Happy International Women’s Day 2019! This year marks the 49th International Women’s Day gathering, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1975 to recognise the achievements of women regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, language, economic or political position. Over the years it has grown into a global movement that encourages and supports women’s rights campaigns across the world.
This year, to pay homage to some of the remarkable and incredible things women have achieved, often without us knowing about it, we asked the team at Platform to tell us about the women they most admire and why.
What is most noteworthy is that no one on the team picked the same person and the choice of heroines spans many walks of life, countries and cultures. Here’s what they came up with…
Beth Clark: Anna Campbell
“One of the women in my life I most admire is my good friend Anna, who I first met at University in 2012. Anna has been through more in her life of only 24 years, than most could ever imagine. In spite of this, she is one of the most fun-loving, caring, and thoughtful people I have ever met. Through all that Anna has endured, she has chosen to give something back, and is a qualified Occupational Therapist (OT), working for the NHS to help rehabilitate people back to daily living and working. She worked as an OT for a few years in London but is currently living her best life and is travelling across Asia – #goals! She is definitely my #IWD inspiration!”
David Bramley: Mrs Bland
“Deep down I wonder if we should admire anyone. You could argue that most heroes have been dealt better cards or had the ability or luck to play that hand better than their peers. Perhaps the one truly admirable character trait is sacrifice and that too could fall foul of moral relativism. But looking back, one woman does stand out: Mrs Bland my infant school teacher. She inculcated an interest in knowledge and learning for all of the children in her class, whatever their inclination or ability. She inspired me to begin to think that perhaps education was a pathway out of a mining village with no pit. So, take a bow Mrs Bland. I apologize for not using your first name, but to the 7-year-old me you didn’t have one and that’s how I remember you still.”
Esme Horwood: Malala Yousafzai
“One of the women I most admire is Malala Yousafzai. Her name is recognized globally and she’s only twenty-one years old. From a young age, Malala has been a human rights activist for education of women and children. This tragically led to her being targeted and shot in the face by the Taliban in Pakistan when she was sixteen. Fighting back from this, she used the support she was given to make her voice heard and became a prominent activist for female education, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She also set up the non-profit organisation the Malala Fund, whilst continuing to focus on her own education. After doing extensive research on women’s lives in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan for my dissertation at university, I became inspired with Malala’s life journey. I love that Malala has created something so positive out of something so terrible.”
Eugene Afanasy: The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern
“On the 1st of August 2017, just seven weeks before the 2017 general election the leader of the New Zealand Labour Party resigned, placing Jacinda Ardern in charge. Ardern campaigned with relentless positivity receiving positive media coverage in New Zealand and across the world and the party rose dramatically in opinion polls. With her political tact and diplomatic prowess Jacinda Ardern formed a coalition with two minor parties and became the world’s youngest female head of government. Giving birth to a daughter on 21 June 2018, Ardern became the world’s second elected head of government to give birth while in office. She has been praised for multilateralism, expressed support for the world’s youth, and called for immediate attention to the effects and causes of climate change, for the equality of women, and for kindness as the basis for action. At a time when there is an all-time high distrust in politicians across the board, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern is an outlier and a beacon of hope for a better world.”
Farah Jifri: Rosa Parks
“On December 1st 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for not allowing a white passenger to take her seat on a bus. Word of her arrest resulted in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and nationwide efforts to end segregation of public facilities – a blatant disregard for “equal rights for all”, affirmed in the country’s founding documents. Parks’ simple act of remaining seated, was the spark that lit the fire of the American Civil Rights movement. Her refusal to bow down to the laws of segregation inspired others – Dr Martin Luther King Jr among them – to take a stand. Rosa Parks’ story underlines how a single person can indeed turn the tide of history. A single, non-aggressive act has the power to break down insurmountable barriers to change. In her words, “to bring about change, you must be willing to take the first step.””
