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International Women’s Day: the women who have inspired us

International Women’s Day aside, this week has been one where the experiences of women have been more openly discussed than they have been for a long while.

It is only right that we all continue to celebrate women and their contributions to society. In this light, The Boar Features asked some of its writers to tell us a bit more about some of the women that they most admire.

From writers and activists, to scientists and historical figures, our writers identified a range of women that they find inspiring for various different reasons:

Frida Kahlo (by Cristina Maino)

During her lifetime, Kahlo lived in the shadow of her more famous husband Diego Rivera. Nowadays, it is Rivera who lives in hers. Although inspiringly resilient, the Mexican painter’s life was riddled with turmoil: she contracted polio as a child, survived a bus accident at 18 and suffered several miscarriages. Despite this, Kahlo was able to transform her pain into some of the most influential works of the surrealist canon. She defied gender norms by emphasizing her unibrow and mustache, frequently depicted breastfeeding, abortions and miscarriages in her paintings and consistelty fought against capitalism and colonialism. Kahlo remains one of the most important painters of the 20th century for her unapologetic depiction of female life, from its darkest tragedies to its most radiant joys.

Harriet Tubman (by Celia Bergin)

As a conductor on the Underground Railroad Tubman ‘never lost a passenger’ while helping people to escape bondage. Her success freed 70 people over 13 trips back to the south.

– Celia Bergin

Born in 1822, abolitionist and Civil War hero Harriet Tubman is one of America’s most famous revolutionaries in the fight against slavery. After escaping slavery herself, Tubman worked to free her family and other enslaved people in the American south. As a conductor on the Underground Railroad Tubman ‘never lost a passenger’ while helping people to escape bondage. Her success freed 70 people over 13 trips back to the south.

During the Civil War Tubman worked as a Union Army spy and liberated a further 700 enslaved African Americans. Her work alongside other abolitionists and former slaves turned Union Army soldiers aiding the south’s concession in the Civil war. This resulted in the emancipation of all slaves in 1865. Tubman lived on for almost another five decades after slavery formally ended, advocating in her later life for female suffrage. She died at age 90 in 1913 and remains one of the most well-known black female American abolitionists.

Jane Goodall (by Cristina Maino)

Goodall is a pioneer of science and research, having dedicated most of her life to the ground breaking study of animal behaviour. Born in 1934, Goodall is an ethologist, primatologist and anthropologist who has inspired countless women and girls to pursue careers in science and challenge gender stereotypes in academia. When asked if she had advice for young girls, Goodall replied “I would tell girls in middle school about the dreams they could pursue through science — from flying through outer space to observing animals in the wilds of Africa.” She has not only inspired younger generations of women, but also young climate activists. Over her 55 years conducting groundbreaking research on chimpanzee behaviour at Gombe National Park, Tanzania, Goodall observed the devastating effects of climate change on flora, fauna, and indigenous communities. At 86 years of age, Goodall shows no signs of quelling her activism, which after a lifetime of hard work remains as fierce as ever.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (by Amy Holliday)

Nigerian author and activist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche is most famous for her works ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ and ‘America.’ She has also held a variety of impactful TED Talks on the importance of feminism and the danger of certain singular narratives about Africa. When Adiche travelled to America to complete her university degree, she was confronted first hand with the singular story that many people in the West have about African people. She has since acknowledged that as a child the stories she read contained characters from the West that did not look like her. A primary motivation for her writing has been to write stories that are more representative of her and the people around her, so as not to propagate the single story centred around Western traditions that is favoured in literature.  Her determination to call out and act on the injustices that she identifies makes her an extremely inspiring individual.

Greta Thunberg (by Monika Hartmann)

If you want a job done well, hire a 16-year old.

Thanks to Thunberg, we now all know a little Swedish (‘skolstrejk för klimatet’), and since her 18th birthday in January 2021, she can officially be referred to as an ‘influential woman’: climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Ms Thunberg’s journey as a climate activist properly began in January 2018, when she started her school strike for climate in front of the Swedish Parliament. Her story was shared via social media and evolved into a global movement that is now known as Fridays For Future.

Not only is the global climate movement known for its very young activists, it also is an exceptionally female movement spearheaded by women and girls in many countries.

