Watson is a proud supporter of equality of gender, sexual orientation, class and race.  (John Phillips/Getty Images)

Most notably, she gave a speech in September 2014 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City for the start of the HeForShe campaign, where she called for gender equality and advocated against the demonization of feminist groups. The speech gained Watson worldwide attention in the press and recognition from fellow feminist advocates. 

Malala Yousafzai is an international icon for female education and women’s rights and is also the youngest Nobel Prize laureate and the second Pakistani to receive the award. For years, she has advocated for the rights of women to receive a formal education in Pakistan despite facing resistance from elements of the Taliban through threats and attempted assassinations. 

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai almost lost her life in 2012 after a failed assassination attempt by the Taliban in Pakistan for her advocacy for female education. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)


In October 2012, Yousafzai was shot in the head by a gunman acting on behalf of the Pakistani Taliban while riding on a bus. She was left in critical condition but eventually recovered from her wounds. The incident led to international condemnation as well as a fatwa ordered against her life by religious fundamentalists in the region. The death threats and physical violence did not stop Yousafzai from her mission to advocate for the educational rights of women in the Middle East. 

Beyoncé is one of the best-selling and top-performing female artists of her generation who has accumulated a large fortune and cultural influence through the years.

The superstar is also a self-described feminist and women’s rights advocate who has used her fame and fortune to promote social justice causes such as her Chime for Change organization, which seeks gender equality across national borders.


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