In a month Americans dedicate to celebrating the women in our lives—mothers, sisters, daughters, and celebrated historical figures alike—and at a time when national and cultural divisions are entrenched pretexts for persecution, it’s important to remember the women around the world who have fought, often in obscurity, for justice and equality. Women have risked their lives to secure the rights of their people and of workers, for national sovereignty and fellow women. Here are tributes to just a few.
Florinda Soriano Munoz, known as Mamá Tingó, was born on November 8, 1921, in the Dominican Republic. A peasant farmer, or campesino, she fought for the land rights of fellow campesinos as a member of the Federation of Christian Agrarian Leagues, a group of over 350 who stood for the right to their lands for decades after unjust redistribution. Though elderly and illiterate, she was an effective and passionate leader.
In 1974, a landowner named Pablo Diaz reclaimed the land that she and other farmworkers had cultivated for decades. He destroyed the farmworkers’ crops and posted armed guards around 8,000 acres of their land in an effort to push the campesinos to sell and leave. Mamá Tingó took up the fight against Diaz. When she and other campesinos attended a trial to determine ownership of the lands, Diaz did not attend. When she returned to her farm that day, a foreman who worked for Diaz was hiding and waiting for her. She tried to defend herself but was shot twice, once in the head and once in the chest, killing her. Mamá Tingó may have passed away that day, but she is remembered for her work to fight for the campesinos.
The first and last queen of Hawai’i, Lili’uokalani was born Lydia Lili’uloloku Walania Wewehi Kamaka’eha on September 2, 1838. When King Kamehameha V died in 1874, Lydia’s brother was selected to rule. Three years later she was named heir to the throne. Her name changed from Lydia to Lili’uokalani to represent her royal lineage. Her brother ruled until his death in 1891, when she took his place.
Lili’uokalani was fiercely dedicated to her country and her people. During his reign, her brother was coerced into signing the Bayonet Constitution with the United States—supposedly by gunpoint (hence the name). The Bayonet Constitution limited the power of the Hawaiian monarchy, disenfranchising Hawaiians while opening voting rights to non-Hawaiians.
Lili’uokalani tried to amend the Constitution and restore power to the monarchy. However, she received immediate pushback from American and European sugar planters and businessmen. They pushed to overthrow her, and she surrendered the Hawaiian nation to the United States in 1893, unwilling to spill any Hawaiian blood in a war. Though she was no longer queen, she continued to fight for her country by appealing to the United States government, but also by staging a counter-revolution for which she was imprisoned for eight months in 1895. In 1898, the United States annexed Hawai’i. She entrusted her estate to provide for Hawaiian orphans and other destitute children. Lili’uokalani is celebrated for her bravery and dedication to her people and country, but also for her hymns and ballads. She created over 150 songs, including “Aloha ‘Oe,” meaning “Farewell to Thee,” which has become a cultural symbol in Hawai’i.