10 Fateful Decisions Made by Women That Changed the World

Elana Kutscher
10 Ways Women Changed The World

Sometimes, the decisions we make seem so insignificant that it can be hard to imagine that they’ll affect anyone. Yet, there are countless stories of women who’ve made decisions that changed who they are, their communities, and even the entire world. These women have proven that determination, defiance, kindness, and compassion can truly make a difference. How lucky we are to live in such a world!

In honor of International Women’s Day, which will be celebrated in 2021 on March 8, here are 10 women whose good decisions have made a significant difference.

1. Malala Yousafzai 

Malala Yousfzai
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Country of origin: Pakistan

Big decision: To continue her activism after an assassination attempt

Malala rose to prominence when she was only 12 years old by writing a blog about living during the Taliban occupation of Swat. She was then filmed for a “New York Times” documentary about what it’s like living in a Pakistani military-invaded region, and she gave many interviews after that. 

Unfortunately, Malala’s outspokenness attracted the wrong kind of attention. In 2012, she was shot in the head by a Taliban terrorist. At that point, it would have been very easy to throw in the towel and retreat quietly to safety. But Malala didn’t choose that route. 

After recovering from her gunshot wound, Malala made the decision to keep on fighting. Today, she is a vocal activist for children’s education and co-founder of the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to education for girls. She is also the co-author of I Am Malala, an international bestseller, and has received numerous prizes, including a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. 

2. Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Country of origin: United States

Big decision: To choose life after her husband died suddenly

Sheryl Sandberg has been the COO of Facebook since nearly the beginning, but it’s not her high-flying leadership role that has us commending her decisions. In 2015, Sandberg’s husband died unexpectedly. She was devastated and didn’t know how she could go on. But even while mourning, she made the conscious decision not to let herself drown in grief. A month after her husband passed away, she wrote a long post on Facebook detailing her struggles. Here is an excerpt:

"I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well. But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning."

Keeping true to her own words, she wrote a book, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy,” with the goal of helping people cope with grief. She also founded the non-profit, Option B, which is dedicated to helping people build resilience in the face of adversity. If not for her decision to “choose life and meaning,” the world would be a little less light.  

3. Junko Tabei 

Junko Tabel
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Country of origin: Japan

Big decision: To climb Mount Everest

No one would ever think that the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest was weak and frail as a child. Which just goes to show how much can be accomplished when you set your mind to it. Junko Tabei, one of 7 children born to a Japanese family, was considered a frail child but she decided to attempt mountain climbing when she was 10. She enjoyed it immensely and wanted to continue, but the hobby was too expensive for her family at the time. 

When she attended university, she pursued her passion and became a member of a mountain climbing club, and it was all uphill from there (pun intended!). After she graduated, she formed the Ladies Climbing Club: Japan (LLC), partly because she loved climbing and partly because she had been looked down on by male mountain climbers. 

With her club, she climbed Mount Fuji, the Matterhorn, and Annapurna III and made a name for herself as a mountain climber. In 1970, she made the decision to climb Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. It took 5 years of training and securing funding before Tabei and her team set out for Everest. Right at the beginning, they got caught in an avalanche and were buried under snow. Tabei lost consciousness for 6 minutes and was amazingly dug out by her guide dog. But she didn’t turn back—she plunged forward, and only 12 days later became the first woman to reach the summit. 

Tabei’s perseverance in the face of male naysayers and others who said that women should be home raising kids paved the way for women all over the world to follow their dreams. And it proved that women can do anything they set their minds to. 

4. Marie Curie

Marie Curie
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Country of origin: Poland

Big decision: Moved to Paris to study since women were not allowed higher education in Poland

Marie Curie was a woman of firsts. She was the first woman to win a Nobel prize and the only woman to win it twice in two different fields. She was also the first female professor at the Sorbonne and the first woman to be entombed at the Paris Pantheon based on her own achievements. 

Nearly all of Curie’s achievements can be traced back to one decision that she made when she was 24. Born in Warsaw Poland in 1867, Curie loved the sciences from a young age. At the time, women were not allowed to attend university, so she learned in underground secret science classes. But those classes weren’t enough. 

In 1891, she moved to Paris to pursue her studies. That decision is what made her the woman of firsts that we know today. In Paris, she continued her education and met fellow physicist, Pierre Curie. They married and won a Nobel prize for their work on radioactivity. Even after Pierre died suddenly in 1906, Curie continued her work and won another Nobel prize for the discovery of 2 elements. 

5. Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Country of origin: United States

Big decision: Did not give up her seat on the bus to a white man

In 1955, a black woman made the decision not to give up her seat to a white passenger on an Alabama bus. Not only did that decision have ramifications on the American Civil Rights Movement, but it affected the entire world. 

Rosa Parks was born in 1913, and she grew up in a world in which white children could take the bus to school but black children had to walk. From a young age, the differences between white and black were clear to her. 

Parks married Raymond Parks in 1932, and he encouraged her to earn her high school diploma at a time when less than 7% of African Americans did. In 1943, she joined the Mongomery chapter of the NAACP and acted as secretary until 1957. Through her tenure there, and just from living in a time and place in which violent racism was tolerated, Parks strengthened her resistance to unfair treatment. 

Four days before she refused to give up her seat on the bus, she attended a mass meeting that addressed the acquittal of 2 white men who killed a black teenager. The unfairness of that acquittal affected her deeply. In her autobiography, she wrote:

"People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

After Parks refused to give up her seat, she was arrested. Her trial sparked the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott and she became an international icon for standing up against racial segregation. 

