The 10 greatest figures of international feminism

Rosa Parks, Feminism symbol

From the “Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Citizen” by Olympe de Gouges in 1791, to the positions taken by Malala Yousafzai and the writings of Simone de Beauvoir, the struggles against sexist discrimination have evolved enormously, but never stopped. While the issues encountered change from one country to another, the focus remains the same: achieving gender equality. With this page, (re) discover some of the great feminist women who have made history.

Table of Contents

Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
Christine de Pisan [Wikimedia Commons]

Christine de Pizan was born in Venice in 1364 and died in the monastery of Poissy (France) around 1430. She is considered to be the first French-speaking woman writer to have made a living from her writings.

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In 1405, Christine de Pizan wrote La Cité des dames (The City of Ladies) which is one of the first feminist works known to date. She imagines a utopian fortified city in which each stone is a woman endowed with talents and virtues. She thus opposed the idea, then widespread, that knowledge and knowledge would pervert women.

Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges, born in Montauban (France) on May 7, 1748, is a French woman of letters who became a politician. She is considered one of the pioneers of French feminism, especially after the publication in 1791 of the Declaration of the Rights of Women and Citizens.

She also made herself known by publishing the anti-slavery texts Black slavery, The Black Market as well as Reflections on Negro Men which opened the doors to the Society of Black Friends. She died guillotined in Paris on November 3, 1793.

“Woman is born free and lives equal to man in her rights. Social distinctions can be based only on the common utility.”

Olympe de Gouges

Clara Zetkin

Clara Zetkin

Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) is a German teacher, journalist and politician, historical figure of feminism and initiator of Women’s Day.

In Copenhagen, in 1910, Clara Zetkin proposed, for the first time, to organize an International Women’s Day in order to campaign for the right to vote and equality between the sexes. The conference brought together a hundred women from 17 countries and immediately adopted this proposal, inspired by the workers’ protests that took place in the United States in 1908 and 1909.

In 1921, it was Vladimir Ilitch Ulyanov, known as Lenin, who declared International Women’s Day on March 8. It was not until 1977 that the UN formalized this day.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested at King’s Gate in May 1914

Emmeline Pankhurst is a British feminist politician. In 1903, she founded, with her two daughters, the Women’s Social and Political Union, a group of British women quickly named Suffragette. Their slogan: “deeds, not words”.

Among them, the suffragist Emily Wilding Davison militates by practicing civil disobedience. She was imprisoned several times and died when hit by a horse during an action in a racetrack.

The Pankhurst family and the Women’s Social and Political Union are known for their punchy actions, unlike the activism of the suffragist group who are more pacifist. Although much criticized, Emmeline Pankhrust‘s activism is widely recognized as a decisive element in securing the right to vote for women in Britain.

In 1918, British women obtained the right to vote from the age of 30. Men could vote from the age of 21. Equality was established ten years later, when women were allowed to vote at age 21 in 1928.

Emilie Gourd

Emilie Gourd
A visit of the Swiss feminist activist Emilie Gourd at the IKC (“Ilustrowany Kurier Codzienny”} newspaper headquarters in Krakow in Poland

Émilie Gourd, born December 19, 1879 and died December 4, 1946, is a Swiss journalist and activist for women’s rights, an important figure in Swiss and international feminism.

After taking university courses in history and philosophy, she joined a feminist association called the Women’s Union. Then, in 1909, she joined the Geneva Association for Women’s Suffrage, of which she became president.

In 1912, Émilie Gourd founded the newspaper Le Mouvement feministe (The Feminist Movement), of which she secured the post of editor-in-chief until her death. During this period, she increased her feminist activities, until being appointed secretary of the International Alliance for Women’s Suffrage in 1923.

Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir in 1967

Simone de Beauvoir, born January 9, 1908 in Paris, the city where she died on April 14, 1986, is a French philosopher, novelist, memorialist and essayist.

Simone de Beauvoir is often considered an important theorist of feminism, and participated in the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s. Her book “The Second Sex” is one of the greatest books of contemporary philosophy on feminism.

“All oppression creates a state of war; this is no exception.”

Simone de Beauvoir

Marguerite Yourcenar

Marguerite Yourcenar

Marguerite Yourcenar, was born on June 8, 1903 in Brussels (Belgium). Of French origin, the writer left for the USA in 1939. Ten years later, she obtained American nationality. Poet, essayist, translator, and literary critic, she also teaches French literature and art history.

In 1980, she was the first woman elected to the Académie française.

Marguerite Yourcenar is a supporter of “human fraternity” and opposes feminism which thinks of women as opposed to men. She thinks that women are trapped in social circumstances. In 1981, the author gave a series of interviews on the status of women.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks, born February 4, 1913 in Alabama and died October 24, 2005 in Detroit, Michigan, is an African-American woman who became an iconic figure in the fight against racial segregation in the United States, which earned her the nickname “the mother of the civil rights movement” from the US Congress. Rosa Parks subsequently fought against racial segregation with Martin Luther King.

“Differences of race, nationality or religion should not be used to deny any human being citizenship rights or privileges.”

Rosa Parks

She rose to fame on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, when she refused to give way to a white passenger on the bus driven by James F. Blake. Arrested by the police, she was fined $15 on December 5, 1955; she is appealing against this judgment.

A 26-year-old black pastor, Martin Luther King, with the help of Ralph Abernathy, then launched a campaign of protest and boycott against the bus company which would last 380 days. On November 13, 1956, the United States Supreme Court overturned segregationist laws on buses, declaring them unconstitutional.

Rosa Parks discusses her refusal to give up her seat to a white man & the resulting bus boycott in Montgomery, AL. April 1956 interview:

Simone Veil

Simone Veil

Simone Veil, born July 13, 1927 in Nice and died June 30, 2017 in Paris, is a French stateswoman.

Born into a Jewish family, she was deported to Auschwitz at the age of 16, during the Shoah, where she lost her father, brother and mother. A survivor of the concentration camp, she studied law and political science before entering the magistracy as a high official.

In 1974, she was appointed Minister of Health by President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who entrusted her with the adoption of the law decriminalizing the use by a woman of voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion), a law which will then be commonly designated. like the “Veil law”. She therefore appears as an icon in the fight against discrimination against women in France.

In 2008, Simone Veil was elected to the Académie française.

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”

Simone Veil

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani women’s rights activist born July 12, 1997.

She rose to prominence in 2009, when she was just 11, writing a blog called Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl for the BBC. She shares her views on education and her life under Taliban rule.

In 2012, she was the victim of an assassination attempt by the Taliban where she was seriously injured. This attack is condemned by the entire political class of the country. She is transferred to Birmingham Hospital in the UK for further treatment. This attack led to international media coverage of Malala Yousafzai.

In 2014, aged 17, she won the Nobel Peace Prize with the Indian Kailash Satyarthi, which made her the youngest winner in the history of this prize.

“The Taliban could take our pens and books, but they couldn’t stop our minds from thinking.”

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

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