A look into some inspirational women
From NASA to Oxford to the British Royal family to the big screen, inspirational women come from all over the world and they are here, here to be heard, to be seen, and to challenge. Madeline Allbright once said, “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent." We see inspiring women everywhere, from all walks of life: in medicine, business, film, mothers, social workers, teachers, police, music, the army, government, in shops and they all have their own story to share.
Feminist. A person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. Despite its depictions now surrounding the word, feminism is equality for all, feminism is being treated fairly to your counterparts and returning the same, feminism is having a voice.
With it being International Women’s Day on 8th March, let’s take a look at some truly beautifully powerful, inspirational women and celebrate them.
Greta Thunberg, is a 19-year-old climate change activist who has inspired millions across the globe to take a stand against climate change. Greta has quickly become one of the most famous activists for climate change, with her blunt and powerful tone, but her message is simple – stop the climate crisis now. Her activism began when she learnt about the climate crisis at age 8 and soon inspired her parents to make lifestyle changes to become more sustainable. In 2018, she sat outside the Swedish Parliament for three days with a sign reading “Skolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for climate)”. Others soon followed in their thousands, then millions, under the ‘school climate strike’ demanding for changes to tackle climate change. Now, 14,000,000 people are involved in the cause. Greta addressed the United Nations Climate Change Conference, questioning “How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words”. This iconic, blunt yet thought-provoking phrase has challenged many to question why so little is being done to tackle climate change. After Greta addressed the conference, strikes took place every week in a different city across the world!
With Greta’s determination and inspirational stance, she has received 3 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize (2019-2021), inclusion in Forbes “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” (2019), and in Time’s 100 Most Influential People. Newspapers have referred to her influence as the “Greta effect” and it seems to be working with figures soaring around public concern for the environment. New Scientist magazine, in 2019, described Thunberg’s movement, amongst others as "The year the world woke up to climate change.” There is so much to be said about Greta and the work she has done in the past 4 years, but what speaks the loudest is her actions and the millions she has inspired.
Malala was born in Pakistan in 1997, her father was a teacher who ran a girl’s school in her village. Everything changed when the Taliban took over Malala’s village, enforcing extreme rules such as banning people from owning a television, playing music, and girls from education. Malala began speaking publicly about girls' right to learn. In 2012, she was shot by a Taliban soldier for trying to attend school, she was flown to Birmingham, England for treatment and safety. “I said to myself, Malala, you must be brave. You must not be afraid of anyone. You are only trying to get an education. You are not committing a crime”. Malala’s act of bravery, in an oppressive, unjust situation has led to a powerful movement. Once recovered, Malala founded the Malala Fund, a charity that helps support girls from all over the world, giving them an opportunity and accessibility of education. By holding those in charge accountable, changing policies, investing in activities, and amplifying the voices of the millions of Malalas’ out there. In 2014, Malala became the youngest person ever to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. In 2020, she graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and continues her fight against inequality, visiting girls fighting poverty, child marriages, and war. With 130 million girls still out of school, Malala’s work and the Malala fund are continuing to fight for girls, their equality, and education.
Emma Watson, activist, actor, and model, has been on the screen since she was 11-years-old. She played the courageous, clever, and loyal Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise. Hermione was voted the best female character of all time in 2016 by The Hollywood Reporter. With Hermione’s strong views on equality and love of learning, Emma also embodies these attributes. Emma has a degree in English Literature from Brown University. A champion and ambassador, Emma Watson campaigns for HeForShe, a movement for gender equality. Her strong stance, promoting that men and boys should also be involved in the conversations has challenged the traditional view on feminism and millions of men and boys are now getting involved in the movement. As a Goodwill Ambassador, Emma wants to challenge the traditional issues around feminism, gender-based assumptions, and ‘man hating’, believing, in its simplicity of gender equality. Meaning men and women will be considered equal in all forms of life. With her inspiring words and acknowledgment of her privilege, this has energised many to challenge the ‘norms’, including mental health in men. Mental health is the biggest killer in men between 20-49 in the UK, yet men are still stereotyped, being told to ‘man up’. This vitally important topic is a worldwide issue that needs to be challenged and changed. Her 2014 speech at the HeForShe campaign was met with millions of views, shares, and comments. Her thought-provoking approach to feminism captured the eyes, ears, and hearts of many.
Emma has also worked closely with organisations to help promote organic fashion, founding PeopleTree in 2009, believing in sustainable fashion and the underlying issues surrounding women’s rights and equality in the workplace. Not only challenging the ‘norm’ of fast fashion in how clothes are sold, but how they are manufactured. As well as this, also working closely with women who have been harassed in the workplace, setting up a legal advice line by Right of Women. Emma’s work continues to help and inspire many, challenging outdated mindsets and practices, as Hermione once said “I mean, it’s sort of exciting isn’t it? Breaking the rules”.
