Women in Animal Rights History
This Women’s History Month it’s time to recognize the outsized role women have taken in the animal rights movement. Women around the world have long been leaders in highlighting animal cruelty and gaining protections for our vulnerable animal friends. Let’s take a look at just a few of these brave pioneers.
“In that laboratory we sacrificed daily from one to three dogs, besides rabbits and other animals, and after four months’ experience I am of opinion that not one of those experiments on animals was justifiable or necessary. I think the saddest sight I ever witnessed was when the dogs were brought up from the cellar to the laboratory…they seemed seized with horror as soon as they smelt the horror of the place, divining, apparently, their approaching fate.”
Frances Power Cobbe: Born in Ireland in 1822, Frances Power Cobbe was a journalist, animal welfare reformer, and a campaigner for women’s rights. Cobbe was a vehement anti-vivisectionist, a person opposed to performing operations on live animals for the purpose of experimentation or scientific research. She found close ties between the suffering of animals and women in Victorian society.
In 1875, she founded the Victoria Street Society (now the National Anti-Vivisection Society), the world's first anti-vivisection organization. Among her supporters was Queen Victoria herself.
She was instrumental in the passage of the Cruelty to Animals Act (1876), which stated that researchers would be prosecuted for cruelty if animals were unnecessarily experimented upon.
Despite its passage, Ms. Cobbe wasn’t satisfied with the legislation, which was in effect for 100 years, because she favored strict abolition of all animal experimentation.
“If one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned.”
Ruth Harrison: Born into a vegetarian family in London in 1920, it wasn’t until 1961 that Ruth Harrison became an activist.
That year, she was handed a leaflet about the plight of animals raised for food. It spurred her to begin a thorough and scientific study of factory farming, resulting in the publication of her book Animal Machines: The New Factory Farming Industry in 1964. The groundbreaking work introduced the world to the commodification of farmed animals and the brutalities they endure.
The outcry led to the enactment of Britain’s Animal Welfare Act of 1968, as well as an entirely new field of science— animal welfare. Throughout her life she worked with governments and non-profits to bring about changes in the housing, rearing, and slaughter of farmed animals.
“Wildlife has the right to live. I want my kids to have the opportunity to see animals, not only in photos and books, but alive and in nature.” Future Sibanda
“When I manage to stop poachers, I feel accomplished. I want to spend my whole life here on this job, arresting poachers and protecting animals.” Kelly Lyee Chigumbura
The Brave Ones: A unique group protects the 11,000 wild elephants of the Phundundu Wildlife Park in Zimbabwe. They are a squad of local women who are survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence, or are single mothers, abandoned wives, or AIDs orphans.
These extraordinary women have undergone special forces-level training in their quest to protect local wildlife and have turned their lives around in the process. Trained by former Australian Special Forces sniper Damien Mander, these women endured intense physical training.
So far, the Brave Ones have made 72 arrests without firing a single shot. Unlike some unscrupulous male rangers, there have been no hints of corruption among the women, such as taking bribes. Many of the Brave Ones have adopted a vegan lifestyle.
Interestingly, even the most dangerous of the large animals they encounter—namely buffalo and elephants—are less aggressive around these women. Perhaps they don’t view them as a threat, as poachers are nearly all men. The Brave Ones carry on a legacy of empathetic women throughout history who fight hard to end animal suffering.