Women are brilliant, aren’t they? We could happily preach this on a daily basis and we certainly report it, week in, week out. International Women’s Day is simply a chance for the world to amplify female achievements, female empowerment and gender equality. And that’s pretty amazing.
So, in celebration, we asked our HuffPost UK colleagues to choose their hero women of the past 12 months – they’ve made history, they’ve conquered challenges, they’ve shown compassion. And they’ve made a difference.
Nominated by: Rachel Moss, Lifestyle Reporter
In February 2019, the first ever successful conviction of female genital mutilation in the UK took place. Although it marks just a drop in the ocean (the NSPCC estimates 137,000 women and girls are affected by FGM in England and Wales), it signifies an important step forward. I think we have Nimco Ali largely to thank for that. The survivor and anti-FGM campaigner has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the impacts of FGM and bring about change. When I heard her speak at an event in 2017, she detailed the racist and misogynistic abuse she’s received for taking a stand in the public eye, including death threats. But two years later, she’s still banging the same drum, refusing to be silenced. To me, she’s a reminder to us all about the power our voices hold.
Former Labour MP
Nominated by: Jess Brammar, Head of News
I was mulling over the many women who have inspired me over the past 12 months, and I kept coming back to the image of Luciana, nine months pregnant, freshly blowdried, opening the press conference that announced she and a small number of other MPs were breaking away from the Labour party. My nomination has nothing to do with her politics, but the image was iconic. We still live and work in a world that marginalises pregnant women, makes it hard for women to balance careers with family life, that is full of messages about women “stepping back” or “slowing down” as they have kids. After enduring months of anti-Semitic abuse and threats, to make the biggest and most heart-wrenching move of your political life at that point – well, she made being heavily pregnant look like a position of strength, not weakness.
Nominated by: Vicky Frost, Executive Editor, Life
I know: everybody has been banging on about Sally Rooney this past year. Booksellers were having to put signs in their windows confirming they had stock of her brilliant, revealing novel; critics fell over themselves to praise Normal People as capturing a generation’s relationship with themselves and each other. (Though it’s worth noting that Rooney herself is uncomfortable with the idea of speaking for anyone else – let alone a generation.) So it’s not as if Rooney has gone unhailed – but for me, her extraordinary writing deserves all the acclaim and some more, with her characters’ intense, sometimes uncomfortable relationships providing a glimpse of lives we know to be true. And if you’re keen for more: Rooney’s unrelenting piece for the London Review of Books ahead of the Irish abortion referendum last year, reminds you all that was at stake.
TV presenter and journalist
Nominated by: Rachel McGrath, Entertainment Reporter
In the defining picture from Gayle King’s interview with R Kelly, the singer stands, midway through an outburst, with one hand pointing towards the journalist as King sits, composed and ready to resume questioning the star on the sexual abuse allegations against him. I don’t mean to kill the celebratory mood here, but King provided a glimpse of what is to come in 2019, and the strength women are going to need to stand it. Her steely, direct interview gave R Kelly no room for manoeuvre and reminded us that we’re not “post #MeToo” by any stretch – this is a reckoning we’re still in the middle of. In those 45 minutes King, for me, joined a group of seriously inspiring women – which already includes filmmaker Dream Hampton, lawyer Gloria Allred and the organisers of Time’s Up – who are amplifying the voices of victims and making sure powerful men are being held to account.
Period poverty campaigner
Nominated by: Natasha Hinde, Lifestyle Reporter
At the age of 17, Amika George was navigating adolescence and A-level exam pressure, all while campaigning for the government to provide free sanitary products to girls who can’t afford them. Since then, the activist and founder of #FreePeriods has been featured by pretty much every media platform under the sun. Her commitment to ending period poverty is nothing short of extraordinary and, after two years of relentless campaigning, her voice is finally being heard – the NHS recently announced that every hospital will offer free pads or tampons to patients who need them. George has led protests, crafted petitions, and raised awareness – and she is now applying extra pressure for the government to provide free sanitary products to schools. Thank goodness for people like her who are fiercely fighting the corner of the voiceless.
Artist and performer
Nominated by: Nancy Groves, Life Editor
“I’m a Phoenix, Bitch!” is the title of Bryony Kimmings’ current blistering show and as cries of empowerment go, it’s the fire emoji personified. Kimmings has always made art about (her) life: past shows have tackled problem drinking, STIs, male depression, female role models, cancer. This latest is the story of how she fell apart after becoming a mother – then put herself back together again. One-woman in delivery, everywoman in scope, it’s epic, traumatic and painfully funny. And if any of that sounds a bit thespy, forget it. When all the data points towards the arts still catering to the few, not the many, Kimmings is a working class artist and proud. See that work, follow her on Instagram or, better still, follow her example – of believing in your right to tell stories; of telling yourself when you need to hear it most: “I love you, you’re brilliant.”
Model and activist
Nominated by: Louise Whitbread, Lifestyle Reporter
Adwoa Aboah is the brains behind Gurls Talk, an online community and safe space for young women to talk openly about mental health, education, sex and relationships. Oh, and she’s also a model. While gracing the cover of the new Vogue, strutting down the runway, and being the face of makeup campaigns, she’s brutally honest about her struggles with depression, encouraging young people to speak up, too. She’s also recently brought out her collaboration with Revlon, that brings awareness to the different aspects of mental health. It’s playful, but celebrates body positivity and self-love, further opening up the conversation around the issues many young people face.