Faye Ratliff: Rachel Green
“As a character I’ve grown up watching, I feel many, if not all aspects of life can be relatable to Rachel Green and her group of friends. From her incredible loyalty and trademark fashion she is a true icon and my personal heroine. A strong independent woman just trying to make it in the big city and deal with the challenge’s life throws. I admire her because no matter how many mistakes and wrong choices she makes, she has a real heart of gold and has had me belly-laughing for hours! Her shopping addiction and cooking skills are also very relatable…”
Freddie Weiss: Hanya Yanagihara
“My heroine is Hanya Yanagihara, author of one of my all-time favourite novels ‘A Little Life’. What I respect most about Hanya is that she is able to be a best-selling novelist and continue her high-demand day job as Editor-in-Chief of the New York Times Style Magazine. She faced some criticism and push-back from the publishing industry when she first took on this job, with many critics questioning the editorial quality of a fashion magazine supplement – especially when compared to the quality of her fictional prose. Nonetheless, she continues to serve as editor of the magazine all whilst writing award-winning fiction on the side, showing an incredible amount of commitment and skill to both endeavours. She is a daily reminder for me that by combining and collaborating what you enjoy doing with a full-time job, you can improve your skills and find success on both ends.”
Gay Bell: Dorothy Gale
“Who could not admire a young woman who after a freak weather storm finds herself an illegal immigrant in a strange land, and has to collaborate with a team of social misfits in order to survive?
“‘There’s no place like home’ was a mantra for Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz as she followed the Yellow Brick Road in her ruby slippers with her little dog Toto and her band of somewhat challenged individuals – Tinman, Lion and Scarecrow. A brave, if somewhat naïve young woman, Dorothy reminds me of myself setting out on life’s journey – keen to succeed, but like everyone facing real and imagined mountains to climb, poppy fields to cross and flying monkeys to defeat. As the central character in my all-time favourite film, Dorothy has always inspired me and shown me that with determination, self-belief and a great team, anyone can click their heels three times and conquer witches and wizards.”
Hugh Filman: Taylor Swift
“The woman I want to talk about as the one I most admire is Taylor Swift – because she is a woman my 12-year-old daughter greatly admires. And I like that. What I like about Taylor Swift as a role model for my daughter is that she is an independent young woman who writes and sings her own music, and clearly works very hard. It is obvious that Swift is now very much in control of her career, evolving as an artist and making the most of her talent.
“I also like that my daughter has seen Swift handle being in the public eye well. She is great friends with another megastar, Ed Sheeran – and plainly just friends – demonstrating to my daughter and other young women that a male-female friendship based on genuine common interests and mutual respect is not just possible but a really great thing. She has had her share of love-life disappointments paraded in the press but has never come across as a doormat – in fact she has publicly stood up for herself against man who groped her and prevailed in a civil case.
“All in all, I would not mind in the least if my daughter grew up to be like Taylor Swift.”
James Michael-Holmes: Emmeline Pankhurst
“Remember the old adage “you should never meet your heroes because they’re sure to disappoint you”? Well as Emmeline Pankhurst once said herself, it’s all about “deeds, not words” – in which case who wouldn’t want to meet the leader of the suffragettes? Demonstrations. Arson. Property destruction. Jail. Hunger strikes. Persecution. Yet despite of all this, her movement paved the way to securing a fundamental democratic right for all women. At a time when democracy is often taken for granted, it’s rather sobering to think that it’s just over 100 years and 3 months since women over 30 have been able to vote, and little over 90 years since the age was reduced to 21. What would she make of today’s society? Would she regard the number of women MPs in the House of Commons today (32% of the House – an all-time high) a success? Either way, by succeeding in her own mission to bring women the vote, despite terrifying opposition, she’s a heroine who truly defied the odds.”
Lisa Towell: Mary Robinson
“Growing up in Ireland in the nineties, you couldn’t escape the lasting impact Mary Robinson had on Irish politics and society. Descriptions of her by the media and government memos at the time range from ‘force’, ‘renegade’ to ‘militant liberal’. Her election by the women of Ireland to the office of President in 1990, not only broke the traditional ruling party hold on the Aras, but also gave the two fingers to a male dominated government that enjoyed pontificating about what rights and social limits Irish women should be thankful for.
“Before her presidency, she advocated for the right of women to sit on juries, practice family planning, removal of the (ridiculous) marriage ban in the civil service and decriminalization of homosexuality in Ireland. Her work in the United Nations and now as the Chairperson of the Elders has seen her influence global policies on healthcare access, humane migration, climate change and corporate social responsibility. These days she is helping to save the planet through her foundation and podcast ‘Mother of Invention’ which highlights how women across the world are working towards climate justice.”