You may also like:

Do Men and Women Make (Shopping) Decisions Differently?

6. Princess Diana 

Princess Diana
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Country of origin: United Kingdom

Big decision: Shook the hand of an AIDS patient on television

Diana, Princess of Wales, had a short and turbulent life, but that didn’t stop her from using her position to influence people to do good. Diana married Prince Charles in 1981 and they had 2 sons together: William and Henry. The marriage, however, was not meant to be, and the couple divorced in 1996. Throughout her marriage and even after, Diana focused on charity in a way that no other royal family member had before.

One of the causes that she is most well-known for is reaching out to people with AIDS. At the time, people with AIDS were ostracized—it was a relatively new disease and no one was sure how it was spread. People were deathly afraid to go near anyone with the disease. Diana, however, broke the stigma. 

In 1987, with the cameras rolling, Diana shook the hand of an AIDS patient at Middlesex Hospital. The handshake was seen around the world, and it was a conscious decision that Diana made to change the way people viewed those with AIDS. Her action also served to educate people that AIDS cannot, in fact, be spread from a handshake, and instead of being so afraid of people with AIDS, the public should support and embrace them. 

7. Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Country of origin: United States

Big decision: Accepted Bobby RIggs’ challenge to a tennis match

A former World Champion tennis player, Billie Jean King is known in history books for winning the famous Battle of the Sexes in 1973 at the age of 29. Some think that Billie Jean is the one who sought out the tennis match as a publicity stunt, but the fact is that the match was initiated by Bobby Riggs, a professional tennis player who was past his prime and mocked women’s tennis. He boasted that even a 55-year-old man like himself could beat the best female tennis player. He had challenged King several times, and she initially refused, since she really wasn’t interested in the publicity—she had enough publicity as the world’s number 1 player. 

But in 1973, she made the decision to accept his offer, as she understood that it was more than just a regular tennis match. This was an opportunity to prove that just because someone is male doesn’t automatically make him better than a woman. A chance to prove that women can do anything that men can do, and even better! And indeed, Billie Jean King did a lot better than Bobby Riggs, decisively beating him and becoming a champion of women’s sports all over the world. 

8. Komako Kimura

Komako Kimura
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Country of origin: Japan

Big decision: Ignored Japanese warnings of censure and continued staging a play featuring a strong woman

A woman of great determination, Komako Kimura worked tirelessly toward achieving women’s suffrage in Japan. But more than that, she sought to spread women’s education so that women wouldn’t need to rely so much on men. As a profession, she owned two theaters and acted in over 500 plays. She felt that the stage was the only place where a woman wasn’t considered inferior to men. 

Influenced by the Swedish feminist, Ellen Key, Kimura formed the True New Women’s Association in 1912. The movement had its own magazine, which Kimura wrote for, and she also gave many public lectures and speeches. 

In 1918, the magazine was suppressed by the Japanese government, as were any speeches given by Kimura. In response to the suppression, Kimura wrote and acted in a play called “Ignorance,” which featured a strong woman character—it also drew the ire of Japanese officials. Kimura was warned not to continue with the play or her theater would be closed, but she decided to continue and even made all the performances free. 

For this act of defiance, she was arrested and put on trial, which she used as a platform to spread her agenda of women’s suffrage. Kimura’s work paved the way for women’s suffrage to finally take place in Japan in 1945, and her ideas about equality and gender roles are still discussed today.

9. J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Country of origin: United Kingdom

Big decision: Persevered to get Harry Potter published even after 12 rejections

Today, J.K. Rowling is a household name, but there is a good chance she would have remained unknown had she not summoned the grit and determination to push her first Harry Potter novel toward publication. Rowling had been living on benefits as a single mother, struggled with depression, and yet somehow, she managed to maintain her confidence in what she was writing. Even after 12 rejections, Rowling made the conscious decision to keep on trying. And boy, are we glad she did.

When one smart publisher finally agreed to print Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, it was the beginning of Rowling’s upward trajectory. Since then, the Harry Potter series has sold more than 500 million books worldwide. Rowling certainly made the right decision not to give up on her dreams.  

10. Tarana Burke

Tarana Burke
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Country of origin: United States

Big decision: Turned a turbulent childhood into a life of helping others

Founder of the #MeToo hashtag and movement, Tarana Burke was named Time’s Person of the Year in 2017 and is currently the Senior Director at Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn. As a child and teenager, Burke was raped and sexually assaulted, but instead of taking her pain out on others or turning it inward, she turned it into kindness and activism. As a teen she worked to help young girls in marginalized communities and in college, she organized press conferences about racial injustice. 

In 1997, Burke met a young girl who told her that she had been sexually assaulted. Burke said nothing and never saw the girl again, but she wished she had told her, “Me too.” That meeting deeply affected Burke and she decided to create an organization to promote the health and wellness of teenage minority girls. While it took some time to come to fruition, in 2006 she launched Just Be Inc. and also created the hashtag #MeToo. When #MeToo became viral in 2017, Burke lent her support and today continues her work as an activist on behalf of girls and women everywhere. 

All It Takes Is One Decision

Through small and big acts of defiance, determination, and compassion, these 10 women have made the world a better place to live in. They have shown that women are smart enough, strong enough, brave enough, and kind enough. And they are certainly an inspiration to women and men all over the world. 

The next time you’re faced with a tough decision, what will you do?

Elana Kutscher
Elana Kutscher is a seasoned digital enthusiast who writes for Top10.com. She has hands-on knowledge of software and online platforms, having collaborated on multiple projects with leading tech firms.