“No borders, just horizons, only freedom”
Much as I love International Women’s Day and all of the fabulous human beings it celebrates, I wish we didn’t have to have it. We have come a long way since the days of Amelia Earhart – who now would think twice about a female pilot? But the work will only be done when an annual celebration of women is simply unnecessary.
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Sarah Collier: This International Women’s Day I am inspired by not one, but all of the women who have campaigned tirelessly to achieve justice for Sally Challen.
Thanks to work of campaigners across the country, led by the group Justice for Women and Sally’s lawyer Harriet Wistrich, Sally Challen’s conviction for murdering her husband was quashed on 28th February. Sally will now face retrial. This follows new evidence that her mental capacity was severely compromised as the result of decades of abuse at the hands of her husband. His behaviour is now recognised as ‘coercive control’ and is understood to be a particularly pernicious form of domestic abuse that can have profound effects on a victim’s mental capacity.
The decision marks an important moment for survivors of domestic abuse in the UK. Domestic violence is on the rise – it was recently reported that offences in London have risen 63% in seven years – and women’s refuges continue to be threatened by cuts to local budgets. This International Women’s Day, it is all the more empowering to see how a groundswell of collective action can challenge the injustices faced by the most vulnerable of women.
Emily Tester: The original Pride was a riot incited outside the Stonewall Inn in New York, 1969. Marsha P. Johnson was alleged by many to have thrown the brick which started the riot. In the years which followed, she became an advocate for some of the most vulnerable people in the queer community. Johnson was a black trans woman, a sex worker and a drag queen, but her contribution to the LGBTQIA movement is often overlooked because of her gender identity, race, HIV+ status, and occupation. With trans people and queer people of colour coming increasingly under attack, it has become all the more important to celebrate women like Johnson this International Women’s Day.
Charlotte Watson: The women who inspire me are the predominantly young single mothers who form the activist group Focus E15. The group was borne out of a move by the East Thames Housing Association to serve eviction notices to the Focus E15 hostel for young homeless people after Newham Council cut its funding.
When the group went to the Council for help, they were advised that they would have to relocate as far away as Manchester and Birmingham if they wanted to be rehoused, despite their support networks being in London and them often being in vulnerable positions. This led to them organising to form a grassroots activist group which demanded social housing, instead of social cleansing.
Their campaign so far has included direct action, protests and the organisation of social events to raise awareness of the lack of affordable housing in London and the widespread displacement of families and communities it causes. Taking part in such vital activism whilst still occupying often precarious social positions and tackling problems such as low incomes, uncertain housing and employment situations and childcare is incredibly inspirational to me, and coming from an ostensibly working class background and an (also very inspiring) single parent family, the issues that they tackle deeply resonate.
Rachel Brandon: A woman who inspires me is illustrator/artist Polly Nor (@pollynor on Instagram). Her illustrations depict the pressures in body image, lifestyle and relationships that are inflicted upon women, usually personifying these issues as a demon-type figure in her pieces. Her recent 39 part piece “You don’t know him like I do” tells the story of a woman stuck in an abusive relationship, who eventually escapes and finds solace and safety amongst her female friends, showcasing the importance of friendships and solidarity amongst women. Every one of her pieces represents a diverse and unfiltered range of women, whether that be through body type, skin, hair or race. Fundamentally, she promotes self-love and valuing yourself above all else, which is why her work is so important amongst the heavily edited world of social media.
Yasmin Nasli: My inspiration this International Women’s Day is Zadie Smith. She established herself as one of foremost contemporary British authors when she wrote her first novel White Teeth whilst still at university, and I think she is one of the most important literary voices of today. Her treatment of race, religion and the ever-futile search for cultural identity and belonging ensure she has so much to say about the Britain we see around us, and the London she writes about is so recognisable to anyone who also grew up in or now lives in the city.
Ashley Van De Casteele: Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Aside from having bags of talent and an enviable work ethic, Beyoncé is the perfect inspiration for any public relations or public affairs professional. What springs to mind first is her ability to turn lemons (the potentially ruinous story of her husband’s infidelity) into lemonade (a critically acclaimed multi-platinum album) by dominating coverage with her own compellingly-told version of the story. Equally, Beyoncé’s engagement with nascent political movements on the biggest of platforms at just the right time (think of her Black Panther-inspired Superbowl performance) have allowed her to trigger debates on a national, and sometimes international, scale. All the while wearing a leotard and Louboutins.
Victoria Cameron: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an author and feminist activist whose work addresses the dangers of a single story and shines a light on the importance of representation. Her work problematises some earlier waves of feminism that frame women as a homogenous group and debates how diversity and feminism should work in practice. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Magda Lobodiziec: Samantha Power – former USA Ambassador to the United Nation. I recently watched this documentary called “The Final Year” which portraits behind-the-scenes whirl of key players on Obama’s team, including Samantha. Boy, what a woman! Her vast work on human rights, women’s rights, humanitarian initiatives, democracy, conflict resolution and restoring peace around the world – all left me pretty speechless to be honest. True modern leader. Passionate and companionate. Brave and powerful. Smart and inspiring. Bravo Samantha – you’re a living example that one can make the world different and better.
Alex Hackett: Mary Macarthur was a bit too radical to be canonised alongside the rest of the mainstream suffragist leadership, but her contribution was no less necessary. Mary was the general secretary of the Women’s Trade Union League and fought not just for women of high status to be enfranchised (as many on the right of the Women’s Rights Movement preferred), but every single woman and man nationwide. Her work as a trade union activist helped bring a living wage to thousands of workers and her legacy inspired a generation of post-war women to become active politically in their communities. If she hadn’t have died at such a young age, her popularity in the movement and noted speaking abilities may even have led her to become Labour’s first ever woman leader…
Sabine Tyldesley: Every female MP in the Commons, Bundestag, European institutions or international political office. Why? Amber Rudd MP is just the latest example of a female MP who has revealed the kind of abuse she has to put up with online. Another example is Diane Abbott MP who not long ago highlighted the staggering statistics behind the abusive, hurtful, racist and outright upsetting messages she receives. Further research showed she alone received almost half of all the abusive tweets sent to female MPs in the run-up to the general election in 2017.
Statistics show women in public office receive significantly higher numbers of abusive messages compared to men in the same positions, and are subject to more remarks about crimes being committed against them (rape or murder as standard) alongside comments about their appearance first and foremost.
This is a fate shared across borders, with Angela Merkel, and her elected successor of the German Conservative party Annegret Kamp-Knarrenbauer repeatedly being judged by their appearance and style.
And this is global: Last year a Global survey of women politicians from more than 20 countries found 44% faced serious abuse, including threats of murder, rape and assault
In the last century there have been just 491 female MPs and more than 4000 male MPs in the Commons, and some debate has already been dedicated to exploring ways to make public office more attractive and accessible to women. But while proxy voting has passed and some measures have been put in place to create mechanisms to tackle sexual harassment in the Commons (which is a workplace afterall) but while women are still facing significant barriers of entry, stigma and prejudice about their performance and disproportionately high levels of abuse, each woman in public facing office is my hero.