It’s been a particularly distressing year full of chaos, heartbreak, and loss. And though circumstances are tough and constantly striving for a better world can be exhausting, it’s crucial that women (and men, too) continue in the fight for gender equality.
Gender discrimination and the gender pay gap are still realities that women face on a daily basis. And in 2020, women’s rights to abortion and more may be at risk if conservative winds up filling Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat.
Thankfully, a whole lot of strong women role models are out there to help lift us up and lead the way. Here are 11 speeches to inspire you to keep fighting for equality, no matter how challenging or hopeless things may feel.
1. Hillary Clinton’s “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” speech
You may recall Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential concession speech as one of her most memorable, but another truly remarkable address took place in September 1995.
During an impassioned speech at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, Clinton memorably declared, “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”
The then-first lady of the United States went on to passionately argue for the rights and freedom of women around the world. She highlighted the need for women to be protected and respected. She called for an end to violence against women and demanded that women be treated equally. She asked that women be given the same access to education, the same freedom of speech, and the same societal and political rights as men. And she lifted women up, as she’s done so many times during her career.
2. Leymah Gbowee’s 2012 Ted Talk
Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist, was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for the role she played in ending the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. Gbowee’s nonviolent organizing efforts were historic, and the social worker and women’s rights advocate went on to deliver a powerful TED Talk in March 2012 called, “Unlock the intelligence, passion, greatness of girls.”
Gbowee shared several formative personal experiences she’s had while traveling around the world to speak. She talked about girls she’s met and shared bits of their stories. She spoke about her work and the issues she fights for. And she spoke about hope.
“I don’t have much to ask of you. I’ve also been to places in this U.S. and I know that girls in this country also have wished — wishes for a better life,” Gbowee said. “Somewhere in the Bronx… wish for a better life. Somewhere in downtown LA… wish for a better life. Somewhere in Texas… wish for a better life… Somewhere in New Jersey… wish for a better life. Will you journey with me to help that girl?… All they are asking us to do is create that space to unlock the intelligence, unlock the passion, unlock all of the great things that they hold within themselves. Let’s journey together.”
3. Julia Gillard’s famous misogyny speech
In October 2012, Julia Gillard, a former Australian politician who served as Australia’s 27th prime minister from 2010 to 2013, delivered a powerful parliamentary speech on misogyny.
In response to opposition leader Tony Abbott’s request to have Peter Slipper removed as Speaker over texts sent to an aide, Gillard took the mic and called Abbott out for his own sexist, misogynistic behavior.
“The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well, I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That’s what he needs,” Gillard began.
Over the course of the nearly 15-minute address, she proceeded to call out Abbott’s “repulsive double standards” on misogyny and sexism.
In a September 2013 appearance on Australian’s Kitchen Cabinet interview show, Abbott spoke about Gillard’s speech. “Look, politics is about theater and at the time I didn’t think it was very effective theater at all,” he said. “But plainly it did strike a chord in a lot of people who had not followed the immediate problem that had brought on that particular parliamentary debate.”
Strike a chord it did. Though Gillard’s speech was seen as controversial by some, it resonated with so many women who had experienced similar behavior, and her words remain unforgettable.
4. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We should all be feminists” TEDx talk
Some of you may be familiar with We Should All Be Feminists, the personal essay by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that was published as a book in 2014. But did you know the New York Times bestseller is an adapted version of a TEDx talk that the writer delivered in December 2012?
“We teach girls that they can have ambition, but not too much… to be successful, but not too successful, or they’ll threaten men,” the writer says to the audience. You may recognize bits of audio from the song “Flawless” off of Beyoncé’s 2016 album, Lemonade, but Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s full 30-minute discussion of feminism, the role gender plays in today’s society, the double standards among men and women, and her own personal experiences is required listening of its own.
5. Malala Yousafzai’s 16th birthday address to the United Nations
When Nobel Prize-winning activist Malala Yousafzai turned 16 years old in July 2013, she delivered a profoundly inspiring address at the United Nations. Yousafzai spoke about how she had been shot by the Taliban in 2012, talked of her recovery and how grateful she was to be alive, and laid out an impassioned plea for equality.
“We call upon all communities to be tolerant — to reject prejudice based on caste, creed, sect, religion, or gender. To ensure freedom and equality for women so that they can flourish. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back,” Yousafzai said.
“Dear brothers and sisters, we want schools and education for every child’s bright future. We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education for everyone,” she continued. “No one can stop us. We will speak for our rights and we will bring change through our voice. We must believe in the power and the strength of our words. Our words can change the world.”
6. Emma Watson’s gender equality speech at the United Nations
In September 2014, Emma Watson — British actor, activist, and United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador — delivered a powerful address on gender equality at a UN Women’s HeForShe campaign event.
“Why has the word [feminism] become such an uncomfortable one? I am from Britain, and I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men,” Watson said. “But sadly, I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to see these rights. No country in the world can yet say that they achieved gender equality.”
