International Women's Day #ChooseToChallenge
Today is International Women's Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women across the world. It’s also used as a way to both raise awareness, and call action on accelerating women’s equality.
IWD has celebrated women’s achievements for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people, introducing the importance of the need for equality for women. And today, it continues to act on the same fundamental basis of raising awareness of the many forms of gender bias that are still prominent in most societies.
IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. It’s not country, group or organisation specific but a global movement which is continuously sparking more and more people to advocate towards equality. And not just in the workplace, but in societal expectations and everyday norms.
The theme this year is #ChooseToChallenge. We, the true women, celebrate the women who have contributed to the plight of achieving gender equality in all aspects of life.
In corporate America which is still heavily dominated by men, Sandberg was hired as the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook and was at the centre of the social network’s financial success which grew from millions to billions. However, as the only woman on the board, she was faced with numerous hurdles, even with her exceptional track record. From being told she couldn’t sit at the same table as her counterpart male colleagues, to the high-publicity challenges of being associated with Facebook’s controversy over the years. She even experienced personal tragedy when her husband suddenly passed away.
Despite all this, she continues to be a powerful role model to women who want to make their mark on the world, but on their own terms. She described her best-selling book ‘Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead’ as a “sort-of feminist manifesto”, which sparked a global movement, motivating women to ‘lean in’ and achieve their personal ambitions. It’s inspired me to educate myself on the implications of gender bias, and look at how we can achieve gender equality with optimism and confidence.
Favourite Quote: “The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results."
Ada Lovelace 1815–52
In an industry still dominated by men, not many people know that the first computer programmer was a woman. Born in the early 19th century at a time when men well and truly dominated domestic life but also most professions, Ada Lovelace had a fascination with science and mathematics that defied the expectations of her class and gender at the time. She grew up away from her father and whilst her mother was sympathetic to her fascinations, she was ultimately encouraged to follow a conventional upper middle class upbringing.
However, after being introduced to an inventor called Charles Babbage at the age of 17, she became intrigued by his project to create a machine which he called the Analytical Engine. The idea was for it to be essentially a general-purpose programmable digital computer that featured most of the logical components of a modern electronic computer such as memory, storage and programming.
For a long time, many modern commentators, unsurprisingly mostly male computer scientists, were negative and scathing about Lovelace’s contribution to Babbage’s work, regarding her as either a nuisance, or merely someone who proved helpful in publicising his efforts. However, more recent modern research has made it clear that Lovelace’s contribution to the thinking at the heart of the prehistory of the computer was enormous.
Given that the computer industry is one that has since transformed all life across the globe, it’s about time that Ada is given the kudos she deserves in being such a pioneer and visionary. Her courage to persevere with educating herself on the things that she was interested in, at a time when women were dismissed, is inspiring.
Michelle Obama is most notably known as being America’s First Lady, a successful lawyer, a distinguished author as well as a loving mother. Across all of her personal and professional roles, she inspires others to succeed. No matter their gender, race, age or background.
As the first African American first lady, she was relatable, influential, and powerful which was often delivered through her acclaimed speeches on race, education, and motherhood.
While she was first lady, she launched initiatives addressing childhood obesity - which she advocated by planting a vegetable garden in the grounds of the White House, support for service members and veterans, and inspiring children in their education. During the first few months of her role as first lady, she felt overwhelmed and uncertain of her purpose, but using her firsthand experiences of racism, much of her work has focused on racial inequality across different sectors including young people. She shared the adversity she had faced so others knew they could overcome it too.
Her 2018 book Becoming was an international bestseller where she spoke about her upbringing, role as a mother and her time in the White House, further cementing her as a relatable, iconic woman.
Favourite Quote: "The difference between a broken community and a thriving one is the presence of women who are valued."
Queen Elizabeth I 1533 - 1603
Queen Elizabeth I was undoubtedly the most powerful woman of her time. Despite having the most turbulent childhood imaginable; being declared illegitimate by her unpredictable father after her mother was brutally executed, losing her brother at a young age and then living through her violent sister’s regn, she was a formidable force to be reckoned with.
At a time when women were considered the property of men, she refused to be constrained by a man by having a political marriage, refusing to give up her power. Instead, she used her female prowess to control all the men in her court to do her bidding. Despite being in love with Robert Dudley, she refused to marry him due to his status, instead maintaining her independence and power by not marrying anyone.
Despite disagreeing with many of her advisors, she ended up having an incredibly long rule, managing to create a stable country for the first time in generations, defeating the Spanish Armada, encouraging exploration and nurturing some of the worlds’ greatest writers such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlow.
She overcame all of the limitations that society, religion and men put on her, unashamedly ruling her country as an independent, autonomous, strong woman, paving the way for female independence in the future.
Favourite Quote: “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.”
Frida Kahlo 1907 - 1954
Frida Kahlo was a 20th century artist from Mexico, a non-conformist who lived her life uninhibited by her gender. She was rebellious and audacious, often challenging gender stereotypes in all aspects of life.
In her younger years, Kahlo played football and did boxing, which was uncommon for a girl to partake in at the time. As she grew older, she was one of the few girls to attend her school and soon became known for her jovial spirit. She was bisexual, sexually adventurous, and full of the lust for life that not even the pain of a horrific bus accident could take away from her.
Kahlo actively challenged the expectations and preconceptions traditionally placed on Mexican women. She embraced her facial hair, with her dark unibrow and thin moustache appearing as honest representations in her self portraits. Kahlo paintings are known for their intense and frank depictions of sensitive topics such as culture, identity, sex and infertility. Through painting her own personal experiences of physical pain and emotional suffering she was able to bring to light the challenges of womanhood.
Kahlo’s unique personality and multifaceted life make her a contemporary icon for many and a symbol of female power.
Favourite Quote: "You deserve the best, the very best, because you are one of the few people in this lousy world who are honest to themselves, and that is the only thing that really counts."
Taking our inspiration and rolling with it...
Whilst International Women’s Day is a yearly celebration, we shouldn’t omit our attention once the day is over.
In order to achieve gender equality, it’s imperative that we continue to speak and influence others about its importance, take actions towards equal rights and expectations, and call out the inequalities that we see.
Let’s stand together on #IWD2021 and #ChooseToChallenge.