Max Deeley: Florence Nightingale: the statistician
“You’ll probably know Florence Nightingale as the founder of modern nursing, famed for her work during the Crimean War, to organise care for wounded soldiers and professionalise nursing practices. Nightingale set up the world’s first school of nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital and her legacy is felt around the world today. What she’s less well known for is being a pioneer in the use of infographics, to communicate complex data in an easy-to-understand way.
“Take for example this diagram, used by Nightingale to demonstrate what caused the remarkable decrease in deaths from preventable diseases during the Crimean War. The decrease coincided with The Sanitary Commission flushing out the sewers and improving ventilation at hospitals, along with improvements in basic care (like handwashing), implemented by Nightingale herself.
“This helped Nightingale build the case for improving the health of the British Army in India, where she was able to demonstrate how bad drainage, contaminated water, overcrowding and poor ventilation were causing high death rates. After a decade of sanitary reform, reported mortality among soldiers in India had declined from 69 to 18 per 1,000.”
Rose Wilkinson: Oprah Winfrey
“Ever since I heard Oprah’s story about how she got her part in the Color Purple (1985) I have admired her greatly for her strength, positivity and faith. Firstly, she didn’t have the advantages that many celebrities have, even her father’s attitudes were working against her. Yet she managed to overcome her doubt and created her own reality through her powerful identification with the novel. She told everybody “I’m going to be in the movie!” After attending the audition and not hearing anything, she knew she had to surrender. She attended a fat farm to try and lose weight, and one day while running round the track, she prayed to God to let the part go. Minutes later she received a phone call from Steven Spielberg to say she got the part and not to lose a pound. This was her big break. A household name, she now has 16M followers on Instagram and 42M followers on Twitter.”
Segolene Roche: Helen Keller – putting disability in the spotlight
“I’ve always been fascinated by people who overcome the odds. Reading Helen Keller’s autobiography when I was 8 was a real eye opener for me: born with full faculties – both physical and intellectual – she faced a long illness that left her blind and deaf, leaving her with bleak prospects at the end of the 19th century. Yet, she decided that her health would not be the end of her. Instead, she embarked on a lifelong mission to radically change the perception of one of the least visible minorities around the world – a community that could still benefit from more representation in the ‘diversity’ debate today. In the age of exoskeletons, prosthetic limbs and invisible hearing aids, it’s easy to forget how influential her work has been, particularly at a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote.”
Will Garside: Jane Hewland
“As a twenty something, with a background working in technology, going into the glamorous (See sarcasm) world of broadcast was a real eye opener. The company I worked for Hewland International was founded and run magnificently by Jane Hewland, one of the women I most admire and the first boss that truly inspired me to think beyond my limitations. Jane’s IMDB entry is not the most earth shattering, but it belies a person that blended deep knowledge of the industry with the creativity needed to make highly watchable TV programs – and in my case, an ethos around people that was built on ability and potential and not just your educational attainment, social status, race or gender. I would not presume that she would even remember my name in a 200 strong office, but I recall my first day and interview with her where she asked forthright questions that challenged me to prove my worth. Over the years’ I spent at Hewland as a small cog in the wheel, her presence was inspirational to the productions and ultimately helped many of us to progress not through molly coddling but by setting expectations that pushed us to excel. In my opinion, her best traits were a bluntness and work ethic that rubbed off on the people around the company and to this day, I gravitate towards these same leadership characteristics that turn talented individuals into fantastic teams.”
Zoe Mumba: Gloria Atanmo (The Blog Abroad)
“The women I admire is a long list with The Queen, Rupi Kaur and Rihanna ranking highly. But I decided to give my shout out to Gloria Atanmo aka The Blog Abroad. She’s an Nigerian American travel blogger who became a full time digital nomad in 2013 when she decided that the rat race wasn’t for her. When she started travelling full time, she only had $500 to her name, but last year she earned 6 figures from her blog. From a professional standpoint, what I admire most about Glo is that she’s a black woman who’s succeeded in an industry which (ironically) is not that diverse. She’s achieved this by building a personal brand which manages to be both aspirational and authentic including, documenting the less glamorous side of being a travel blogger like the 16-hour days spent producing content for brands, chasing payment for months, and the challenges she has faced as a black woman travelling solo. But the real reason I chose Glo for this blog is because she is a woman who’s committed to living life to the fullest, completely on her terms. In a world where women still face pressure to follow certain societal norms, Glo’s decision to rip up the rulebook is a powerful, radical and inspiring.”