From sports and politics to glamour and business, no matter what is their chosen field, inspirational women have been marking their footprints in the world since time began. They broke the barriers of patriarchy, soaring high enough for the world to look up and genuflect before them. Therefore, in celebration of these powerful women and inspiring trailblazers, the below list puts light on 20 women who have left us spell-bound with their enthusiasm to cherish every moment, a passion for doing something extraordinary and confidence to reach on top. This list is not actually in any particular order and neither comprehensive because, after all, we cannot give a rating to the source of inspiration.
20. Neerja Bhanot
The hijack heroine and the nation’s pride, Neerja Bhanot was an Indian model and purser for Pan Am, based in Mumbai, India. This daring lady was shot dead two days before her 23rd birthday while rescuing passengers on Pan Am Flight 73, which was hijacked by terrorists, on 5 September 1986. Without thinking even once about her life, she single-handedly safeguarded the lives of many hostages on board by assisting them to evade through the emergency exits and also guaranteed the failure of the hijacking by preventing the plane from getting off the ground. Posthumously, she became the youngest and the first woman recipient of India’s highest peacetime gallantry award for bravery, the Ashok Chakra Award.
19. Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart, an American aviation pioneer, and an author was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and was honored with the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for this achievement. Since then, she never stopped and kept making new records. She also played a contributory role in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots to motivate women in aviation. When other women were caged in a male-dominated world, Amelia Earhart literally soared high into the clouds and inspired various women to spread their wings and fly. Embarking on a lifelong dream to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937, she disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean and she was never found again. Her last failure became, as she once said, a challenge to us all.
18. Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks, was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. On 1st December 1955, she turned into an overnight sensation in the Civil Rights movement when she confidently declined to give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger, after the whites-only section was fully packed on the Montgomery City bus. This solitary act kindled a boycott, which lasted for several days until the city was forced to abolish its law enforcing racial segregation on public buses. This audacious act made her an inspiration to countless individuals and gave her the title of the First Lady of Civil Rights and the Mother of the Freedom Movement.
17. Coco Chanel
Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, well known as Coco Chanel, was a prolific French fashion designer and the founder of the Chanel, a popular fashion brand. In an era of corseted silhouettes, she welcomed a sporty, casual chic as the feminine standard of style and disenthralled women through fashion. Born to a laundrywoman, Chanel worked as a club singer and hat maker before embarking on the journey of becoming one of the greatest fashion designers ever seen by the world. She not only liberated the female body by bringing the comfort of men’s attire to women’s fashion but also questioned the conservative outlook and the gender norms of the time through her own personal life and career.
16. Arundhati Roy
Born on November 24, 1961, Arundhati Roy is an Indian author best known for her novel, The God of Small Things, which won her the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997 and became the biggest-selling book by a nonexpatriate Indian author. She is also a known political activist and has been involved in numerous human rights and environmental causes. She has always been standing up for her beliefs and her rights against much stronger forces.
15. Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt, a popular American politician, diplomat, and activist, was the longest-serving and one of the most responsible, First Lady of the United States. Before that, she was already vocal and connected with women-centric issues, during her work with the Women’s Trade Union League and the International Congress of Working Women. She also spoke about gender equality and women rights through her newspaper column, My Day. Later on, she was presented with the title of the First Lady of the World, as a tribute to her human rights achievement.
14. Kalpana Chawla
From drawing pictures of airplanes to becoming the first woman of Indian origin in space, the journey of Kalpana Chawla, an American astronaut, is truly a beacon of inspiration for countless girls who cannot find the path from their dreams to success. In 1997, she had her first experience of the space world as she flew on Space Shuttle Columbia, playing the role of a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. Unfortunately, in 2003 she lost her life along with the other crew members when the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded into fragments during its way back to the earth’s surface. Posthumously, she was rewarded with the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and various streets, universities, and institutions have been titled in her honor.
13. Billie Jean King
With 39 Grand Slam titles and 20 Wimbledon titles to her name, Billie Jean King is indisputably one of the exceptional female tennis players to ever grace the game. However, it is her battle for gender equality and equal rights for sporting women that she will be truly celebrated for. In 1973, she took on and defeated self-professed misogynist Bobby Riggs, a former men’s singles champion, in a match called ‘The Battle of the Sexes’, after he barbed her that men were better athletes. This wasn’t just about tennis though, as Billie Jean King described sports as, a microcosm of society, and believed her efforts could benefit in ameliorating women’s rights all over the world.
12. Princess Diana
Though belonging to the British Royal family as the First wife of Prince Charles, Princess Diana barely sat back and savored a life of leisure and luxury. Instead, she chose to utilize her celebrity status to help as many people as possible, becoming the figurehead for charity campaigns around the world. Princess Diana, a well-loved people’s princess had an altruistic and compassionate attitude towards everyone. She dedicated much of her life to charity work and led a Nobel Peace Prize-winning campaign to ban landmines. Diana was undoubtedly an inspiration to people in all walks of life.
11. Indira Gandhi
Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi was the First female Prime Minister of India. She evoked the principles of power and perseverance. Although born into a prosperous family, she learned to grasp the reins of politics right from her childhood. During her tenure as the Prime Minister, she supported India’s nuclear weapons program which helped in forming India as a formidable force. She is also famous for uplifting the Green Revolution. Given the fact that she arose victorious in a time when our culture and society considered women to be compliant to men, Indira Gandhi has inspired us all with her strength and determination till and beyond her death. No wonder she earned the epithet, Iron Lady of India.
