The 8th of March marked ‘International Women’s Day’. This day celebrates and recognises inspiring women around the world. The achievements of formidable women such as Malala Yousafzai, Katie Piper, Aung San Suu Kyi and Mother Teresa are often referred to, but we often overlook some other female success stories.
So take a look at these eight inspiring women we don’t often hear about…
In 1996 Nigerian Ogunlesi found she needed pyjamas for her children. The result was that she founded what is now known as ‘Ruff ‘n’ Tumble’ clothing. Using local materials, Ogunlesi began selling her handmade children’s clothing from the boot of her car. Fast-forward 20 years and Ogunlesi’s company has expanded to having over 50 employees and 15 branches in Nigeria.
Also known as “Nellie Bly”, Cochrane is considered to be a founding figure in a new kind of investigative journalism. In the late 1800’s, a time in which women were still socially considered of infinitely less significance than their male counterparts, Cochrane bravely undertook an undercover assignment. This involved her feigning insanity and being sent to a mental asylum in order to expose the brutality and neglect the female patients were suffering. Her exposé led to a grand-jury investigation and an overhaul in patient care at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum in which she was detained.
Some may have heard about Erin Brockovich through the eponymous film, ‘Erin Brockovich’. Despite her lack of formal education and being a single-mother, struggling to feed her three children under the age of 10, Brockovich transcended her surroundings and gained a job at a Law firm. In a David and Goliath style challenge, Brockovich took on PG&E, who had been knowingly poisoning residents with contaminated drinking water. The result was that she was responsible for the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in US history.
In 1947, Pecson was elected to the Philippine senate, earning her the title of first women senator of the Philippines. But Pecson represented so much more than just her political achievements. She was the first woman elected to the male-dominated executive board of UNESCO, as well as being a suffragette, social worker and a leader in Philippine nation building and an avid reformer of the Philippine education system.
Lily Elbe – The story of Lily Elbe, formerly known as Einar Wegener, is quickly gaining recognition due to the release of ‘The Danish Girl’, showing how Elbe paved the way for transgender women today. Shunned by many of her contemporaries and branded by many doctors as ‘insane’ for her desire to fully transition to a female, Elbe refused to be defeated. Elbe then underwent a series of operations, as part of gender reassignment surgery, which was still in the early stages of development at the time. Her death, caused by organ rejection, reminds us all to be thankful for scientific progress.
Sarah Breedlove – Breedlove overcame every single hurdle that life threw at her. Born to recently freed slaves in 1867 in the racially segregated Deep South, she overcame poverty and illiteracy to become the first self-made female millionaire in America. Orphaned and widowed by the age of 20, Breedlove suffered from severe dandruff and scalp eczema and eventually baldness. Inspired by her skin related struggles, Breedlove began making skin-friendly shampoo and pomades, which proved to be immensely popular. The rest is history!
Rosalind Franklin – An astoundingly clever female, investigating the field of DNA – pioneering scientific research at the time, Franklin survived in what is now still the male-dominated sphere of science. Her X-Ray photographs of the molecular structure of the double helix revolutionised science. Unfortunately, her accomplishments are often overlooked due to her research being overtaken by 3 males, who eventually went on to win the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, following her death from ovarian cancer at the age of 37.
Yoani Sanchez – Despite living under the Communist Cuban regime, which has never tolerated dissent, Sanchez has achieved what other journalists in her country have not: freedom of speech. Her blog, entitled ‘Generación Y’, covers topics such as the population’s deprivation of food and extinction of the Cuban railroad. In spite of Cuban censorship, Sanchez emails her blog entries to friends outside of Cuba, who then post them online. Her efforts are globally recognised, with Barack Obama stating that her blog “provides the world [with]a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba”.
Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes and from all 6 (or 7) continents , but the one defining factor between these eight women and the millions of others worldwide whose achievements have not yet been recognised, is that every victory is a victory, no matter how small.