The Women in our lives - strangers and sisters, past and present
Revolutionary politicians, self-awareness advocates, scientists, philanthropists, and convention fighters. These are the brave, kind, strong women that inspire us.
To celebrate the International Women’s Day, at White October we have asked our team to tell us about the women who have taught them some important lessons about altruism, humanitarianism and bravery.
Sam Partington — WO Tech Lead
Sara’s passionate about what she does and knows why she does it — faith for her doesn’t stop with doctrine or theory, but spills out onto the streets, feeding people and empowering them to feed others. Her life isn’t compartmentalised, but a joyous coherent whole. I admire her fearlessness to do what’s right and celebrate what’s beautiful wherever it takes her and whatever others think.
What inspires me most, though, is that Sara sees the richness and the colour in the world, and in other people. She relishes the vibrancy of the diverse neighbourhood she serves. Sara’s eyes are wide open to beauty, meaning and God, especially in the “unlikely” places. I would like to look at the world with eyes like hers.
Justin Flavin — WO developer
Growing up as a kid in Ireland, one couldn’t escape the near mythical status of one Constance Georgine Markievicz, otherwise known as Countess Markievicz. An Anglo-Irish revolutionary, from a wealthy background, she fought in the Easter rising of 1916, escaped the death penalty, and in 1918 became the first woman elected to the British parliament.
She also became the first woman in the world to hold a ministerial position (Minister of Labour, Irish Republic, 1919–1922). Her life story is a Hollywood blockbuster just begging to be made.
France Place — WO Ops Director
I admire Miranda Hart as a positive role model for being a funny, confident, clever woman in the public eye.
As a female comedian, she bears a heavy level of scrutiny in the public eye but always projects such self-belief. She truly champions being yourself — in all its weird and wild permutations. From her comedic side, her love of a gallop. From her sensitive side, advocating for body confidence and mental health.
Miranda’s advice: “Look in the mirror and say, ‘There is none other like you and for that reason alone you are beautiful.”
Druk Gawa Khilwa nuns
Elisa Cepale — WO PM
I recently read an article about the nuns of the Druk Gawa Khilwa Abbey in Kathmandu. This is a group of Buddhist nuns who fight for equality by practising and teaching Kung Fu to the women in the communities near the abbey.
These brave nuns deliver a message of diversity and tolerance giving hope and strength to women who mostly come from poor backgrounds in India and Tibet. I was very inspired by their story and commitment to take action against women’s abuse and endangerment. They teach girls and women to be more confident, to speak out and even protect themselves if needed.
At the November 2017 Trust Conference, one of the nuns prompted the audience to “tell your boys to behave well” rather than “telling girls not to go out alone at night”. Change starts here, by teaching boys and girls the same way, the way of respect for one another, and that we are all equals.
John Chadfield — WO Director of strategy
Malalai is the youngest and most famous female MP in Afghanistan, whose bravery and vision have won her an international following. She made world headlines with her maiden speech, in which she courageously denounced the presence of warlords in the new (post-occupation) Afghan government. She has spoken out for justice ever since, and for the rights of women in the country she loves.
Born during the Russian invasion and spending her youth in refugee camps, Malalai Joya has been an ardent political activist since her school days, promoting women’s rights and democracy in the face of death threats and censure. Although a popular MP with her constituents, she was suspended from parliament in 2007 because of her forthright views. She continues to receive global support, and her work has continued to bring her awards and death threats in equal measure. Her family lives in constant danger, yet she continues her twofold struggle against fundamentalist oppression and foreign occupation.
Despite all the challenges she faces, she has been clear about where her true fears lie: “I don’t fear the threats I face; I fear remaining silent on these injustices”. Her determination and bravery in the struggle for democracy, agency and women’s rights are an inspiration and are something I think we can all learn from. 100 years on from the extension of the political franchise to women in Britain, Joya’s outspokenness acts as a reminder that there is still lots of work to do for both democracy and women’s rights globally. Malalai Joya released an autobiography in 2009 entitled ‘Raising My Voice’, and it is from this that I first learned about this truly inspirational, brave woman. I can strongly recommend it as an excellent read!
Margaret Hutchinson Rousseau
Chris Jones — WO Tech Director
I was given a book token recently, which I used to buy the book: “Think Like An Engineer: Inside the Minds that are Changing our Lives”. In one of her many examples the author talks about how Margaret Hutchinson Rousseau went on from being the first woman to earn a PhD in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to design the process of deep-tank fermentation of Penicillium mold which enabled large-scale production of penicillin.
Prior to this development penicillin could not be produced in significant quantities, as illustrated in 1942 when half the American stock of penicillin was used to treat a single patient. With the process Margaret Hutchinson Rousseau designed production rose to over 600 billion units a year by 1945.
We often only hear about the people that make the discovery not those that build on that discovery and help take the leap into real world applications — my short glimpse into her amazing life’s work was fascinating and inspiring.
My 14 year-old step-sister
Sarah Plant — WO Creative Director
We didn’t have it tough, they do. Whilst we often look to the past and celebrate the women who have fought for our right to vote, I would like to look to the future.
My 14 year-old step-sister is growing up in a society where body-shaming at school is the norm, as is receiving anonymous dick pics at 3am — all because, like the Myspaces and Facebooks of our generation, her friends are on Snapchat. Sadly, so people who aren’t her friend, and try to be.
Whilst the people I choose to have around me, the friends and family, my father and two brothers are feminists and celebrate equality. There is a generation of children growing up with reverse values. Seeing pornography as love, bodies as objects and women as disposal.
My 14 year-old step-sister is courageous and fierce, she calls out the bullies, goes against the grain. She believes her heart, head and body are hers and only hers, to do what she wants, not theirs.
She is the future of feminism, the future of equality.
Illustrations by Ben Prudden — WO Designer