Latinas are a powerful, resourceful and determined segment of the population, and throughout history, many have fought the good fight to advance women’s rights in the United States and throughout the world, using their unique skills, talents and knowledge. From labor rights activists like Dolores Huerta to women’s health advocates like Helen Rodriguez Trías, there have been a number of strong, vocal and driven Latinas in history who have dedicated their lives to causes that would advance women’s rights. As members of a marginalized community, their work has truly made a difference in helping Latinas rise in society and raise awareness of issues disproportionately affecting Latinas and women of color like femicide.
To them we all, we say thank you, and want to take just a few minutes to honor them and their contributions to women’s rights, whether they were made more than half a century ago or they’re still working hard to make change today. Read on to learn about 12 empowered Latinas who have made a difference.
At 91 years old, civil rights leader, Dolores Huerta, is still working each and every day to fight for the rights of laborers and women. Best known for leading the farm worker’s rights movement with fellow activist, Cesar Chavez back in the 1960s, she’s also a feminist who ensured that female farm worker’s were provided their rights were as well. Her famous empowering slogan, “Sí, se puede”, remains a rallying cry for change and perseverance.
There are a lot of people who only think of “that movie with Madonna,” when they hear the name Eva Perón, but Perón, who was the first lady of Argentina between 1946 and 1952, was a vocal leader in her country’s women’s suffrage movement. Many credit her with getting the women’s suffrage law passed in 1947 and she founded the Peronista Feminist Party in 1949. The party led to many women running for public office during the 1951 elections in Argentina, and helped women establish themselves as legitimate politicians and activists.
Venezuelan activist Argelia Laya was a staunch socialist, but more importantly, she was absolutely devoted to women’s rights. She led the women’s suffrage movement in her country in the 1940s and later fought to keep young, unwed, pregnant girls in school and to establish sexual education curriculums in high schools, among other things. “Among the underprivileged, women are those who bear the cruelest burden. Due to the division of labor, (…) the lowest-paying jobs are left for women, as well as the household tasks, so-called women’s work,” she wrote in her book, Nuestra Causa.
Sylvia Rivera worked tirelessly for the rights of the trans community and trans people of color for decades starting in the 1960s. She most famously was a leader in the New York Stonewall Riots in 1969, but even after that, she worked on a grassroots level to advance the movement for trans rights. In fact, Rivera is the founder of one of the first ever shelters for trans youth, STAR, which also served as the first political organization advocating for trans rights in the world.
One of only three female U.S. Supreme Court justices currently serving, Sonia Sotomayor, has always been a women’s rights advocate, but she has become increasingly vocal about them in more recent years, particularly in the wake of Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. In January 2022, she was one of the most vocal justices speaking out against Texas’ proposed six-week abortion ban. “This case is a disaster for the rule of law and a grave disservice to women in Texas, who have a right to control their own bodies,” she asserted after a recent hearing,” she said. “Today, for the fourth time, this Court declines to protect pregnant Texans from egregious violations of their constitutional rights.”
Helen Rodriguez Trías
Pediatrician Helen Rodriguez Trías was passionate about women’s health and ensuring that poor and underprivileged women received the care they needed and deserved, and that their medical rights were not violated. While working at New York’s Lincoln Hospital, she founded the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse and the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse, helping draft federal regulations regarding sterilization and ensuring that consent documents be made available in various languages.
We all know Isabel Allende as an incredible Latina author, but many may not realize that she is what she has described as a “raging feminist.” She has always used her writing to empower women and started out writing for a women’s publication in Chile. She created the Isabel Allende Foundation with the goal of advocating for and protecting the fundamental rights of women and children. “We invest in the power of women and girls to secure reproductive rights, economic independence and freedom from violence,” reads the organization’s mission statement. It does so by raising funds and disbursing grants to organizations that support women and children.
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo created a legacy of bold feminism for Latinas through her powerful and bold artwork. She used her art to speak out on topics ranging from gender norms and identity to miscarriage and abortion, in ways that weren’t and in some cases, still aren’t, considered socially acceptable, creating the kind of visibility for women’s issues that we still don’t see often. Not only that, but she refused to conform, and that alone helped to set a precedent for the work that many feminist are still doing today.
Virginia “Ginny” Montes
Virginia “Ginny” Montes was a labor leader who used her voice to passionately advocate for women in the workforce. She was the first Latina to become a national officer for the National Organization for Women, a group that still exists today, with the goal of connecting feminist activist and fighting for positive social changes for women from all walks of life. Montes was responsible for leadership training for the organization and also acted as government liaison advocating for racial diversity.
Linda Chavez-Thompson is a labor leader and member of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization, who is actually the highest ranking woman in the organization’s entire 100-plus-year history. One of her primary initiatives with the organization initially, was ensuring that at least 30-percent of its funds went towards recruiting women and minorities for membership. Chavez-Thompson is also a Women’s Policy Research board member. Now in her seventies, she continues to fight for equal pay for women even today.
Maria Salguero refuses to sit by and let Mexico’s femicide problem continue to be ignored and covered up as some officials are accused of doing. In 2016, she built a map tracking cases of femicide in her country, in her spare time, ultimately creating a geography-specific database that painted a more detailed picture than anything the Mexican government has offered up. Salguero’s database includes names, ages, causes of death and more crucial details, bringing both attention and context to the fatal injustices that are being committed against women in her country every day.
A candidate in Argentina’s presidential election in 2019, Manuela Castañeira, is also the director of the women’s rights groups, Las Rojas. She’s been fighting for women’s rights for years, particularly abortion rights. She has worked to help get women who were imprisoned for having abortions released and was a vocal proponent of Argentina’s Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Bill, which was passed in 2020. She regularly hosts and participates in rallies, protests and other events intended to educate and incite change.