– Monika Hartmann

Inspired by Ms Thunberg’s activism, young people all around the globe have repeatedly skipped school in order to demand swift action against global warming, with millions taking to the streets at the global climate strike in September 2019. Not only is the global climate movement known for its very young activists, it also is an exceptionally female movement spearheaded by women and girls in many countries. Of course, this makes it especially interesting to take a look at Fridays For Future on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

Due to her leading role in the climate movement, Ms Thunberg has risen to fame and has subsequently been given the opportunity to voice her concerns before influential institutions such as the European Parliament and European Commission, US Congress and the UK Parliament. She was also asked to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2019 and at the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019. On both occasions, the teenage activist delivered powerful speeches, urging world leaders to take action against the climate crisis to ensure that the goals of the Paris Agreement are met.

Ms Thunberg, who does not fly to reduce her carbon footprint, crossed the Atlantic on an emission-free sailing yacht in advance of the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019. In her speech before world leaders, she famously declared: “People are suffering. People are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you. You are failing us.”

The activist has also made her mark on popular culture, and not only through countless “How dare you” memes or because she was featured on a Swedish postage stamp in a series on climate change and the environment. Time Magazine declared her ‘Time Person of the Year for 2019’, she was included in the ‘BBC 100 Women 2019’ and even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times. In November 2020, the documentary ‘I am Greta’ came out.

Since women are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, International Women’s Day is an excellent occasion to reflect not only on Ms Thunberg as a person, but most of all on her demands concerning climate change, and to think about what each of us can do to tackle this emergency.

Taylor Swift (by Ella Wilson)

Too often portrayed by the media as serial-dating, heartbreak-obsessed, aging teen popstar, Taylor Swift has managed to rise above her reputation and become one of the most powerful women in the world, not being afraid to stand up for what she believes in and set things right. This incredibly woman has proven herself to be more than a catchy radio hit maker, releasing two surprise alternative albums in the past year. Alongside this, her masters were sold by the bullies in the music industry and she is in the process of rerecording her first six albums in order to fully own her own music. In the past few years she has been breaking out of her media-made persona and has started to share her opinion on politics, social rights and, most recently, the constant slut-shaming thrown at her. As well as all of this, she continues to make some of the most varied, lyrically-beautiful music, breaking records that sit her among the greats of music, most recently being praised by Sir Paul McCartney

AOC (by Evie Taylor)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has brought compassion to American politics. In a deeply divided nation, she shows up, stands up and speaks up against social injustice. She has consistently been focussed on fighting for justice and hope for every American, refusing to be intimidated by a political landscape which remains dominated by white, rich men.

Climate campaigning has consistently been at the forefront of her political agenda, reflecting her determination to make America, and indeed the world, a better place for future generations. On her first day as a Congresswoman, in January 2019, AOC took part in a climate change protest outside the office of fellow Democrat, Nancy Pelosi. Her aim is not to make friends in the political sphere, but to make progressive change. She drafted a Green New Deal, which she published on a Google Doc, to ensure it was as widely accessible as possible, especially the millennials and Gen Z, who will be the most severely affected by the impacts of climate change.

Yet her dedication to climate policy is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to progressive campaigning and policy making. AOC has drawn attention to vital topics, including the plight of migrant women, discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community and the impacts of trauma. Following the storming of the US Capitol, she bravely spoke out about how the experience triggered reactions to a previous traumatic event in her life. She used her experiences to speak out about the importance of believing victims and offer comfort to anyone else who had gone through trauma.

From calling out political leaders to providing trauma victims with comfort and support, bringing attention to vital issues to discussing skincare, AOC proves a woman can do it all.

– Evie Taylor

AOC’s approach to politics challenges the status quo. She utilises social media, specifically Twitter, masterfully. From calling out political leaders to providing trauma victims with comfort and support, bringing attention to vital issues to discussing skincare, AOC proves a woman can do it all.

Elizabeth Gilbert (by Amy Holliday)

Most famous for her works ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and ‘Big Magic,’ Elizabeth Gilbert proves that women will not ‘shrink’ to adhere to society’s narrow expectations of how a woman should act. Having found the courage to admit to herself that she was unhappy as a married woman in her 9-5 day job, Gilbert decided that she would take the leap and spend a year travelling abroad on a solo spiritual journey. After the memoir ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, Gilbert has continued to write many other successful works discussing her general life philosophies and her belief in the importance of creative living. Gilbert has also held a variety of TED Talks. Whilst some of Gilbert’s philosophies may seem unusual to some, her open-mindedness and the courage she possessed to take the uncomfortable steps to live the life she wanted to is an inspiration to us all.

