As Queen Bey boldly sang, “Who run the world? GIRLS!” (what a tune!) - Aretha was all about getting that R.E.S.P.E.C.T, Shania was like “Man, I feel like a woman”, and The Spice Girls gave birth to GIRL POWER! There’s no denying that women are pretty badass, and we have some powerful, inspirational women to look up to!
In the 21st century, female empowerment has been a constant focus - on one hand we have been proudly celebrating womens’ successes, and on the other we have been fighting against injustice through social movements like #MeToo. It seems like a constant back and forth, a never ending fight for women’s rights and equality, but it’s been proven that when we are unified, damn we are powerful!
We have come a long way, but as we celebrate International Women’s Day here at Happy Way, we wanted to look back on five moments in history that have helped shape women’s progression. There are many that we could have highlighted - it was difficult to narrow down so many remarkable moments - but we have chosen just a handful, which many of you may not even know or remember. These women may not all be household names, but they have all done so much to help shape the world that we live in, set the tone for who we are today and more importantly, pave the way for the women to come.
#1 Agnodice - 400 BC
Known for being one of the first female gynecologists, Agnodice displayed pure female strength when she chose to pursue a practice of medicine, at a time in Greece where women faced the death penalty for doing so. Following the ban of midwifery, due to the insecurity of male doctors, Agnodice chose to cut off all her hair and dress up in disguise as a man to pursue a study in medicine. She wanted to help her fellow women, using her medical knowledge to ensure safe deliveries, and she quickly gained a loyal following who only wanted to be helped by the popular “male” doctor. Upon her discovery, she was brought before a jury and sentenced to death. Her masses of female patients came to her defence demanding her release and eventually the law was changed, which allowed women the right to legally study and practice medicine on female patients. Talk about Girl Power!
#2 Kate Sheppard - 1893
What is a suffragist you ask? Enter Kate Sheppard who was known as the most prominent leader in the women’s suffrage movement, fighting for women’s rights to vote in New Zealand. Kate pioneered a campaign, along with her team of women, delivering a petition with nearly 32,000 signatures to parliament that resulted in the country being the first self governing nation in the world that allowed women over 21 the opportunity to vote. Kate took her cause overseas to England and the US, assisting with the campaigns in both countries. In 1896 she created the National Council of Women where she continued to debate women’s rights, in particular the belief that married women should be allowed to have total control of their money. She empowered women to have a voice in society and politics, continually striving to make things better for women and families in particular. What a Girl Boss!
#3 Billie Jean King - 1973
No we’re not talking about Michael Jackson’s famous hit (and we get it Mike, she wasn’t your lover!), but we are talking about the American tennis champ and former #1, who pioneered social change and activated for equal rights. She was the first woman athlete to earn over $100,000 in prize money, but in 1973 Billie Jean threatened to bail out of the U.S Open unless the prize money was equal for both men and women. Her demand was granted, and the U.S open became the first major tennis tournament that offered pay equality. In the same year, Billie Jean played one of the most talked about matches in history. Dubbed “Battle of the Sexes”, she defeated male player Bobby Riggs and proved that success is not dependent on gender. She has broken barriers both on and off the court, and has continued to be an advocate for women and equality in sport throughout the years. What an inspiration!
#4 Tarana Burke - 2006
“MeToo'' is probably one of the most recognised movements in current times, which was reignited by celebs in 2017 during the unravelling of Harvey Weinstein. However, it all started in 2006 with a woman named Tarana Burke. Born out of a need to raise awareness around sexual abuse and assault in society, the “MeToo” movement was created by Tarana, who was raped and sexually assualted herself as a child and teen. Because of these traumatic experiences, she was always inspired to improve the lives of young girls who had suffered similar hardships. Tarana has been an activist since the late 80’s, but in 2017 her movement gained worldwide recognition when it was frequently referenced following the Weinstein allegations of sexual assault. Her mission is to help the victims of sexual violence not place blame on themselves and support them in the healing process - leading to richer, fuller lives. What a survivor!
#5 Kamala Harris - 2021
Last but not least, introducing the first female vice president of the United States, the first African American and first Asian American vice president AND the highest ranking female official in U.S. history - Kamala Harris! She has consistently broken barriers throughout her career - working as a prosecutor specialising in child sexual assault cases, as a district attorney providing education and employment support to first time drug offenders, and as attorney general, supporting students and veterans. She may be the first woman in this coveted position but she is determined to not be the last. Her election into the U.S. vice presidency means that young women everywhere, and in particular women of colour, can see that they have a path that can reach the highest heights and therefore potentially change the world. Nothing is off limits, nor should it be for any woman.