History remembers only a handful of women freedom fighters — and by freedom, I also mean equal rights for all genders, caste and creed and not just political freedom. Many women do not make it to the pages of glory. Reflecting on the recent International Women’s day, we wonder – who are the lesser-known but equally (if not more) important women who fought for noble causes? In other words, who stood by their words, at a personal cost?
She stood for what she believed in or rather sat for that. Affectionately addressed as “The mother of civil rights”, Rosa Parks was an African- American civil rights activist. On December 1, 1995, Rosa Parks created history when she refused to give her seat to a white man. The government arrested Rosa for the act of disobedience. This triggered the bus boycott, which was the largest mass movement against racial discrimination of those times. She was the one to bring Martin Luther King to the limelight and forefront of the civil rights movement.
“I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time… there was an opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner”
Rosa Parks became the icon of equality after the boycott. Denied right to vote due to her race, Parks challenged everyone as she worked along with the Voter’s league to encourage blacks to vote.
Matangini Hazra, affectionately known as Gandhi Buri, Bengali for “The old lady Gandhi” by the people. She participated in the Movements like Non-Cooperation and the Quit India Movement.
During one such march, she was shot three times, on the forehead and hands, but she kept marching forward. She kept chanting Vande Mataram, “hail to the Motherland” while dying with the flag of the Indian National Congress held high and still flying. In Kolkata, Hazra’s statue stands tall. It was the first statue of a woman in Independent India. It stands at the location where she was shot, Tamluk police station in Midnapore district. A reminder of her remarkable story.
Her resolve and determination was the needed ignition to the minds of all other women who wanted to voice their opinion and contribute to the freedom struggle.
She was a spy, nurse, a woman seeking the right to vote, and a former slave who worked tirelessly to free enslaved people. After being a slave to several cruel masters, she had run away from the bondage at a very young age.
Over ten years, Harriet Tubman took several personal risks to show the path of freedom to several hundreds of slaves. She worked as a conductor at the underground railroad, which became the safe houses for slaves that had escaped and antislavery activists. She later worked as a spy for the federal forces during the civil war.
“I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.”
Yaa Asantewaa was a warrior queen from Ghana, born around 1840, who rose to lead an army against the invading British. When several army chiefs became scared to take over the powerful Englishmen, Yaa Asantewaa of Ashanti region in Ghana, Africa gave an unsettling powerful speech to motivate every single citizen to take charge of the situation and act to stop the invaders. Though the English proved victorious after a long struggle, Ghana still remembers it’s queen as a warrior who never gave up. She proved to be a political defender and a very well thinking strategic leader.
After the death of her husband, Chennamma, the Rani of Kittur in Karnataka, fought ferociously against the British, when they tried to grab her land. After a long battle, the Rani forced the Englishmen to sign a peace treaty with her. By deception, Britishers prisoned Chennama in the Bailhongal Fort. She etched her presence for many centuries with her brave resistance. She was one of the many women freedom fighters of India. Rani Chennama remains as the icon of bravery to many bold ladies out there.
Kakon Bibi was a Bangladeshi freedom fighter, titled the “heroic freedom fighter” who fought against the Pakistani forces during Bangladesh’s liberation war. She left her three-day-old infant at home to join the liberation war. Kakon Bibi took bullets while fighting at Tengratila in Sylhet in November. In 1996, the Bangladesh government honored her with the gallantry award Bir Pratik for her massive support and service. She died of pneumonia in 2018. She serves as a perfect example of a passionate woman fighting for her rights and her land.
Manuela Saenz was a revolutionary heroine of Latin America. She played a key part to liberate New Granada under the leadership of Simon Bolivar. Manuela Saenz received the ‘Order of the Sun’, due to her services and for being one of the very few women who took part in it.
She went on to become the feminist symbol of the independence wars of the 19th century. The Ecuadorian government awarded her the rank of general for all her contributions.
An entrepreneur, freedom-fighter, a reformer and a feminist. An enthusiast of art and theatre, she staged plays to promote social reforms and political happenings. In addition to that, she also pioneered in India national movement. The bequest of bravery, women’s liberation, and co-working she has voiced for proceeds to rouse the youth of today.
“The women’s movement did not seek to make women either fight men or imitate them. It rather seeks to instil in them a consciousness of their own faculties and functions and create a respect for those of the other sex.”
In conclusion, there are several other female freedom fighters and social reformers who have portrayed immense bravery, persistence and love. In a male dominant society, it is easy to forget even great contributions by woman. Through the years women from ordinary walks of life have contributed in most extra-ordinary ways for the cause of freedom, equality and liberation. We should remind ourselves about these freedom fighters and their exemplary work, every now and then. To know more about such women icons who stand against the social injustice, click here.