From Serena Williams to women fighting dictatorship, here are the badass women who inspire us

From Serena Williams to women fighting dictatorship, here are the badass women who inspire us

By: Radhika Patel
Date: 3 March 2020

This International Women’s Day we asked the badass women at Global Justice Now to write a little something about the women who inspire them. From tennis players to actors and activists, here are the badass women who we love. 

Happy International Women’s day!


 Silvia Federici

Silvia Federici: scholar, teacher and activist

(by Malise Rosbech)

Silvia Federici has made a invaluable contribution to the feminist as well as the anti-capitalist movement by challenging the way we think about who exploits who – particularly between men and women. She has challenged the way we understand the history of social economics, how to change it and women’s role in all of this.

In the ’70s, she co-founded the International Feminist Collective, which started the Wages for Housework campaign. Since then, her work has primarily explored the link between the women’s work and capitalism arguing that capitalism depends on the unwaged labor of the housewife – to give birth to new workers, feed and clothe them, and provide emotional support to them.

In some of her later works she also explores colonialism, which provides a framework for understanding the work of institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank which, through the privatisation of water, seeds and the commons, have created the second wave of capitalism we’re seeing today. 

(image: wikicommons)


Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo: painter and activist

(by Ruth Wilkinson)

Kahlo’s art and politics are heavily defined by her identity as a queer, disabled, gender-nonconforming Mestiza woman.

Her paintings and writings were brutally honest about her complicated relationship with femininity as a disabled person and abuse survivor, and explored the postcolonial identity of the new Mexican state.

Although often overshadowed by her husband Diego Riviera, and despite working in a time when radical women’s voices were often silent, she became known internationally for her articulate and unrestrained criticisms of capitalism, misogyny and colonialism, saying of her time in America, “it is terrifying to see the rich having parties day and night whiles thousands and thousands of people are dying of hunger.”

After her death, she became an icon of feminism and Mexican nationalism, and the popularity of her image has only increased over time. However, there has been a tendency to erase the more uncomfortable aspects of her life – her radical politics and rejection of Eurocentricism, her gender nonconformity, open sexuality and lifelong disability. Frida Kahlo’s resilience, anger and intelligence are an inspiration to activists who, like her, carry great trauma, disabilities and pain, but refuse to be silenced or defined by it.
(image: wikicommons)


 Natalie Wynn

Natalie Wynn: YouTuber and philosopher

(by Ruth Wilkinson)

Natalie Wynn, better known by her screen name Contrapoints has rapidly become one of the most popular voices in online leftism. As a vocal feminist and a trans woman, Wynn has been subject to huge amounts of misogyny and transphobia, and in that respect her badassery stands as a symbol for the many, many badass women around the world who have braved a barrage of bigotry and death threats in using platforms like YouTube to speak out.

Natalie Wynn is a badass because she speaks frankly and honestly about her fears, pain and discomfort, and uses those experiences to create a space for other people to understand and examine their own discomfort. The thing that has inspired me most of all is her commitment to moving the conversation about fighting bigotry and inequality out of the realm of academia and into a framework that is accessible and fun. Contrapoints reminds me that anticapitalism and social justice isn’t just about po-faced academic theory, it’s a vital and energising part of life, and sometimes it can involve dressing as Marie Antoinette and brandishing a lobster. 

(image: wikicommons)


Waling Waling

Waling Waling Migrant Domestic Workers Group: activists and campaigners

(by Dottie Guerrero)

In 1998, as a response to the unacceptable levels of abuse of migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in the UK, this self-organised group of migrant women campaigned and managed to change the immigration rules for MDWs to be recognisedas workers and granted basic protection under UK employment lawAnd they won, This change in the immigration rules, recognised as good practise for workers rights, was a direct result of ten years of organising and campaigning by domestic workers themselves (many of whom were undocumented).


Women fighting dictatorship

Three Filipino women fighting the dictatorship of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines

(by Dottie Guerrero)

1. Maria Ressa is a journalist, author and co-founder/CEO of a news media Rappler. She worked for almost two decades as a lead investigative reporter in Southeast Asia for CNN. Ressa was included in Time‘s Person of the Year 2018 as one of a collection of journalists from around the world that are fighting fake news, which is now widespread in Philippine social media. She was arrested for “cyber libel” amid accusations of various instances of falsified news and corporate tax evasion in February, 2019. Various international media bureaus and human rights organisations see her arrest as a politically motivated act by the Philippine government because she is one of the most outspoken critic of Rodrigo Duterte.

2, Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno served as de facto Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Philippines from 2012 until she was forcibly removed in 2018. Her removal was a decision by the Supreme Court over a quo warranto petition, lodged by another judge who is a close ally of Duterte, which rendered her 2012 appointment as Chief Justice null and void. Many supporters as well as legal experts regard the removal of Sereno, who opposed President Duterte’s martial law and other executive actions, as politically motivated.

3.Senator Leila de Lima (now in prison since 2017). Duterte ordered de Lima’s arrest in 2017 based on made up charges of her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade. Her continued detention on vague charges is unjust. She was denied the opportunity to represent herself in oral arguments before the court.

De Lima and her supporters have insisted that her arrest and illegal detention was actually due to her fierce criticism of president Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs and her 2009 probe (during her stint at the Human Rights Commission) into the so-called Davao Death Squad. The group allegedly killed suspected drug addicts in Davao City, at the time when Duterte was city mayor.

(image: wikicommons)


Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich: actress

(by Sandra Wild)

It’s down to women like Marlene Dietrich that a lot of women now enjoy freedoms that weren’t always a given – including wearing trousers. Born in Berlin, Dietrich started off as a silent film star in the 1920s in Germany and immigrated to Hollywood in the 1930s. She starred in many Hollywood films and became one of the highest-paid actresses of the era. Dietrich was a real badass for her time – pushing the limits of femininity and restraint, defying the norms of fashion and sexuality, and all the while resisting the threat of the Third Reich.

(image: wikicommons)


Loujain al-Hathloul

Loujain al-Hathloul: activist

(by Sandra Wild)

Loujain al-Hathloul is best known for her role in the ‘women to drive movement’ and in opposing the Saudi male guardianship system. In September 2016 al-Hathloul signed a petition to King Salman asking for the male guardianship system to be abolished. On 4 June 2017, she was arrested and detained at King Fahad International Airport in Dammam. The reason for the arrest was unclear and al-Hathloul had not been allowed access to a lawyer. She is still in prison without charges and access to a lawyer.

(image: wikicommons)


Luisa Moreno

Luisa Moreno: activist

(by Rosanna Wiseman)

I think this woman is a badass because she was a leader in the United States labour movement in the first half of the 20th century. As a Latin American social justice activist she unionized migrant workers, led strikes, wrote pamphlets in English and Spanish and convened the ‘first national Latino civil rights assembly’. Originally from Guatemala, Luisa migrated to the United States in her early twenties with her husband and gave birth to a daughter a few years later. After her husband became abusive she left him and raised their child alone. As a domestic violence survivor, a single mother and a migrant, she is inspiring to activist women everywhere. She overcame many hurdles in life, all whilst continuing to fight for justice for herself and her fellow workers.


Rosie Kane

Rosie Kane: Scottish Socialist Party politician

(by Jane Herbstritt)

Rosie Kane was in Scottish parliament between 2003 – 2007. She is famous in Scotland for writing ‘my oath is to the people’ on her hand which she held up when giving the oath of allegiance to the Queen on her inaugural day in parliament. A single mother from a working class background, who grew up in Pollock, Glasgow and first got involved in politics joining the road protest against the proposed M77 extension in the city. She said in a Guardian article after being elected: “There’s thousands of people living in absolute poverty out there who didn’t even know there was an election on, who know nothing about politics. I used to be one of those people before I found my voice – and now I’ve found it no one is going to shut me up. I want parliament to be like the Big Brother house, where people tune in because they care about what’s happening, not ignore it because it’s full of lawyers using big words they don’t understand.”

Rosie Kane became an MSP at a time when I was getting involved in anti-war campaigning at the time of the war in Iraq, so I heard her speak a lot locally. I think she is a badass because she always came across as just an ordinary woman who got into politics. Her speeches were always engaging, original and down to earth. I always felt she had a lot of integrity and is an incredibly brave woman.