10. Mary Kom
Breaking the stereotypes that boxing is a man’s world, Mary Kom, a daring lady from the Kom tribe in Manipur, became the only Indian woman to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics and won the Bronze medal in the 51kg flyweight category. She is also the five-time winner of the World Amateur Boxing. She even grabbed a Gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games and became the first Indian woman ever to do so. Besides being a badass boxer, she is a doting mother too. But she never let motherhood create an obstruction in her passion for boxing. A symbol of courage and audacity, Mary Kom is an ideal role model for all women out there who stopped dreaming and achieving after becoming mothers.
9. Michelle Obama
The former First Lady of the United States and the first African-American First Lady, Michelle Obama, is an American lawyer and writer. Raised in a one-bedroom apartment in Chicago, she excelled academically and studied at Princeton and Harvard before becoming a lawyer. She is considered a role model for women, an advocate for poverty awareness, education, nutrition, physical activity and healthy eating, and a fashion icon. She is considered the most stylish First lady after Jackie Kennedy. She also spearheaded a campaign to fight childhood obesity.
8. Indra Nooyi
In a male-dominated business world, Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi arose as a corporate world leader as an Indian American business executive and the Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo. She not only proved that women are no less than men in handling the business matters but also kindled inspiration in numerous other girls of India to become the next businesswomen. Indra Nooyi has consistently managed to be on the list of World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.
7. Chanda Kocchar
A dynamic banker and one of the most influential women, Chanda Kochhar is the managing director and Chief Executive Officer of ICICI Bank. The very fact that she is the leading lady of the India’s largest private bank, depicts quite a marvellous story of Chanda Kochhar. At a time when people rarely considered women as good CEOs, Kochhar raised the bar when she came to head ICICI. She is widely known for her role in shaping retail banking in India. She was ranked No.1 in the Fortune India list of most powerful women in business in 2011.
6. Emma Watson
Famous for her acting role as Hermione Granger, Emma Watson is a British actress, model, and activist. In July 2014, she was appointed as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. She became an overnight voice for feminism and a perfect role model for millions of girls when she delivered a moving speech at the United Nations in 2014 to launch the UN Women Campaign HeForShe, which emphasis on men to advocate for gender equality. With her powerful speech, Watson made us understand that feminism is not just a sole fight for women, men should also support this cause. She proved that feminism is indeed fashionable.
5. Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton is considered to be one of the most influential forces in U.S. politics. Her list of political achievements includes being the only First Lady to ever run for public office, working as the first-ever female Senator from New York, Secretary of State under President Obama and not to forget the 2016 presidential election. Clinton has always dedicated her work to the progress of women. She emphasized that women’s rights are human rights and also ran a presidential campaign for girls in the 2016 presidential election that inspired millions of girls. She has won numerous awards for her commendable work regarding women, health, and children.
4. J.K. Rowling
Joanne Rowling, famously known as J. K. Rowling is nothing less than epic, from her mastery to make reading literature enthralling to her agile and triumphant interactions with all the haters on social media. Breaking through the ambush of poverty until she completed writing her first book for the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling has now sold 400 million copies worldwide. From living on state benefits in the UK to transforming into a multi-millionaire after her book’s success in a space of a few years, J.K.Rowling’s journey is truly admirable. If you ever require inspiration to fuel your dreams, her story is a perfect read. She was rejected by various publishers before she ultimately obtained a print contract of 1,000 copies of her first book, namely, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Her Harry Potter series also fostered a whole film franchise.
3. Malala Yousafzai
When other girls were busy enjoying their teenage life, a courageous teenager, Malala Yousafzai was busy fighting for her life as she was brutally shot for raising her voice on education for girls. The shooting of Malala was a teary moment, driving a teenage girl into an overnight figurehead for equal rights. She is famous for human rights endorsement, focusing mainly on the education of women and children. Her advocacy has advanced into an international movement through her foundation, The Malala Fund. She is also the youngest ever recipient of Nobel Peace Prize. Malala is literally the synonym for strength and willpower.
2. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey, a magnanimous Philanthropist, who is famous as a US talk show host and a media proprietor. Merely through being considerate, kind and benevolent, Oprah Winfrey has made a heavenly prosperous career for herself. She rose to fame as an interviewer when her artistry to psychologically attack with her guests struck a chord with the American public. In 2003, she was labeled as the first African-American woman to be a billionaire, but she compassionately contributed over $300 million to charitable causes. Motivated by the unequal pay she received at the start of her broadcasting career, Oprah set out to start her own television show and from there built an empire catering to helping women grow, develop and thrive.
1. Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa, was one of the most selfless people in the world with a heart of gold. She was the living God for those who were helpless and had nobody to look after them. Through her own order, The Missionaries of Charity, she worked without stopping a second towards her aim until her health deteriorated, pushing her to stop following which she took her last breath in September 1997. After a life dedicated to charity and humanitarian work, her efforts were recognized in 1979 when she won the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the most praiseworthy trait of Mother Teresa was that she spent nearly 30 years of her life helping the needy without any greed for any kind of recognition or credit. She considered in doing whatever was feasible to help, whether little or huge, with her ideology being; “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”