When it comes to changing the world, there is one character trait that tends to stand above the rest: courage. It takes courage to speak out, courage to do the unpopular, courage to take action even when you know it means you might suffer. Courageous individuals are those who end up changing the world. In honor of women’s history month, here are a few women I believe helped change the world. I would guess you know the first two; the last two are ones that I have personally always admired.
Sojourner Truth: Her story has always fascinated me. A slave who escaped with her infant daughter, Sojourner Truth was a well-known abolitionist and women’s rights activist in the 1800s. During her lifetime, she fought and won three lawsuits, something very unusual for a woman, especially a former slave. She worked tirelessly to shift attitudes and convention to affect change throughout the country during a difficult time.
Mother Teresa: It’s hard to talk about humanitarian women and not mention Mother Teresa. She worked for years in the slums of Calcutta, and later founded the Missionaries of Charity, active in more than 130 countries working with those dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; managing mobile health clinics, orphanages, and schools; and carrying out food programs. She was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her extensive humanitarian work around the world.
Tegla Loroupe: A marathon runner from Kenya, Tegla was the first African woman to win the New York City Marathon, and achieved several world records at various distance races. She created the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation and a series of annual peace races organized in regions at conflict over resources. (The races are in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.) Using sports as a positive way to bring different—often warring—communities together, the peace races provide a platform for building trust and cross-cultural learning. In 2015, she was an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup and in 2016, she organized the Refugee Team at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Zainab Salbi: An Iraqi woman who moved to the United States at the age of 19, Zainab (pictured above) founded Women for Women International, a humanitarian and development organization dedicated to serving the women who survive wars. It has grown from helping 30 women in 1993 to more than 400,000 women in eight conflict areas. She has written and spoken extensively on the use of rape and violence against women during war. Beyond words, she has worked diligently to pave the way for those women who survive the fighting and violence to have a seat at the negotiating table.
Do you suppose that the four women mentioned here have had to rely on courage in their lifetimes? You can bet they have. While the contributions of women are this month’s focus, it’s important to remember that there are girls across the United States and the world who need people to advocate and stand up for them every day of the year. Our future is only as strong as the most vulnerable we defend.