History usually chooses to ignore female revolutionaries who fought alongside glorified men like Che Guevara and Martin Luther King Jr. But inspirational women have been shaping our landscape throughout the course of time, and the lesser-knowns deserve some credit.
Here are ten incredible women (in no particular order) you might not be familiar with who taught us how to fight for what we believe in:
1. Celia Sanchez
Most people associate the Cuban Revolution with Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Unfortunately, few have heard of Celia Sanchez, the woman who played an important role in the famed revolution. The Cuban native joined the struggle against the Batista government following the coup of March 10th, 1952. She was one of the first women to assemble a combat squad and quickly became one of the main decision-makers during the revolution. She was also the founder of the 26th of July Movement—the organization that ultimately overthrew Batista. After the revolution, Celia became the Secretary of the Council of Ministers and served in the Department of Services of the Council of State until her death from lung cancer in 1980.
2. Sophie Scholl
Sophie Scholl was a brilliant German revolutionary who was a founding member of The White Rose, a non-violent anti-Nazi resistance group. The group spread its beliefs via graffiti and anonymous flyers. Sophie and other members of The White Rose were arrested in 1942 for handing out flyers at the University of Munich. She was convicted of high treason and was executed by guillotine along with her brother Hans. Copies of group’s flyer were retitled The Manifesto of the Students of Munich and were smuggled out of the country and air-dropped over Germany by Allied forces later that year.
3. Kathleen Neal Cleaver
Kathleen Neal Cleaver is currently a professor of American law at Emory College, but she was also an integral member of the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary black nationalist and socialist organization, during the 1960’s. Cleaver served as the communications secretary and was the first female member of the Party’s decision-making body. She was also the Party’s spokesperson and press secretary. Kathleen has devoted her life to fighting for racial equality and human rights. At one point, she and other women such as Angela Davis made up two-thirds of the Black Panther Party, contrary to beliefs that the Party was overwhelmingly masculine.
4. Petra Herrera
During the Mexican Revolution, it was not uncommon for female soldiers—known as soldaderas, to go into combat and fight alongside men. However, this was during the early 20th century, and the women struggled with prejudice and abuse. One of the most famous soldaderas was Petra Herrera. At the beginning of the revolution, she disguised herself as a man, calling herself Pedro. She kept her identity a secret until she was acknowledged as a great soldier. After leading the successful siege on the town of Torreon, Herrera’s impressive accomplishment was never acknowledged because she was a woman. This didn’t hold her back though—Petra left to successfully form a troop of all-female soldiers.
Nwanyeruwa was an Igbo woman in Nigeria who started the Women’s War—often referred to as the first major challenge to British authority in West Africa during the colonial period. After she was asked about her property by a census collector, Nwanyeruwa began to protest about paying taxes with other women. Over the course of two months, over 25,000 women came together to protest tax changes and the unrestricted power of the Warrant Chiefs. Nwanyeruwa played a key role in keeping the protest non-violent. The women protested with song and dance, “sitting” on the Warrant Chiefs until they eventually resigned. In the end, the British dropped their tax plans and the Women’s War triumphed.
6. Constance Markievicz
Constance Markievicz was an Anglo-Irish Countess, politician, revolutionary nationalist, and suffragette. During her lifetime she participated in countless Irish independence causes and played a key role in the Easter Rising of 1916 where she wounded a British sniper. Because of this she was forced to surrender and was put into solitary confinement. Constance served as the Minister for Labor of the Irish Republic for three years, making her one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position. She was also the first woman to be elected to the British House of Commons but ended up rejecting the position in line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy. She was jailed again due to her strong political views. In prison, she and 92 other female prisoners went on hunger strike. She was released a month later.
7. Tawakul Karman
Tawakul Karman is a 36-year-old mother of three and serves as the chair of Women Journalists Without Chains, a Yemeni group that fights for human rights and freedom of expression. Tawakul is known for pressuring Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, to resign. She has protested in front of Sana’a University in the nation’s capital, every Tuesday since 2007. Although Tawakul believes in the power of peaceful protest, she has been arrested several times. In 2011, she became the first Arab woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
8. Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi is best known for speaking out against the violent rule of Burmese dictator U Ne Win. Suu Kyi founded the National League for Democracy in 1989 and the party had a big victory in the 1990 elections. Although this victory would have made Suu Kyi prime minister, the U Ne Win refused to hand over the power and effectively enacted a constitution that forbade Suu Kyi from ever serving as Burma’s leader. After starting a nonviolent movement for equality and human rights, Suu Kyi was put under house arrest for 15 years. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and was recently granted freedom.
9. Corazon Aquino
A former self-proclaimed housewife, Corazon Aquino was the leader of the 1986 Philippines’ “people power” revolution which effectively removed Ferdinand Marcos of his 20-year-old reign. After her senator husband was assassinated in 1983, Corazon took up her husband’s cause and decided to run for president of the Philippines against Marcos. Although she was not victorious in the election, Corazon led the peaceful revolution throughout the Philippines that eventually led Marcos to resign. During her years as president, Corazon successfully veered her country towards democracy and ratified a constitution that would limit the power of the presidency. She died in 2009.
10. Phoolan Devi
Phoolan Devi’s early years were characterized by several instances of sexual abuse by high-caste men, inspiring her to fight against the caste system in India. At 18, Devi was gang-raped by high-caste bandits. In retaliation, she decided to become a gang-leader herself and seek revenge on her assaulters. In 1981, Devi returned to the village of the incident and executed two of her rapists and 20 other villagers. She evaded the law for two years and finally surrendered in 1983, when she was charged for 48 crimes including murder and kidnapping for ransom. After 11 years in prison, the state government dropped all charges against her and she was elected to parliament in 1994. She was assassinated in 2001 by three upper-caste men at the age of 37.
Images via: LA Opinion, Therebelution, Img Kid, Mex Files, Toptenz, Radford, Today Online, Time, Indian Express.