Speeches throughout history, and the careful articulation of words have the power to evoke emotional responses. They have the power to transform arguments into persuasive messages that compel listeners to take action.
And that's what these inspirational women have done. So as we celebrate International Women's Day, we've rounded up the most inspirational speeches that have shifted the course of history for women for the better.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1850 – 1982)
Writer and Women’s Rights Activist
“Our Girls” , 1880
“The coming girl is to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. She is to hold an equal place with her brother in the world of work, in the colleges, in the state, the church and the home. Her sphere is to be no longer bounded by the prejudices of a dead past, but by her capacity to go wherever she can stand. The coming girl is to be an independent, self-supporting being, not as to-day a helpless victim of fashion, superstition, and absurd conventionalisms.”
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858 - 1928)
Women's Rights Activist and Leading Suffragette
Freedom of death, 1913
“I am here as a soldier who has temporarily left the field of battle in order to explain - it seems strange it should have to be explained - what civil war is like when civil war is waged by women. I am not only here as a soldier temporarily absent from the field at battle; I am here - and that, I think, is the strangest part of my coming - I am here as a person who, according to the law courts of my country, it has been decided, is of no value to the community at all; and I am adjudged because of my life to be a dangerous person, under sentence of penal servitude in a convict prison…If we win it, this hardest of all fights, then, to be sure in the future it is going to be made easier for women all over the world to win their fight when their time comes.”
Margaret Sanger (1879 – 1966)
Women’s Rights Activist and Social Reformer
The morality of birth control, 1921
“We ask the church to have more confidence in women. We ask the opponents of this movement to reverse the methods of the church, which aims to keep women moral by keeping them in fear and in ignorance, and to inculcate into them a higher and truer morality based upon knowledge. And ours is the morality of knowledge. If we cannot trust woman with the knowledge of her own body, then I claim that two thousand years of Christian teaching has proved to be a failure.
“We stand on the principle that birth control should be available to every adult man and woman. We believe that every adult man and woman should be taught the responsibility and the right use of knowledge. We claim that woman should have the right over her own body and to say if she shall or if she shall not be a mother, as she sees fit. We further claim that the first right of a child is to be desired. While the second right is that it should be conceived in love, and the third, that it should have a heritage of sound health.”
Bell Hooks (1952 – 2021)
Author and Social Activist
Feminism is for everybody, 2000
“Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction. Imagine living in a world where we can all be who we are, a world of peace and possibility. Feminist revolution alone will not create such a world; we need to end racism, class elitism, imperialism. But it will make it possible for us to be fully self-actualized females and males able to create beloved community, to live together, realizing our dreams of freedom and justice, living the truth that we are all “created equal.” Come closer. See how feminism can touch and change your life and all our lives. Come closer and know first-hand what feminist movement is all about. Come closer and you will see: feminism is for everybody.”
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Women’s and Civil Rights Activist
Ain’t I a Woman? 1851
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?”
Queen Elizabeth II (1953 – 1603)
Queen of England
On the Spanish Armada, 1958
'I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.'
Malala Yousafzai (1997 – )
Female Education Activist
Nobel lecture, 2017
“We wanted to make our parents proud and prove that we could also excel in our studies and achieve those goals, which some people think only boys can.But things did not remain the same. When I was in Swat, which was a place of tourism and beauty, suddenly changed into a place of terrorism. I was just ten that more than 400 schools were destroyed. Women were flogged. People were killed. And our beautiful dreams turned into nightmares.
“Education went from being a right to being a crime. Girls were stopped from going to school. When my world suddenly changed, my priorities changed too. I had two options. One was to remain silent and wait to be killed. And the second was to speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.”
Emma Watson (1990 – )
Actor, Feminist and Humanitarian
HeForShe Launch Campaign, 2014
“We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.
“Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong…It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals.If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are—we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom.
“I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too – reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.”
Sylvia Rivera (1951 - 2002)
Y’all Better Quiet Down, 1973
“Y’all better quiet down. I’ve been trying to get up here all day for your gay brothers and your gay sisters in jail. Have you ever been beaten up and raped and jailed? Now think about it. They’ve been beaten up and raped…. The women have tried to fight for their sex changes or to become women…. they do not write women, they do not write men, they write ‘STAR’ because we’re trying to do something for them.
“I have been to jail. I have been raped. And beaten. Many times! By men, heterosexual men that do not belong in the homosexual shelter. But do you do anything for me? No. You tell me to go and hide my tail between my legs. I will not put up with this shit. I have been beaten. I have had my nose broken. I have been thrown in jail. I have lost my job. I have lost my apartment for gay liberation and you all treat me this way?”