Watson went on to explain how she came to understand the word “feminism.” She shared personal experiences, discussed how harmful gender stereotypes are, and directly addressed men to remind them, “Gender equality is your issue, too.”
7. Lupita Nyong’o speaking at a Black Women in Hollywood event
At Essence‘s 2014 Black Women in Hollywood event, actor Lupita Nyong’o was honored for her role in 12 Years a Slave. Nyong’o received the award for “Best Breakthrough Performance” and proceeded to give a truly moving speech about what it means to be a Black woman in Hollywood.
Nyong’o began by sharing a passage from a fan letter she received. A young girl wrote to the actor to say, “I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”
“My heart bled a little when I read those words,” Nyong’o said. “I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned.”
Nyong’o shared her own struggles with self-image and self-acceptance growing up, expressing why diversity and on-screen representations are so important in the world.
8. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comments about women on the Supreme Court
The world continues to mourn the loss of the great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18, 2020. But her legacy as a Supreme Court justice and fierce advocate for women’s rights and equality will never be forgotten.
Justice Ginsburg gave her fair share of powerful speeches on gender equality over the course of her remarkable career, but several beloved RBG quotes were made when she visited Georgetown University in February 2015 and spoke about the many challenges women in her profession face.
“People ask me sometimes when do you think it will be enough? When will there be enough women on the court? And my answer is, ‘When there are nine,'” Justice Ginsburg said. You can watch the full conversation here.
9. Michelle Obama’s International Women’s Day remarks
Like Justice Ginsburg, Michelle Obama has given a number of touching speeches over the course of her career. But on International Women’s Day in 2016, the first lady gave an especially moving one at a Washington, D.C., event for Let Girls Learn, the White House initiative she launched to help fight for girls’ education around the world.
“The more I traveled and met with girls and learned from experts about this issue, the more I realized that the barriers to girls’ education aren’t just resources. It’s not just about access to scholarships or transportation or school bathrooms. It’s also about attitudes and beliefs — the belief that girls simply aren’t worthy of an education; that women should have no role outside the home; that their bodies aren’t their own, their minds don’t really matter, and their voices simply shouldn’t be heard,” she said.
After touching on additional issues of inequality, such as discrimination and violence against women, Obama went on to remind people there are still so many rights and freedoms to fight for.
“These issues aren’t settled. These freedoms that we take for granted aren’t guaranteed in stone. And they certainly didn’t just come down to us as a gift from the heavens. No, these rights were secured through long, hard battles waged by women and men who marched, and protested, and made their voices heard in courtrooms and boardrooms and voting booths and the halls of Congress.”
10. Raquel Willis calling to protect Black trans lives
“I am gonna talk to my Black trans folks first and model what it looks like to put us first,” Willis said into the mic. “We have been told to be silent for too long. We have been told that we are not enough to parents, to family, to lovers, to Johns, to organizations, to schools, to our government, to the world. And the truth is that we’re more than enough.”
Willis went on to remind Black trans folk to never doubt their power, to never fall silent, and to keep fighting for equality in workplaces, organizations, and every aspect of life. And she called on others to be active allies to the Black trans community.
“Don’t ever doubt the faith that you should have for yourself and your people, cause we are the ones changing shit, and we are the lifeblood of everything they’ve built and tried to lock us out of,” Willis said.
“I want you to all also remember, whether you are Black or trans or not, you have a duty and responsibility to elevate Black trans power,” she added.
11. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s response to Congressman Ted Yoho
In the two years since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary election for New York’s 14th congressional district, she’s made her fair share of striking, inspirational speeches. After Justice Ginsburg died, the Congresswoman delivered raw, deeply emotional comments on Instagram Live that inspired many continue to fight for issues, like gender equality, that was so close to Ginsburg’s heart.
One of AOC’s most memorable speeches of 2020 took place in July when she spoke on the House floor to address the hateful comments that Republican Rep. Ted Yoho made toward her. After Yoho reportedly confronted AOC on the steps of Capitol Hill and called her “disgusting” and a “fucking bitch,” the Congresswoman spoke out on behalf of herself and all women.
“When you do that to any woman, what Mr. Yoho did was give permission to other men to do that to his daughters,” she said. “In using that language in front of the press he gave permission to use that language against his wife, his daughters, women in his community. And I am here to stand up to say that is not acceptable.”
“I do not care what your views are. It does not matter how much I disagree, or how much it incenses me, or how much I feel that people are dehumanizing others. I will not do that myself,” Ocasio-Cortez continued, noting that she would never use such disrespectful language toward Yoho or anyone else. “I will not allow people to change and create hatred in our hearts.”
“Treating someone with dignity and respect makes a decent man, and when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize,” the Congresswoman said. “Not to save face. Not to win a vote. He apologizes genuinely to repair and acknowledge the harm he has done so that we can all move on.”