It was a regular Sunday in 1857, just like any other in New York City for many residents. Everyone began the day by eating breakfast and getting dressed up for a good day. Spring was on its way. The weather was growing warmer, and trees sprouted, promising brighter days ahead. Nobody knew what that day would bring. Parents kissed their children goodbye before leaving for work, just like every other day. Couples exchanged their goodbyes and wished one another a successful day at work. Some people planned arrangements for the evening. It is always great to know that someone at home expects you to return, but fate has other plans from time to time.

Women used to work in tough conditions, had no right to speak out for themselves, earned less than males for the same amount of time worked, did not have much time for themselves or their children, but were still brave enough to work hard in the hope of creating a better future for their children. Some of these women were working at a textile factory under deplorable conditions. They started to protest against the status quo because they were tired of working long hours and not being acknowledged for their commitment and effort. All they sought was a more humane working environment and to be decently compensated. They desired to be seen, heard, and recognized. However, their innocuous demonstration evolved into a catastrophe thanks to business people and politicians who didn’t listen and quickly ordered the suppression of the demonstrators.

Women protested for something basic, something they deserved, but they were assaulted and suppressed by police and pushed inside the factory that day. Some were injured. They were locked in there in a matter of seconds. They stared horrified at one another because they had nowhere to go, but it was not their only concern at the time. They began to detect the smell of smoke. The factory flared up. The place where they were meant to make a better life for themselves and their families had turned to hell. They were now battling for a gasp of fresh air. The fire flames surged brutally, and smoke and blazes blanketed everything. They held each other’s hands, pleading for rescue. Regrettably, the fire was just as vicious as the authorities. They died, and so did their aspirations and ambitions. Weeping children and bereaved families were the only things left behind.

Nonetheless, people worldwide did not and will not forget the 8th March 1857. That somber and dismal day not only sparked numerous movements against cruel treatment of women across the world, but it also inspires us, women and all just people who respect humanity, to honor their bravery every year and attempt to raise awareness around the world. Since then, cruelty and injustice towards women has persisted, despite the efforts and sacrifices made to make the world a better and more equitable place for people of all races and genders. Women, on the other hand, have hope and struggle not only for their own essential rights but also for the establishment of justice for any living being, as they also play the roles of mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, and teachers throughout the world, who have never lost hope in humanity’s future.

As a woman, I believe it is my duty to repay my debt and to honor all women who have worked to make a difference in the world by introducing some heroines here:

Malala Yousafzai – Pakistan

Malala, who recently earned her bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) from one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford, had to struggle for her most basic right: education. She became a target of the Taliban when she began her activist work for children’s and women’s right to education in 2009 when she was just 11 years old, and was shot in the head on her way home from school in 2012. Her survival was a miracle, and her supportive family, notably her father, had a significant role in her success and resilience through life’s trials and predicaments. Malala received the Nobel Peace Prize for her continuous efforts to improve access to education and combat child repression. He Named Me Malala is a biographical documentary about her life that I suggest everyone should add to their must-see list.

It is also important to honor Pakistan’s first female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, for her efforts to convert a patriarchal and male-dominated society into a more welcoming one for women. The Extremist Islamic Group, Al-Qaeda, assassinated her, yet such a heroin will never be removed from the memory of a nation. Malala and many other women were undoubtedly influenced and inspired by the late Benazir Bhutto.

Turkan Saylan – Turkey

Turkan Saylan (1935-2009) was a 440-publication author, academician, former president of the Association for Supporting Contemporary Life, and, most notably, a pioneer in treating Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy. Aside from her academic achievements, her tireless efforts as the first woman in charge of the Leprosy Research and Application Center at Istanbul University’s Faculty of Medicine are noteworthy, especially in those days when widespread ignorance and a lack of a specific treatment had turned the disease into a dreadful one, causing even a mother to abandon her child.

Saylan began researching leprosy in 1976 and established the Association and Foundation for the Fight Against Leprosy, and received the International Gandhi Prize in 1986. Additionally, until 2006, she served as a leprosy consultant for the World Health Organization. She was a founding member and vice president of the International Leprosy Union (ILU) and helped develop Behçet’s Sexually Transmitted Diseases Polyclinics and Dermatopathology Laboratory.

She was such a selfless and ambitious lady that she volunteered to serve in Istanbul Leprosy Hospital for 21 years, from 1987 to 2002 (just seven years before her death after 17 years of suffering from breast cancer). Besides her medical endeavors, Professor Saylan put forth a concerted effort to defend women and children’s rights by founding the IU Women’s Problems Research and Application Center in 1990 and becoming a member of Koruncuk Charity, a foundation helping children who need protection. Moreover, Saylan was a member of the Prime Ministry Human Rights Advisory Board and the Istanbul Provincial Human Rights Board.

Sediqeh Dowlatabadi – Iran

Sediqeh Dowlatabadi played a pioneering role in the Persian women’s movement and as an Iranian feminist, activist and journalist. She was aware of the prominence of education for women on the way to the advancement of modern society. Therefore, after graduation and receiving her Bachelor of Arts from Sorbonne University, she devoted all her time and energy to defending women’s right to education, which led to her arrest and imprisonment. Once, when the officer in charge told her she had been born a century early, she responded:

Sir, I was born a hundred years late; if I had been born earlier, I would not have allowed women to be so humiliated and trapped in your chains.

She attended the tenth convention of the International Alliance for Women’s Suffrage as a delegate of Iranian women, following which she became a prominent figure in the movement of Unveiling (banning all types of headscarf and veil for women) in Iran and spearheaded many efforts, including secret meetings, publications, and the establishment of a girls’ school. She is the first Iranian woman to leave her house without a headscarf, a law that was formally promulgated and enforced later by Reza Shah, the first Pahlavi King, on the 8th January 1936. She was a modernist woman who had long advocated for equal rights for men and women in various ways, most notably through her magazine named The Voice of Women. Sediqeh Dowlatabadi remained an active member of the Women’s Center until she died in 1962.

Irena Sendler – Poland

Sendler, a Polish social worker who supported Warsaw’s Jews during the German occupation, saved the lives of around 2,500 Jewish children. She rose to prominence as a Zegota1 militant following the organization’s formation in the fall of 1942. As chief of the children’s ward, she used her contacts with orphanages and other institutions to ensure the protection of children.

When the Germans invaded Warsaw at the outset of World War II, Sandler was 29 years old. She risked her life to get admission to the Nazi death camps after they were sealed in 1940 and was granted permission to inspect its healthcare facilities. She began rescuing individuals from the camp after entering there. She gave each kid a new identity while hiding them in orphanages, schools, hospitals, and with foster parents. She noted their Jewish names and locations in code so that surviving relatives might find them after the war. However, Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, tortured violently, and sentenced to death. Zegota intervened just before she was going to be executed. She took on a new name and resumed her cooperation with Zegota. In 2008, she passed away, and in 2010, Polish historian Anna Mieszkowska published Irena Sendler: Mother of the Holocaust Children, a biography about her ceaseless and daring endeavors.

Many people across the world are working for peace and equality, defending not only women’s rights but also human rights. Despite the challenges in choosing whom to write about, I selected a few women from among millions to introduce. I only wish I could name everyone in this piece.

Happy International Women’s Day!


1 A Polish World War II resistance organization founded by the Armia Krajowa to help the Jews during the Holocaust.