(image: Flickr/Gareth)


Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks: activist in the civil rights movement

(by Liz Murray)

Badass Rosa Parks showed what a combination of courage and resistance can do. The simple (but at that time radical) act of refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white man was an amazing act of resistance which not only helped spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Civil Rights Movement but also inspired many people then, and now, to stand up for what is right. In her own words: “Never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right”. Those words continue to both reassure and inspire me as a woman and as an activist.



Audre Lourde

Audre Lorde: writer, poet and activist

(by Eleanor Williams)

Audre Lorde is a self-described ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet’. She was born in New York in 1934. She challenged different injustices head-on throughout her life, being part of the civil rights movement, and confronted racism, sexism and homophobia.

I sometimes see quotes by her on social media, and these are really inspiring, but I’ve never read her work. That’s why between this International Women’s Day and the next I am planning to read some of her essays and poetry collections. This is important for me as a white feminist. I want to understand more about feminism from a queer, black woman’s perspective, and think more about my whiteness. As well as to know more about Audre Lourde! She fought for the experiences of black women to be included, but not judged. And was often met with defensiveness or obstructive guilt from white women when talking about racism.

Her thinking and writing is hugely relevant today. She considered difference in relation to the female experience; that class, race, sexuality and health all interact with being a woman. This is now called intersectionality, but she was talking about it many years before the term came about. I find her honest, confrontational, emotional, enduring and enormously brave. 

(image: wikicommons)


Serena Williams

Serena Williams: world class tennis player

(by Eleanor Williams)

Serena Williams is a complete badass for the way she unflinchingly called out sexism in the 2018 US Open final. As someone who doesn’t follow tennis particularly, this caught my eye and it’s stirring to watch the footage. Serena was deducted points and then a game by the umpire for breaking her racket and calling him a ‘thief’. In the game she bravely takes on the umpire and referees, calling out the treatment of her as sexist. She doesn’t back down and fights her corner, and is outspoken later too. Afterwards she had to face a $17,000 fine and a racist cartoon in the media. This was a classic case of an angry, emotional woman being treated as ‘hysterical’.

Serena Williams, is an incredible athlete. She holds the most Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles combined among active players. She even won the Australian Open in 2017 while pregnant. After her traumatic birth she highlighted how racism affects black women’s health and urged the medical community to take better care of black women. She is also a great role model for body positivity. She’s had all kinds of sexist comments thrown at her, accusing her of being a man because she’s muscley. But she keeps being a champion, holding her head high, and wearing awesome tennis wear.

(image:Flickr/Helsingborgs Dagblad)


Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy: author

(by Radhika Patel)

I remember when I first read Roy’s debut Booker Prize winning novel, A God of Small Things. I was 14 and didn’t really understand why I loved it so much (because let’s be honest, I was also reading Harry Potter…). Now when think about it it’s because it was the first time I’d seen an Indian author ‘make it’. And for a young British Indian girl at the time, I have so much love for Arundhati Roy for letting me imagine a world where women who looked like me did things that I could only dream of. Not only did that beautiful and challenging novel stay with me throughout my adolescence, Arundhati Roy’s politics have shaped my adult life. For years she’s been vocal about the legacy of empire in South Asia including the conflict over Kashmir and has stood up against pervasive Hindu nationalism in India. She agitates and rattles the cage of India’s far right government and Hindu nationalists. She gets into serious trouble because of it. She keeps going. She’s an absolute badass. 

(image: wikicommons)


Letizia Battaglia: photographer and author 

(by Oriana Lauria)

Letizia Battaglia is a photographer and journalist from my home town, Palermo. Letizia has inspired me since I was a child, because she was one of the first people to speak out against the Mafia in Sicily in the 70s, at a time when nobody would even dare talking about it. She would show up at crime scenes and take pictures of people killed by the Mafia to document its brutality and its impact on society. Her pictures exposed and challenged hidden power structures and broke the silence around them. Her photos were not just shocking and eye opening, but served as evidence in court to expose connections between members of the government and the Mafia.

Today many people will have heard about Mafia, but very few know about the people who have fought against the Mafia. Even fewer know about the women involved in the anti-Mafia movement, often overshadowed by men and relegated to the role of mothers or wives. Letizia stood out as an artist and a reporter and challenged power at a time when it was very difficult for women to speak out at all. And she did all of this after raising three children and getting out of a 20-year unhappy marriage before divorce was even a thing in Italy. That is pretty badass.

(image: Mayastar/Flickr)