Zarlasht Halaimzai was born in Afghanistan during a time of great uncertainty and little security. Zarlasht and her family were forced to flee their home when she was 11 and came to the UK. Zarlasht has discussed how isolated she felt when she arrived in the UK. With little sense of community, loss of her home, family, and language she had lost everything she once knew, her identity. To offer support and help those forced to leave their homes in Greece, Zarlasht set up Refugee Trauma Initiative (RTI). This initiative helps people cope with their journey and the impact it has had. With first-hand experience and refugees often having very little in terms of basic needs and community, Zarlasht wants to help people who have gone through a traumatic experience to rebuild their lives as she understands the devastating impact, and guilt that war, violence, and fleeing can have.
Diana, Princess of Wales
“The People’s Princess”. Diana, Princess of Wales born Diana Spencer, was the first wife of Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne. She was only 20-years-old when she married Charles in front of 750 million people, their wedding looked like something out of a fairy tale. Not long after the wedding, rumours began circulating around the issues the couple were having, the couple divorced in 1992. With Diana being so prevalent in the public eye, little of her life was kept private. People felt as though they knew her due to her kind nature and modernised views of the world “If I’m going to have cameras pointed at me the whole time, I might as well use all this publicity for good.” Diana changed people’s perceptions of the Royal Family, making them seem more accessible.
Diana was known as “The People’s Princess” not only for her status but because of her activism and charity work. She was the patroness of over 100 different charities and organisations, working with the homeless, those with HIV/Aids, vulnerable children, the youth, drug addicts, and the elderly. In the 1980’s she began her work with Aids. She de-stigmatised the condition by regularly holding hands and hugging patients, publicly challenging the notion that Aids would spread through touch. Diana also opened the UK’s first HIV/Aids unit at London Middlesex Hospital. Her hands-on approach flowed through to other parts of her work, she was quoted saying “If I’m going to talk on behalf of any cause, I want to go and see the problem for myself and learn about it.” As well as this, Diana challenged the stigma around mental health “You’d wake up in the morning feeling you didn’t want to get out of bed.” Despite the stigma, many empathised with Diana with her being a mother and understood it’s ok not to be ok, no matter who you are.
Her incredible legacy continues to live on through her children. Diana, like with her charity work, took a very ‘normal’, hands-on approach with her children, regularly taking them to visit soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Diana sadly passed away in 1997 after she was killed in a car accident, the world mourned. Prince William and Prince Harry continue Diana’s charitable work in Africa, for HIV/Aids and speak openly about mental health. In the year before her death, Diana worked closely with the Halo Trust, who are working to rid the world of landmines and inform of their damaging existence. Images can be found of Diana walking through a minefield. After her visit, Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty was signed, which called for all countries to unite to rid the world of landmines. Diana will forever be in the hearts of many, a royal by marriage but a princess by heart.
Mae Jemison astronaut, doctor, and engineer. Growing up, Mae wanted to shoot for the stars, she grew up watching the Apollo airings but had no female astronaut role models to look up to, so she became one. Whilst in school, Mae experienced racial discrimination. She joined the Black Students Union, later becoming president. Mae is a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in chemical engineering and in African and African-American studies. On top of this, she has a medical degree from Cornell University and is fluent in Russian, Japanese, and Swahili. After medical school, Mae joined the Peace Corps for 2 years as a medical officer. Returning to her childhood dream to shoot for the stars, Mae applied to NASA and became 1 of the 15 applicants chosen out of 2,000. Mae Jemison then became the first black woman to travel to space. After this, Mae continued her incredible career, she founded a technology research company, ‘The Jemison Group’ embodying views of science, technology, and social change. Find where the wind goes is one of several books for children she has written, this book encapsulates her story. Now, Mae is leading a 100-year Starship project to make human space travel to another star possible within the next century. Mae Jemison’s story is a magical adventure, truly showing us there is no limit on what you can set your mind to.
Emilia Bassano Lanier
Emilia Bassano Lanier, also known as ‘Shakespeare’s Dark Lady’ was written out of history, until recently. Her story is a truly powerful one but underappreciated. She emigrated to England at a young age and had Italian and Sephardic Jewish ancestry. Emilia soon found herself in the circle of aristocracy when she lived at the home of the Countess of Kent, she became the mistress of Henry Carey falling pregnant and forced to marry his Alphonse Lanier, a musician. At the age of 42, Emilia was one of the first women to publish herself as a professional poet with a collection titled ‘Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews)’. This was published in 1611 when it was unusual and highly criticised for a woman to publish poetry. Her work was described as ‘radical’. However, nowadays she is regarded as a forward-thinking feminist writer. Salve Deus expresses Emilia’s views for women to be free from masculinity.
Emilia came from a family of Court musicians and speculations plays with the idea Shakespeare was inspired by her in Sonnet 128 and Sonnet 152, giving her the name ‘the Dark Lady’. The name Emilia crops up in several of Shakespeare’s plays including Othello, The Two Noble Kinsmen, The Winter’s Tale, and The Comedy of Errors, it is strongly suspected Emilia was Shakespeare’s muse behind this. What we can assume, is a beautiful kinship between Emilia and Shakespeare, two combined in a love of literature. Strong, forward-thinking, and well versed in literature – it is no wonder Shakespeare was encapsulated by this great woman.
“There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish." – Michelle Obama.
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