In honour of International Women’s Day, we have put together a list of five women from different fields who have inspired us this year, and who you need to know about!
Elizabeth Nyamayaro (Activism)
In September of 2014 UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson delivered a speech on behalf of the HeForShe campaign. Watson’s speech went viral on the internet and to date has been viewed on Youtube over 6 million times. HeForShe invites people of all genders to participate in reaching a state of gender equality and maintains that gender equality is a human rights issue that will ultimately benefit all of mankind. The lesser-known face behind the scenes of the HeForShe campaign is Elizabeth Nyamayaro, senior advisor to the executive director of UN Women. It is Nyamayaro who has been responsible for HeForShe’s origins. Growing up in Zimbabwe, in a village affected by famine and AIDS, Nyamayaro came to know of the UN and its work when aid workers would provide her village with relief during times of famine. Her experiences on the receiving end of UN aid consolidated her aspirations of joining the organisation in the future. After making her way to the UK and taking an unpaid internship, Nyamayaro slowly ascended the ranks of the UN to where is she today. The issue of gender inequality has always been a key concern for Nyamayaro, from seeing the lack of education opportunities for girls in Zimbabwe to coming face-to-face with the gender wage-gap.
If you would like to add your voice to the HeForShe campaign, click here.
Karlie Kloss (Technology)
You may have heard of Karlie Kloss, fashion superstar, former Victoria Secret model and muse to some of the world’s top designers. What you may not know about Kloss is that she is both a keen coder and cookie maker. But leaving the baked goods aside, lets talk more about coding. Computer technology is becoming an increasingly essential part of our day-to-day lives; therefore skills in software engineering and computer science are more and more desirable for prospective employers. Currently this sector includes few women and even fewer people of colour. Code.org is a charitable organisation that aims to increase the involvement of these groups. In collaboration with code.org and the Flatiron school, Kloss founded the Kode with Karlie Scholarship in April of last year. It aims to help young girls interested in the subject to gain a qualification and ultimately pursue careers in technology.
Muzoon Almellehan (Education)
In 2013, along with countless other Syrian families, the Almellehan family fled Syria and arrived at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Dubbed “The Malala of Syria”, Muzoon Almellehan spent much of her time in the refugee camps of Za’atari and Azraq promoting education for refugee girls and discouraging child marriage. Almellehan and her family were among those chosen for the first group of 1,000 Syrian refugees to be resettled in the UK before Christmas of 2015 and by November the family was on their way to their new home in Newcastle. Not long after her arrival, Almellehan was visited by Malala Yousafzai. The two had originally met at Za’atari refugee camp and in 2014 Almellehan was invited to attend Malala’s reception of the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway. In January of this year, the two young women co-wrote a column for the Guardian underlining the importance of education for Syrian children during this time of crisis. Education can provide freedom and opportunities for everyone but it is particularly important for young girls when confronted with the alternative of child marriage. The Syrian refugee crisis has sparked a rise in the number of early marriages, usually for reasons of security; a family would hope that marriage would secure a future safe from war and poverty for their daughter. Almellehan and other activists for girls education are working to dispel that concept.
Eve Ensler (Arts)
Named in 2011 as one of the Guardian’s “100 most influential women”, Eve Ensler is best known as writer of the Vagina Monologues (first performed in 1996) and creator of the V-Day movement. The Vagina Monologues is based on Ensler’s interviews with over 200 women of all ages and backgrounds on the subject of their vaginas. The topics that were discussed varied greatly, and from these conversations Ensler created a script that addressed issues ranging from body hair and masturbation to transgender violence, female genital mutilation and rape. Each year during the month of February, groups from all over the world are able to perform the Vagina Monologues without paying royalties in order to raise money for a local chosen charity that aims to help women and girls who have been subjected to violence and abuse. The play has been performed in over 140 countries and translated into 48 languages. Although the play and the V-Day movement has its critics, it is a constantly evolving entity; each year a new monologue is added to the script. What initially started as one woman’s celebration of womanhood has now become a global movement which to date has raised over $100 million for various charities linked with its cause.
Kris Hallenga (Health)
At the age of 23, Kris Hallenga was diagnosed with Stage 4 terminal breast cancer. Her youth is partly responsible for her late diagnosis; Kris’ doctors attributed a lump on her breast to hormones. So eight months after initially going to the doctor, Kris’ life had been completely turned upside down. Kris now lives with breast cancer that has spread to her spine, brain, hips, liver and her pelvis. A month after her preliminary diagnosis Kris and her twin sister Maren founded the Coppafeel! charity, an organisation that aims to encourage young women (and men too!) to check their breasts regularly and therefore increase early detection rates of breast cancer. With their slogan, “Checking your boobs could save your life”, the charity works on university campuses and at festivals, raising awareness and campaigning alongside high profile patrons and with thought provoking PR. The charity has been so successful in its aims that in October last year Kris was presented with the Women of the Year Outstanding Young Campaigner Award. But, according to Kris, there is still work to be done. The next campaign for Coppafeel! is calling for bra makers and retailers to attach a helpful label to their products reminding women to check their breasts regularly.
For more information or to raise money for Coppafeel!, visit their website. You can also arrange to receive a text message reminder each month.
By Francesca Kelsall