This International Women's Day, we're taking inspiration from a few of the world's most powerful women.

By Emily VanSchmus
Updated February 17, 2021
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International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and has been celebrated all over the world since 1911. This year the holiday falls on Monday, March 8, and serves as a reminder for all of us to celebrate the powerful and inspiring women in our lives (including ourselves!). 

Every year the International Women’s Day organization announces a theme that highlights a cause affecting women across the globe in order to raise awareness for the movement and celebrate the women working to make a difference. The 2021 International Women’s Day theme is #ChooseToChallenge, which calls for creating an inclusive world. 

To inspire you this holiday, we’ve gathered our favorite empowering quotes from inspirational women throughout history. From political figures to celebrities, these women have all dedicated their public platforms to making the world better for women. 

“If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.”

Author, singer, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou is most known for her works I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Still I Rise. In her 86 years of life, she published a series of seven autobiographies and received more than 30 honorary degrees while advocating for racial equality.

“You have to accept whatever comes, and the only important thing is that you meet it with the best you have to give.”

As the longest-serving First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt was an outspoken advocate for civil rights, racial equality, and roles for women in the workplace. After leaving office, she joined the United Nations as the United States’ first delegate and later headed the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women under John F. Kennedy.

“The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up.”

As a professional tennis player and former #1-ranked tennis player in the world, Serena Williams has won more major tennis titles than any other person in the world. Throughout her career she’s been extremely outspoken about fighting for gender equality, especially for women of color.

"My world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger."

Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison is known best for her book Beloved and has received dozens of awards for her writing. She began her career as the first black female editor at Penguin Random House in the '60s and went on to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

"I get up every day, do the best that I can do, and go home and have a good time."

Over the last 18 years, viewers have fallen in love with Ina Garten, host of the longest-running Food Network show, Barefoot Contessa. She started her career as a staff member of the White House Office of Management and Budget and when she discovered a love of cooking, left to begin a gourmet food store that would eventually become a media empire. 

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

In 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second female justice to ever be added to the United States Supreme Court, where she’s served ever since. Her life’s work inspired the Oscar-nominated 2018 documentary RBG, which highlighted the ways she has paved the way for women of future generations.

“Look at history, look at who are our most beautiful, iconic women in the world and they’re all different shapes and sizes and colors and heights. It doesn’t matter what measurement is around our thigh, it matters what you put out into the world.”

In addition to being an award-winning actress, director, and host of the new hit podcast “Work in Progress,” Sophia Bush is also an outspoken activist for environmental protection, racial and gender equality, and human rights. In 2016, Oprah named her one of the SuperSoul100 most influential visionaries and leaders, and she was also identified as one of the most charitable celebrities by CNN.

"There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish."

Lawyer and author Michelle Obama served as the First Lady from 2009 to 2017; while in office, she founded the Let’s Move campaign to end childhood obesity and was an advocate for women’s rights, public health, education, and poverty awareness. Her 2018 memoir, Becoming, has sold over 10 million copies, breaking the record for most copies of a book sold that year in just 15 days.

“I want my daughters to grow up in a world in which there is more love than hate. I want them to know a world where everyone is free. So that’s why I write the stories that I do, because everyone should be free.”

Tune to ABC on Thursday nights and you’ll see something affectionately referred to as “Shondaland.” Producer, writer, and author Shonda Rhimes is the head writer and executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder and Scandal. Through her moving storylines, Rhimes brings awareness and understanding to a number of hot social issues every week.

“Society as a whole benefits immeasurably from a climate in which all persons, regardless of race or gender, may have the opportunity to earn respect based on ability.”

Sandra Day O’Connor is no stranger to the glass ceiling: In 1973, she became the first female Majority Leader of a state senate (in Arizona) in American history. Seven years later, she became the first female Supreme Court Justice and served on the court for 25 years. After her retirement, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

"Treat everyone equally, don't look down on anyone, use your voices for good, and read all the great books."

While in office, First Lady Barbara Bush was an outspoken advocate for education access and started the Foundation for Family Literacy in 1989. In the years after she left office, Bush also supported women’s rights, access to health care, and various civil rights movements.

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”

As the world’s youngest Nobel Prize laureate, Malala (often referred to by only her first name) is an advocate for female education in her home country of Pakistan and around the world. After surviving a shooting by an extremist group, she gave a speech at the United Nations, published several books, and launched the Malala Fund, which works to provide girls around the world with free education.

“I encourage women to step up. Don’t wait for somebody to ask you.”

Actress, producer, and philanthropist Reese Witherspoon may be best known for her iconic roles in Legally Blonde, Sweet Home Alabama, Walk the Line, and Big Little Lies, but her accomplishments off-screen are equally impressive. She's actively involved with Save the Children and serves on the board of Children’s Defense Fund, and in 2018, she was one of the founding members of the Time’s Up movement. In 2019 she was named to Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

“To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”

Author and host of the new podcast, Unlocking Us, Brené Brown is known for her viral TED talk about The Power of Vulnerability as well as her best-selling written works. Her book Daring Greatly was a #1 New York Times best seller and has sold over a million copies nationwide.

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free... so other people would be also free.”

Civil rights activist Rosa Parks is famous for refusing to give up her seat during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. Following the event, she became one of the most important members of the civil rights movement, working alongside Martin Luther King Jr.

“Every person has a responsibility to be a participant in this society and make it a better place for everybody, in whatever capacity they can.”

As a professional soccer player and member of the United States women’s national team Megan Rapinoe has earned an Olympic gold medal and is credited with leading the United States team to two World Cup championships. But her list of achievements doesn’t end on the soccer field: Rapinoe has dedicated her public platform to doing good in the world. She supports several LGBTQ organizations and is a strong advocate for gender equality.

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