Nominated by: Lisa Golden, Video Producer
It’s not an understatement to say UK politics has been shambolic this past year. Watching PMQs each week has become, for me, a dizzying spectacle of double-speak, where everyone seems passionate and well-meaning, but no one actually says anything of any meaning, let alone any truth. After hearing Corbyn and May’s constant back and forth about the veracity of how hard austerity has hit the UK, Jess Phillips’ voice cuts through every time, and I’m always happy to see her stand up in the House. I know it’s dicey picking a politician to admire in these times, but her clear, earnest, unapologetic way of speaking for her constituents, and for basic common sense, makes me want to move to Birmingham Yardley.
Nominated by: Amy Packham, Assistant Editor, Life
In the past few years, my best friend has lost her mum, dad, step-sister and other people close to her. I’d call her brave, but she’d say to me: what other option did I have? Despite the trauma she’s had to go through – becoming parentless at just 26-years-old – she is the most selfless person I know. She cares about others’ happiness so much. She’s kind. She’s warm. She asks me how I am every day (we have hundreds of miles between us). “My eyes are teary, my heart is so full,” she replied to me, when I told about something good that had happened in my life. “We’ll get you through this together,” she said, when I went through a bad break-up. “Oh lordy, my tummy is all fluttery for you,” she said when I first told her about a guy I was dating. She makes my happiness her happiness, and my sadness her sadness. What a keeper.
Nominated by: Sophie Gallagher, Lifestyle Reporter
How could my choice be anyone else but AOC? The only woman to become not just a household name, but a household acronym. Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was propelled to global fame in 2018 when she became the youngest woman ever to serve in the US Congress, representing her district of the Bronx and Queens in New York city. But AOC is no ordinary politician. In a world that’s increasingly divided, mistrusting of experts and authority figures, the 29-year-old understands the power of accessible politics. Speaking in layman’s terms, using platforms like Instagram to show behind the scenes on Capitol Hill, AOC wants voters to feel involved and educated, not baffled. And she’s not afraid to embrace her womanhood - yes, she loves clothes, skincare, babies, lipstick and dancing. None of that makes her any less worthy of a place at the top table.
Founder of charity CoppaFeel
Nominated by: Nicola Slawson, News Reporter
Words like “inspirational” and “brave” are thrown around a lot at Kris Hallenga in the face of her terminal cancer diagnosis, but it’s her zest for life I find so infectious. This is a very special year for Kris as it’s 10 years since she got that terrible news and statistically, she should not have reached this landmark. It also means it’s 10 years since she set up the youthful breast cancer charity, CoppaFeel, which has saved lives by reminding young women (and men) they should be checking their boobs or pecks regularly. Lately she has been inspiring me for different reasons. From her recent podcast with Fearne Cotton to her Instagram posts, she reminds me that life is way too short to hate myself. And in an age where it seems to have become fashionable to bail on friends and stay home on the sofa, the way Kris squeezes every drop out of life and knows the value of fun with friends as a form of self-care strikes a chord.
The UK’s first black woman history professor
Nominated by: Nadine White, News Reporter
Olivette Otele is a trailblazer and glass ceiling breaker. Last year she was named the UK’s first black woman history professor. Throughout her academic career, Olivette endured racism and marginalisation, yet remains forward-thinking and committed. Her parents had hopes that she’d pursue a career in business, however she decided to follow her heart and go for history instead. She’s relentless in the pursuit of that which sets her soul on fire, even if the move is unprecedented. A stand-out line from my conversation with Olivette in our HuffPost UK interview was: “My grandfather was a doctor and my friends, who are doctors, tell me ‘we’re saving lives, you know!’ – and I always answer ‘I’m saving souls, you know’.” When I spoke to her, she was both impressive and deeply honest. There’s beauty, liberation and strength in speaking one’s truth, living our purpose and being our authentic selves.
Dupe Daniyan and Jane Williams
Mum and charity founder
Nominated by: Emma Youle, Special Correspondent
It was a beautiful sunny day when I first met Dupe Daniyan and Jane Williams, visiting the Magpie Project in Newham last summer. The project offers practical support to mums with children aged under five who are homeless and living in temporary or insecure housing. We sat on a picnic bench in the glorious sunshine as Dupe told me the story of her life, how she had survived for years after arriving from Nigeria with barely any sleep, working 14 hours a day and raising her children in appalling housing conditions. The exhaustion almost broke her. But even at her lowest Dupe knew she had to fight on for the sake of her kids. And then one day she found the Magpie and met its founder Jane and a wonderful friendship was forged. Jane says there is nothing heroic about what she does. She also says the mums she meets are the real heroes – strong, capable, courageous woman who through the whimsy of fate find themselves without a home in London, one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Dupe is now back in education with the goal of studying to become a nurse. Her courage and determination, and the warmth of these women’s friendships, inspired me.
Dr Jen Gunter
Gynaecologist and columnist
Nominated by: Lucy Pasha-Robinson
US-based gynaecologist and NY Times columnist Dr Jen Gunter is witty, ferociously smart and unapologetically sex positive. For me, she represents exactly the kind of inclusive feminism that I ascribe to. I was in awe of her recent takedown of a man on Twitter who tried to mansplain to her – a gynaecologist – the difference between the words vagina and vulva, which subsequently went viral. She shot to fame through her dedicated debunking of Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle blog, GOOP. If that’s not public service journalism, I don’t know what is.
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