By Jane Lee

Whether they are mothers, teachers, activists, scientists, or scholars, women all over the world lead by example every day. Over the last few weeks, members of Wiser.org’s Women Empowered community have been sharing the stories of women who have inspired them. Read below to learn about ten of these extraordinary individuals!

ANGELES ARRIEN is a renowned anthropologist, author, and educator who synthesizes modern and ancient knowledge in the fields of cultural anthropology, psychology, and comparative religions. Her interdisciplinary approach called The Four-Fold Way® helps people across the globe strengthen their connections to nature, solve problems and conflicts, and improve their cooperation skills. Wiser.org member Marian described her as “one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.”

“Four Rules For Life: Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Don’t be attached to the results.”

AUNG SAN SUU KYI is a political activist who has worked for over two decades to bring democracy to Myanmar, a nation under military rule since 1988. In 1989, she was placed under house arrest and barred from political participation. In total, she spent fifteen years under house arrest. She has since won a seat in Myanmar’s parliament and continues to lead the National League for Democracy party to bring change to her country’s political system.

“My very top priority is for people to understand that they have the power to change things themselves.”

JOANNA MACY is an “eco-philosopher” who has combined her knowledge of Buddhism, systems theory, and deep ecology to form a theoretical framework and group work method called The Work that Reconnects. Her system has helped thousands of individuals turn hopelessness into positive action and develop the tools to create personal and social change. Her academic scholarship is enriched by five decades of activism in the anti-nuclear, peace, social justice, and environmental movements.

“Because the relationship between self and world is reciprocal, it is not a matter of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the Earth, the Earth heals us. No need to wait.”

LEYMAH GBOWEE helped organize and lead the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a movement made up of Christian and Muslim women who gathered to pray in public places to protest the violence engendered by warring factions during the Second Liberian Civil War. Gbowee’s protests were instrumental in removing Liberia’s infamous leader, Charles Taylor, from power. Gbowee was a co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts.

“Don’t wait for a Gandhi, don’t wait for a King, don’t wait for a Mandela. You are your own Mandela, you are your own Gandhi, you are your own King.”

RITA LEVI-MONTALCINI was a Nobel Prize-winning neurologist who made enormous contributions to neural and cell growth research. Prohibited by Italy’s then-fascist government from participating in academic life during World War II, she set up a home laboratory to carry on with the experiments that would become the foundation of her life’s work. She was made a lifetime Italian senator in 2001 and also set up a foundation to support education for African women.

“Humanity is made up of men and women and it must be represented by both sexes.”

SAVITRIBAI PHULE and her husband Jyotirao Phule were pioneering advocates for women’s education and numerous other social causes such as the rights of widows and untouchables in India during the mid-19th century. In 1848, they started the first school for girls in India where Savitribai was also the first female teacher, despite harsh criticism from men in their gender-restrictive, caste-based community.

SHIRLEY CHISHOLM was the first African-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress, as well as the first African-American person to bid for a major party nomination in a U.S. presidential election. Even though she was constantly faced with fierce opposition, she remained an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, social justice, and education throughout her political career.

“At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.”

VANDANA SHIVA is a scientist and environmentalist who founded Navdanya, an Indian organization that has been working since 1984 to counter the influence of industrial agriculture. Navdanya preserves biodiversity through seed-saving and promotes an agricultural system that empowers farmers, of whom a large percentage are women. She also helped start Bija Vidyapeeth (Earth University), an educational institution that teaches the numerous facets of sustainability and biodiversity.

“Most farmers are women. … So if you have to have seed sovereignty seed must be in women’s hands, if you have to have food sovereignty agriculture must be in women’s hands. Because when women do farming, they do it for life. When women do farming, they do it for their children, they do it for nutrition, they do it for taste.” seedfreedom.in

Wangari Maathai

WANGARI MAATHAI was a professor, human rights advocate, and environmental activist who helped start the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. This grassroots initiative encouraged women to plant tree seedlings and compensated them for their work as a way to combat the dual effects of environmental degradation and poverty. Maathai was elected to the Kenyan parliament in 2002 and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

“In Kenya women are the first victims of environmental degradation, because they are the ones who walk for hours looking for water, who fetch firewood, who provide food for their families.”

Last but not certainly not least, THE WOMEN AROUND US. Our mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, friends, and significant others are constant inspirations. It’s no wonder that these women received the most mentions in the Women Empowered discussions! Here is what one of our discussion participants, Janet, had to say about the women in her life: “I seem to have surrounded myself with beautiful, but interesting and intelligent women who care about those around them, but also have the wisdom and strength to care for themselves and fight for their dreams and beliefs.”

The ten women above are only a fraction of the dozens of inspirational figures mentioned by Wiser.org community members, and those mentioned are only a fraction of all the empowering women in the world. Visit the Women Empowered discussion forum to read the list in its entirety—we encourage you to join the conversation! Who inspires you?

Photo credits:
Angeles Arrien: angelesarrien.com
Aung San Suu Kyi: Htoo Tay Zar
Joanna Macy: Adam AvRuskin
Leymah Gbowee: aktivioslo
Rita Levi-Montalcini: Giuseppe Nicoloro
Savitribai Phule: desipedia
Shirley Chisholm: Thomas J. O’Halloran, U.S. News & World Reports
Vandana Shiva: Tsui (Manfred Werner)
Wangari Maathai: e pants
Women around us: Valerie Everett


Jane is Wiser.org’s Communications and Operations intern. She is a member of the Women Empowered, WiserConnections, and WiserBayArea groups.

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