Grace Beverley (by Emily Nicholson)

Grace Beverley is a social media influencer turned female entrepreneur who created and launched her businesses, TALA and Shreddy, whilst studying for her undergraduate degree at Oxford University. Her businesses are grounded in principles of sustainability, inclusivity and accessibility and are paving the way for the future of the fitness industry.

Grace uses her platform to address social issues such as negative “hustle culture”, female empowerment and her belief in the need for slow fashion. She addresses these issues openly in features including Forbes, VOGUE Business, Business Insider and more.

She is a highly commended woman in business and has been recognised in Forbes 30 under 30s retail, named Natwest’s GBEA Young Entrepeneur of the Year, and listed in Barclays’ Future 100 Influential Women. Grace is an inspiration for the women if this generation. She is open and unapologetic about her success, and the hard work which has led to her accomplishments and the position that she is in today.

Wangari Maathai (by Kate Arsac England)

Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai was a woman of many firsts.

Born in 1940 in a remote Kikuyu village in the Kenyan highlands, she attended the village primary school. Maathai later transferred to a boarding school run by missionaries where she became fluent in English and converted to Catholicism. At the age of 16, she was admitted to the only Catholic high school for girls in Kenya.

Maathai was granted a scholarship funded by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation to study biology, chemistry and German at Mount St. Scholastica College in Kansas, USA. She went on to study at several universities in USA, Germany and Kenya, finally achieving a PhD in veterinary anatomy in 1971 from the University of Nairobi, the first East African woman ever to receive one.

Between 1976 and 1977, Maathai became an associate professor, and the chairperson of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at the University of Nairobi. She was the first woman to achieve either position in Africa.

Maathai and the Green Belt Movement have won over 18 awards over the years, for her work in environmental conservation, women’s and human rights, and democracy.

– Kate Arsac England

As a member and chairperson of the National Council of Women in Kenya, Maathai encouraged women to plant trees locally to protect their local environments and improve their quality of life. This movement grew into a grassroots organisation known as the “Green Belt Movement” in 1977, which has since spread to other African countries. To date, Kenyan and other African women have planted over 30 million trees in an effort to mitigate deforestation.

Maathai and the Green Belt Movement have won over 18 awards over the years, for her work in environmental conservation, women’s and human rights, and democracy. In 2004, she won the Nobel Peace Prize “for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”.

Maathai was elected as an MP in Kenyan Parliament, where she served as Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife between 2003 and 2005. She also worked in numerous international organisations including the United Nations, Green Cross International, and the Jane Goodall Institute.

Wangari Maathai died of cancer in 2011 at the age of 71. She is commemorated by Wangari Gardens, a large community garden in Washington DC; the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi; and the Wangari Maathai Forest Champion Award, awarded annually to an individual who has made exceptional contributions to forest restoration and preservation.

Jacinda Ardern (by Sabrina Penty)

Not only does Jacinda Ardern have one of the most diverse cabinets in the world through its representation of women, Maoris and LGBTQIA+ members, but she has shown the world on multiple occasions what real leadership looks like. In times of crisis, she has acted effectively and has always been able to clearly communicate to New Zealand’s population. When tragedy struck in Christchurch in March 2019 following a terrorist attack which targeted a mosque, Ardern immediately held a press conference to deliver a message against hatred, saying “they are us” when referring to the muslim community that was targeted by white supremacism. She then addressed the shooter and said  “you may have chosen us – we utterly reject and condemn you”. Her next move was to implement tight gun laws across the nation immediately, something many nations such as the US have failed to do. Her handling of the pandemic has led her to become New Zealand’s most popular politician, a poll has revealed. The nation’s low infection rate would have not been possible without her excellent leadership. And what makes her even more inspiring was the 20% wage cut she took as an act of solidarity to those who lost their jobs during the lockdown.

What’s more, is that on top of being one of the world’s most influential politicians, she also takes on another challenging role – she is a mother. She gave birth in office in 2018, but that hasn’t stopped her from her continuing commitment to New Zealand. Ardern has introduced a different yet refreshing touch to leadership, which is one that puts kindness and respect at the top of the agenda. She is an icon of multitasking, and she has shown us women that anything is possible if we set our minds to it.

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