Five social justice activists that changed the world

With the arrival of World Social Justice Day, Erika Armanino explores five inspirational activists that inspired mass movements and changed the world.

Erika Armanino
19th February 2021
From fighting against racial, gender, sexual orientation, nationality and disability discrimination, social activists have shaped, and continue to shape, the societies that surround us. Below are five activists, who inspired me for World Day of Social Justice this year, on the 20th of February. 

Alice Paul, 1885-1977

Photograph, Alice Paul with Suffrage Banner. 1991.3016.042.

Alice Paul is still one of the most well known activists for women’s rights. She was the leader of one of the women-suffrage movements and coordinated numerous protests and parades against the then President of the United States Woodrow Wilson. In 1918 President Wilson announced an amendment that would have allowed women the right to vote. Two years later women were finally allowed to vote in the United States.

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

Nelson Mandela is the most famous anti-apartheid activist who, not only changed the vision of South Africa, but also that of the world. His battle for equal social rights for black citizens, lead him to be imprisoned for 27 years of his life, without giving up hope. Four years after his release Mandela ran for the Presidency of South Africa and won, serving for five years. His social and cultural struggles are some of the most inspiring and determined stories the world has ever seen.

Martin Luther King Jr, 1929-1968

Martin Luther King was a civil-rights activist who had a huge impact on the race issue in the United States in the 50s. He played a major role in ending the segregation of African American citizens and in the creation of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. His ‘I have a dream’ speech in 1963 remains one of the most powerful speeches for social justice ever made: “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colours of their skin but by the content of their character.” 

Image credit: Pixabay, @Wikilimages

Mahatma Gandhi, 1869-1948 

A2FP81 Rare studio photograph of Mahatma Gandhi taken in London England UK at the request of Lord Irwin 1931


Mahatma Gandhi was a political ethicist who believed in nonviolent resistance and was the leader of the opposition to the British rule in India. Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign lead to the independence of India and Pakistan, leaving his mark in history forever. Gandhi is nowadays considered one of the twentieth century’s greatest spiritual and political leaders, honoured as the father of the nation in India. His philosophy of nonviolence gave hope to marginalised sections of India and wrote a new page in Social Justice history. 

Helen Keller, 1880-1968 

Helen Keller was a blind and deaf American political activist and disability rights advocate. In 1925 she co-founded the American Foundation for Overseas Blind to support veterans blinded during World War I and nine years after she joined the American Foundation for the Blind serving as a spokeswoman and ambassador until her death. Keller became the symbol of disability-rights and the first deaf and blind person to earn a college degree. Her 1925 co-founded association is still active, taking care of sight problems, malnutrition and the protection of health. 

Feature Image credit: Pixabay, @Stocksnap

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