Politicians and businesswomen, charity campaigners and journalists, these are some of the women who have been inspiring us over the past year…
Elena Rossini has worked tirelessly for the past five years to create The Illusionists: a 90-minute documentary about distorted body image and the toxic marketing of unattainable beauty – and in 2013 she reached the final stages of post-production! Rossini funded the project using a Kickstarter campaign in order to ensure full control and to be able to tell us the whole, explosive truth. I can’t wait to see this film make waves on the festival circuit in 2014. Nominated by Pippa Rimmer.
Jyoti Singh Pandey
Jyoti Singh Pandey – better known to the media and the public as Nirbhaya – changed the world in 2013. Sadly Nirbhaya (which means ‘fearless one) wasn’t able to see the difference she made, as she died in hospital nearly two weeks after being brutally gang-raped and attacked on a bus in New Delhi last December, sending shockwaves across the globe and causing other women to speak out about sexual and physical abuse they had suffered. Women’s rights groups called for change, self-defence classes were set up and protesters campaigned in India and beyond to show that enough is enough. A play directed by Yael Farber, simply named Nirbhaya, also made a strong impact this year, covering the events of December 2012 alongside the personal stories of cast members, telling their own harrowing experiences of ‘gender-based violence’; it was a powerful and deeply moving performance that left most of the audience in tears when I saw it at the Edinburgh Festival in August. Jyoti Singh Pandey may no longer be with us, but we won’t forget her, and others like her. Nominated by Polly Allen.
In February 2013, Stacy-Marie Ishmael launched #awesomewomen, a free weekly newsletter linking professional women across continents. Sent on Sundays, the email provides links to career and leadership articles as well as opportunities, job-related and otherwise, created by other members of the network. #awesomewomen is symptomatic of Stacy-Marie’s habit of doing things to change the status quo, rather than whinge about it. For instance, rather than complaining about the rarity of female public speakers, she set up an online public speaking workshop with EdTechWomen, and then applied her own advice during aTEDxPortofSpain talk in November. And this is just what she does on her free time. Her full-time job, since September, has been as the Financial Times‘ first ever VP of communities. Nominated by Lucie Goulet.
Martha Lane Fox
Also known as Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho (seriously, how fabulous is that?), in March 2013, Lane Fox became the House of Lords’ youngest female member. However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the founder of Lastminute.com and business wonder woman. She’s a digital champion regularly featured in the media, but many may not realise that Lane Fox has had to overcome adversity and challenging personal circumstances. In 2004, she was seriously injured in a car accident, sustaining multiple fractions and eventually undergoing more than 20 operations. Lane Fox may be a brilliant businesswoman, but she’s also a survivor.
My inspirational woman of 2013 was my mother, Walkiria. After a 25-year career in investment banking, she has followed her lifelong dream of becoming a counsellor. Originally from a deprived background in Sao Paulo, Brazil, her story has been one of great inspiration to so many people. She was brave enough to move to London in hopes of a better life for her family at 17, and recently had the courage to leave her job and join university although she’s in her fifties. She has taught me that regardless of your age, background or circumstances, it is always possible to reinvent and redefine who you are. Having qualified just this month, I am so proud of what she has become and continues to achieve. Nominated by Bianca Bass.
Since she founded Kids Company in 1996, Camila Batmanghelidjh has helped over 17,000 of the most vulnerable children and young people in London with practical support and advice. Instantly recognisable for her bold, colourful outfits, the former psychotherapist has devoted her life to working with disadvantaged children, with the charity’s centres providing a safe and caring environment. The fact that Batmanghelidjh is severely dyslexic and cannot use a computer makes her achievement even more inspiring.
I’m not a fan of baking, much less of reality TV, so The Great British Bake Off was never going to be on my must-watch list. And although Ruby Tandoh hasn’t, by any means, revolutionised society, she has created in change in a small, simple way that we all can relate to. Unlike other famous-for-five-minutes reality show survivors, her behaviour has been exemplary and I genuinely feel that she’s a credible role model for teenagers and young women. Putting her moment in the limelight to good use, in the aftermath of the BBC2 series, Tandoh spoke out and confronted the misogynistic criticism that the contestants had received via social media. She’s since gone on to affirm that yes, she is a feminist – and she’s even written a few comment pieces for The Guardian. We can’t all change the world, and 99.99% of us won’t be Nobel Prize winners. But we can take action in our own small, simple way. And every day is an opportunity to do that. Nominated by Alice Revel.
Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography, published in 2013, would be impressive if it were written by a 60-year-old politician. That it’s the life story of a girl of just sixteen makes it an astonishing read, and my recommendation for anyone looking for some New Year inspiration for 2014. Malala was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in Pakistan in 2012, after years of campaigning for girls’ rights in the country. Rather than silence her, as the Taliban attack intended, Malala gained worldwide fame and her calls for education for all have been heard around the world, and last year she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest ever nominee. I have high hopes for this young wonder woman. Nominated by Katie Wright.
As Junior Equalities Minister, the Liberal Democrat MP is known for championing issues such as equal pay and opportunities, body image and shared parental leave. Over 2013, we’ve seen Swinson involved in campaigns against airbrushing, LGBT bullying and unpaid internships, and it’s so exciting to see a woman spearheading change and bringing these questions to the fore.
Every other week, radio journalist Ashley Milne-Tyte broadcasts The Broad Experience, a 20-minutes long podcast about women in the workplace. My two favourite shows this year: overcome the guilt which too often holds women back, featuring an interview with another wonder woman, Mrs Moneypenny, and Lean In, the women in the workplace book of 2013. The podcasts are a one-woman production, with Milne-Tyte selecting and researching the topics, conducting the interviews and recording in her little cupboard at home. Her expertise and passion show through and with every episode, you’re guaranteed to pick up advice applicable to multiple work situations, turning The Broad Experience into something akin to one way mentoring. Nominated by Lucie Goulet.
I was lucky enough to see the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project at a talk a few weeks ago, and the way she described the people that get in touch with her each day almost moved me to tears. Laura Bates has given an outlet to women of all ages who face sexist abuse, that otherwise would not have existed. She gives a voice to those who perhaps would not have told their stories of discrimination or harassment and documents how far behind society still is in the fight for equality between men and women. Nominated by Sian Hunter.