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International Women's Day: 10 women who started 2014 right

8th March 2014

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From schoolgirls to newly emerged Hollywood stars, here are ten women we should applaud so far in 2014.

Malala Yousafzai

This list was never going to exist without Malala, was it? Here are some of the things that she’s done so far this year: helped Syrian refugees crossing the border into Jordan to safety. Told students that their most effective tool is their voice, whilst addressing crowds at Wembley Stadium alongside Prince Harry. Received a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, for the second time. On International Women’s Day, she’s addressing the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival about what she’s learnt since moving to Britain.

Yeah, and she’s 16. Proof, if we need it, that we can overcome any barriers if we try hard enough.

Fahma Mohamed

In February, 17-year-old Fahma, backed by the Guardian, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a quickly viral internet petition, called on Michael Gove to give teachers the resources they needed to be educated about the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation before the summer ‘cutting season.’

Maybe even more remarkably, Gove listened – and now the 24,000 girls under the age of 15 in Britain who are at risk of being cut this summer (and their teachers) might just have enough confidence to stop the procedure before it happens. We’d call that empowerment.

Lupita Nyong’o

No one who witnessed Lupita’s devastating performance as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave will question her Oscar’s night success. Documentary film maker, Yale graduate, production crew for The Constant Gardener, writer, director, producer, beauty and society commenter, wearer of incredible dresses – and now Best Supporting Actress for her first feature film role? We’re in awe.

Sheryl Sandberg

The Chief Operating Officer of Facebook has pledged to change the way women are depicted in stock images – which might not seem that huge on the surface, but just consider how many adverts (in magazines, on websites, across billboards), how many television commercials, how many images on product packing, are of slim, attractive, overwhelmingly white women in generic states of emotion? It’s almost as though women exist in one dimensional states – of smiling, happy, sad, depressed, confused, jumping... and nothing else.  So, in general, how many images of women that we’re exposed to every single day are pushing these stereotypes? I think you’ll find that the answer is a lot.

Also, Sandberg is leading a campaign to ban the word “bossy” – a word once used to shout her down by a high school teacher, and one that we don’t often hear used to describe men who are trying to get things done.

So, who’s laughing now, former Sandberg teacher? What a good job it is that she didn’t listen to you.

Zosia Mamet

She’s just the best thing about Girls, isn’t she?

Also, we think she probably doesn’t take any prisoners – if this tumblr is anything to go by.

Laurie Owen

Johannesburg interior designer Laurie Owen is waging a war against South Africa’s frankly sickening rape statistics – a country where a girl is more likely to be raped than finish primary school, where, Laurie says “the chances of celebrating the day you survived your rape are becoming more important than celebrating your birthday.”

After being gang raped in her home, Laurie has designed a GPS-enabled bracelet that activates ten selected phone numbers in the event of an attack. Alongside her daughter, she is also organising a peaceful protest walk on 9th August to the Union building in Pretoria, bolstered by the slogan “strike a woman, strike a rock.”

Tammy Duckworth

Tammy Duckworth may be unknown to those of us on this side of the pond, but our attention was drawn towards her via twitter and we’ll now lay down a few facts: the first Asian-American woman elected to congress in Illinois. The first member of Congress to be born in Thailand. The first disabled woman elected to the Us House of Representatives. And an Iraq War veteran. The war’s first female double amputee in fact – which doesn’t stop her continual service in the Illinois National Guard.  

In other words, she’s broken down barriers all over the place.

Amy Poehler

Parks and Recreation, The Golden Globes (again)... and these words on celebrities shying away from feminism, published in Elle in January: “I don’t get it. That’s like someone being like, "I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it." Boom.

Noorulann Shahid

After accidentally creating the #LifeOfAMuslimFeminst hashtag “whilst on a revision break” at Nottingham University, Behavioural Economics student Noorulann found herself a somewhat startled spokesperson for feminists with the Muslim community.

There’s now a Muslim Fems Project on twitter and a Life of a Muslim Feminist Wordpress blog – in their own words, “to give Muslim Feminists a wide platform” in a society that might all too often see these things as mutually exclusive.


Yes it’s controversial, and we don’t like her admission (made May last year, in Vogue) that the word feminist “can be very extreme.” (See Amy Poehler, Beyonce.)

But actions speak louder than words, and penning an essay entitled ‘Gender Equality Is A Myth’ for the Shriver Report demonstrates that there’s more to Queen Bey than just being Mrs Carter.

Sample quotation, from Beyonce’s essay: “women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but the average working woman earns only 77 percent of what the average working man makes... Men have to demand that their wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters earn more - commensurate with their qualifications and not their gender. Equality will be achieved when men and women are granted equal pay and equal respect.” 

We’d bow down to that. 


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