I think most people consider the job of revolution to be men's work. That is, at best, a misogynistic view of history. The truth is that no revolution ever happened without the support and participation of women -- and many times, women had a leadership role in them.
In honor of Women's History Month, I bring you some female revolutionary leaders (from Kathleen Harris at whizzpast.com and Natasha Rodriguez at bust.com). You probably haven't heard of most (or all) of these women, but you should know about them -- because they helped change the world we live in.
Sophie Scholl was a brilliant German revolutionary who was a founding member of The White Rose, a non-violent anti-Nazi resistance group. The group spread its beliefs via graffiti and anonymous flyers. Sophie and other members of The White Rose were arrested in 1942 for handing out flyers at the University of Munich. She was convicted of high treason and was executed by guillotine along with her brother Hans. Copies of group’s flyer were retitled The Manifesto of the Students of Munich and were smuggled out of the country and air-dropped over Germany by Allied forces later that year.
Most people associate the Cuban Revolution with Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Unfortunately, few have heard of Celia Sanchez, the woman who played an important role in the famed revolution. The Cuban native joined the struggle against the Batista government following the coup of March 10th, 1952. She was one of the first women to assemble a combat squad and quickly became one of the main decision-makers during the revolution. She was also the founder of the 26th of July Movement—the organization that ultimately overthrew Batista. After the revolution, Celia became the Secretary of the Council of Ministers and served in the Department of Services of the Council of State until her death from lung cancer in 1980.
During the Mexican Revolution, female soldiers known as soldaderas went into combat along with the men although they often faced abuse. One of the most well-known of the soldaderas was Petra Herrera, who disguised her gender and went by the name “Pedro Herrera”. As Pedro, she established her reputation by demonstrating exemplary leadership (and blowing up bridges) and was able to reveal her gender in time. She participated in the second battle of Torreón on May 30, 1914 along with about 400 other women, even being named by some as being deserving of full credit for the battle. Unfortunately, Pancho Villa was likely unwilling to give credit to a woman and did not promote her to General. In response, Petra left Villa’s forces and formed her own all-woman brigade.
Tawakul Karman is a 36-year-old mother of three and serves as the chair of Women Journalists Without Chains, a Yemeni group that fights for human rights and freedom of expression. Tawakul is known for pressuring Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, to resign. She has protested in front of Sana’a University in the nation’s capital, every Tuesday since 2007. Although Tawakul believes in the power of peaceful protest, she has been arrested several times. In 2011, she became the first Arab woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi is best known for speaking out against the violent rule of Burmese dictator U Ne Win. Suu Kyi founded the National League for Democracy in 1989 and the party had a big victory in the 1990 elections. Although this victory would have made Suu Kyi prime minister, the U Ne Win refused to hand over the power and effectively enacted a constitution that forbade Suu Kyi from ever serving as Burma’s leader. After starting a nonviolent movement for equality and human rights, Suu Kyi was put under house arrest for 15 years. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and was recently granted freedom.
A former self-proclaimed housewife, Corazon Aquino was the leader of the 1986 Philippines’ “people power” revolution which effectively removed Ferdinand Marcos of his 20-year-old reign. After her senator husband was assassinated in 1983, Corazon took up her husband’s cause and decided to run for president of the Philippines against Marcos. Although she was not victorious in the election, Corazon led the peaceful revolution throughout the Philippines that eventually led Marcos to resign. During her years as president, Corazon successfully veered her country towards democracy and ratified a constitution that would limit the power of the presidency. She died in 2009.
Phoolan Devi’s early years were characterized by several instances of sexual abuse by high-caste men, inspiring her to fight against the caste system in India. At 18, Devi was gang-raped by high-caste bandits. In retaliation, she decided to become a gang-leader herself and seek revenge on her assaulters. In 1981, Devi returned to the village of the incident and executed two of her rapists and 20 other villagers. She evaded the law for two years and finally surrendered in 1983, when she was charged for 48 crimes including murder and kidnapping for ransom. After 11 years in prison, the state government dropped all charges against her and she was elected to parliament in 1994. She was assassinated in 2001 by three upper-caste men at the age of 37.