Celebrating International Women’s Day

Sunday 8 March is the 111th International Women’s Day and the Government theme is #AWomanWhoInspiresMe. Over the past week, we’ve asked some of our colleagues to share stories about the women who inspire them – here’s what they said…

Celebrating Malala Yousafzai

Sophie Barber, Professional Development Manager, HMRC:

As a young woman starting out her career, I look up to a number of inspirational and passionate women to help guide my morals and values, including in and around the workplace. Choosing just one woman to speak about is really difficult, as there have been so many incredible achievements that I’ve drawn inspiration from to shape who I am today. There is one woman in particular though, who has advocated so strongly for equality and who I can proudly say inspires me to do better to challenge inequality and fight bias. Her name is Malala Yousafzai.

Youth National Peace Prize winner in Pakistan, international best-selling author, Nobel Peace Prize winner, ‘Top 100’ most influential person, Grammy award winner, runner up of TIME’s ‘Person of the Year’ poll, founder of a non-profit; these are just some of the achievements of 22-year-old Malala, who now studies politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University.

Malala is one of the most inspirational young women of our generation – she advocates for equal education and empowerment for everyone, above all else. When reading about Malala’s history and the challenges she’s spoken out about, the thought has always struck me how abstruse it is that, globally, girls still don’t have equal rights and access to education. We need to be able to feel able to speak out about these kinds of inequalities, which are unfortunately still present today. The ability to speak outcomes from building up power within.

In her book, Malala wrote; “we call upon our sisters around the world to be brave – to embrace the strength within themselves and realise their full potential” – this really resonated with me and encouraged me to always strive to have confidence in myself, and my peers, to achieve the best I can. As women, we often doubt ourselves, and as a result, miss out on some fantastic opportunities – Malala is a key example of someone who has believed in herself and flourished. I’d encourage everyone this International Women’s Day to think about what it is that you can do to reinforce year’s theme, #EachForEqual.

Celebrating Louisa May Alcott

Liv Bescoby, Digital Communications, Cabinet Office:

As one of three sisters, who grew up in a household which was usually entirely female (shout out to my fabulous mum), the first time I read ‘Little Women’ I felt like I lived it. I spent hours pondering which of my sisters was more of a Jo, a Meg, a Beth or an Amy. I didn’t mind which I was! The magic of Louisa May Alcott’s book is that every woman is championed as a hero.

The March sisters have a range of ambitions and personalities: from aspiring writer Jo who is fiercely independent (a character based on Louisa herself), to the older Meg who desires a husband and a family above all else. All are admirable and impressive. The enduring resonance of Little Women is evident in the books continual success and innumerable film adaptations – by the way, Greta Gerwin’s is now my favourite film and EVERYONE should watch it, but the world and heroines Louisa wrote into existence are just a fraction of why she is totally awe-inspiring.

Her personal life was similarly best-selling and blockbuster worthy. She was an early feminist who fought for the vote and the first woman to register in Concord. She was heavily involved in the early foundation of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union in Boston, which cared for the often exploited female and child workers. She was an abolitionist, enlisting as a Union army nurse during the Civil War. And, she was a hard-working and generous daughter and sister: financing her family with numerous jobs, as well as using her literary success to fund her youngest sister’s dream of studying art abroad.

So beyond admiring her literary talent and success, I am inspired by Louisa May Alcott as a sister, a daughter and a woman.

Celebrating my mother

Kieran Gray, National Security Communications, Cabinet Office:

I have never thought of myself as a ‘mummy’s boy’, though this post may do little to verify that. My Mam (oh how I miss the North East) wasn’t afforded a fraction of the opportunities that my brother and I were lucky enough to take for granted growing up, opportunities that we were given through her sheer hard work, energy and dedication in ensuring that her children would enjoy the open doors that did not swing open for her.

But the brilliance does not stop there. Not one to be put off by a challenge, she took it upon herself to go to night classes whilst working a day job and raising two teenagers, qualifying as a special educational needs coordinator. A decade later, she still goes to work every day to assist children with some of the most complex educational needs with a smile on her face and a determination to achieve the best for each and every one.

The fact she would cringe at my babbling’s on her selflessness is testament to just how inspiring she really is, and that’s why I’m so very lucky to call her my mother.