International Women’s Day is this Saturday, 8 March – to celebrate, we’ve compiled a list of 20 inspiring women who have made a huge impact on the world.
International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future – in some places, it’s even a national holiday – and to get in the spirit, we’ve assembled a list of 20 inspiring women…
Aung San Suu Kyi
Political activist Aung San Suu Kyi is the chairperson for the National League for Democracy and was held under house arrest in Myanmar (Burma) for almost 15 years. Awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to non-violent protest, she endured attacks against her life and separation from her family in the pursuit of democracy.
Dubbed the “Queen of All Media”, Oprah is a hugely-influential talk show host and philanthropist. Born into poverty in rural Mississippi, she experienced incredible hardship during childhood including a rape at age nine and teenage pregnancy (her son died in infancy), but overcame this and turned her Chicago talk show into an internationally syndicated series. With a net worth in excess of 2.9 billion dollars, Oprah is the first black woman billionaire in history and the richest self-made woman in America.
The first female head of state in Africa, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected as President of Liberia in 2005. She has brought the country’s external debt under control through international negotiations and initiated a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to proote national peace and unity by investigating the war crimes from more than 20 years of civil conflict. Johnson-Sirleaf has received a Nobel Peace Prize for her work increasing the safety of women and improving women’s rights.
Dame Jane Goodall is the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees and is known for her 45-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimps in Tanzania. She has worked extensively for conservation and animal welfare issues, earned a Ph.D from Cambridge University (one of few people allowed to study for a doctorate without first obtaining a BA or B.Sc), and is the only human ever accepted into chimpanzee society.
Love her or hate her, Margaret Thatcher undoubtedly was a political pioneer as the first and only woman to have held the office of Prime Minister in Britain. Her uncompromising conservative politics and leadership style saw a series of political and economic initiatives implemented that have since come to be known as “Thatcherism”.
The longest-tenured female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Andrea Jung was CEO of Avon Products for 13 years and was instrumental in the hiring and empowerment of women in the global beauty brand.
New York-based performance artist Marina Abramovic constantly challenges the limits of art and audience experience with her intense presentations, including allowing audience manipulation of her body while staying in a completely passive state (during which the audience became increasingly aggressive and almost shot her) and pushing the boundaries between body and mind. She is now creating the Marina Abramovic Institute in Hudson, New York.
Founder of popular juice bar Boost Juice, Allis began the company as owner of an Adelaide store in 2000 – two years later, there was a new store opening every four days, and Boost was the fastest growing franchise chain in the country. Boost has now expanded into the UK, India, Chile, Kuwait, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand and there are now plans to break into the US market. Allis is certainly an Aussie entrepreneur.
There’s more to this Hollywood actress than meets the eye. She was honoured by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees after a decade of humanitarian work as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (an honourary Academy Award) and was the first recipient of the Citizen of the World Award from the United Nations Correspondents Association. She also began the Maddox Jolie Project, a wildlife reserve in Cambodia, which became Asia’s first Millennium Village. Jolie also won praise for electing to have a double mastectomy and raising awareness of genetic breast cancer markers.
Gillard is a pioneer for women in Australian politics, being not only the first female Prime Minister, but also the first woman to lead the Labor Party and hold the position of Deputy Prime Minister. She also navigated the first hung parliament since 1940, faced widespread criticism and sexism, and is an advocate of women’s rights – her now-famous ‘misogyny speech’ went viral on the internet and won her support from all corners of the globe.
The first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win in two fields, and the only person to win in multiple sciences – Marie Curie is an inspirational scientist and incredible woman who revolutionised modern knowledge. Her legacy lives on in the non-profit Curie Institute, which is one of the leading medical, biological and biophysical research centres in the world.
Founder and executive chairman of the Net-a-Porter Group, Massenet went from high-profile fashion editor to successful online retailer – the luxury fashion online shopping sites she runs revolutionised the way designer clothes are bought.
A British political activist that fought long and hard for the suffragette movement, Pankhurst and her Women’s Social and Political Union smashed windows and assaulted police officers in their attempt to be heard politically – Pankhurst herself was sentenced to repeated prison sentences and suffered through force feeding after hunger strikes all in the name of equality.
Stand up comedian turned talk show host, Ellen has won 13 Emmys and 14 People’s Choice Awards and is an advocate of gay rights, AIDS awareness and animal rights and inspires many around the world to bring more laughter and joy into their lives.
Greer is an outspoken Australian academic and journalist who became a household name after the publication of her controversial book The Female Eunuch. She divides public opinion, but there’s no denying the contribution she has made to feminism through the mid-20th century.
Pakistani school pupil Malala Yousafzai is known for her activism for women’s rights to education – at the age of 11 she wrote a blog for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule and her views on promoting education. After rising to prominence and giving print and television interviews, Yousafzai was targeted by a Taliban soldier and shot in the head, causing international outrage. Since recovering from the attack Yousafzai has received multiple peace awards and has spoken before the United Nations, US President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II.
Gro Harlem Brundtland
Norway’s first female Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland served as Director General of the UN World Health Organisation and is now a Special Envoy for the UN Secretary-General on climate change. She has a medical degree and is also a recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture – this woman really can do it all! Under her leadership the Norwegian ministry became known for a high proportion of female members (nearly half), a trend that has continued even after her departure.
In 2009 Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director for her film The Hurt Locker, which also won her the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing and the BAFTA Award for Best Direction – she was also the first female director to win these honours.
Current president and CEO of Yahoo!, the stock price of the company has doubled over Mayer’s time at the helm (she took the position in July 2012) thanks to major personnel policy changes and significant acquisitions such as the purchase of Tumblr. At age 33 she was the youngest woman ever listed on Fortune magazine’s list of 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, and in 2013 became the first woman listed as number one on Fortune magazine’s top 40 business stars under 40.
Still the highest-selling female artist of all time, pop icon Madonna has constantly reinvented her image and music to remain successful and influential over three decades. Her use of shocking sexual imagery has created much controversy but also evoked discussion in mainstream audiences about female sexuality and revolutionised the way female performers were viewed.