7 women to inspire you

Helen Pankhurst (centre) with other women from the suffragette movement at last year's International Women's Day march

Women around the world are overcoming discrimination, prejudice and inequality to lead the way in creating a more equal world. Here are 7 amazing women to inspire you – a leading women's rights activist, a businesswoman in Niger, a young Afghan refugee, a community leader in Ethiopia, a humanitarian worker in Jordan, a champion for girls' education, and a Speed Sister in the world's first all-female motor racing team.

1. Helen Pankhurst

“Feminism is a global issue, and our solidarity does not end at the shores of our own country,” says Helen Pankhurst (pictured above), great-granddaughter of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, and a senior advisor on gender equality for CARE.

“Compared to the situation in my great-grandmother's day,” she says we are now living in “a world that is more interconnected and interdependent than ever; one where individual voices and actions in one part of the world can and need to be amplified, to make the world a more beautiful place for all.”

We are coming together to celebrate and to galvanize for the road ahead. We do so in the time-honoured tradition of a march, walking shoulder to shoulder, as a visible manifestation of a global conscience. Do come and join us.

2. Amina Salaou

Portrait of Amina Salaou

Amina Salaou (above), of Dan Gado village near Maradi City in Niger, joined the first village savings group ever set up by CARE, 25 years ago. She had soon started a business selling potatoes and making and selling peanut oil and doughnuts. That gave her purpose, she says, and enabled her to pay for her daughters’ weddings. She says she wants her youngest daughter who is still in school to be able to choose her own future:

My kids are enlightened, and because of that, it’s a way for me to be enlightened, too. I won’t impose any future on my daughter, but want her to choose the future she wants.

3. Marzia Jamili

Marzia Jamili (above), age 15, is an Afghan refugee who has become a global advocate for refugee rights, with support from CARE and from the Melissa women’s network in Greece. She says:

“My name is Marzia Jamili. I am 15 years old. I am an Afghan girl, and, importantly, I am Hazara.”

My people always seek freedom, but we are always shackled. My people are against war and oppression, but we have always had our rights taken away from us. My people are intelligent, but from every possible way we are forbidden from progress.

“We would like that the pain in our hearts be listened to and for governments of the rich world to give us refuge. In this big, wide world, is there no place for us? Can we not find a place to live together so that we have peace of mind, are far from war, bloodshed, discrimination, and disrespect?”

4. Fatuma

Portrait of Fatuma in Ethiopia

Fatuma (above) lives in Afdera, Ethiopia, where she is her community’s representative at government meetings on women’s issues. She says: “When there is a meeting with a representative from parliament, I will meet them and discuss our issues. Most of the time, we discuss women’s rights to get involved in politics. We want women to come out and vote. We want women to be elected. We want them to form co-operatives.”

For most of my life, women didn’t have any options. As girls, we were only there to help our families and when we grew up, to get married and help our husband’s family. There was nothing to look forward to. Now, girls go to school, now we talk about democracy for women, now we see women getting employed.

5. Olfat Abul Assal

Olfat Al Aqili, Azraq Center Coordinator, Aqraq refugee camp, Jordan

Olfat Abul Assal (above) works with CARE International in Jordan as a case management and community mobilisation officer in Azraq refugee camp. She says:

As a working woman, I have seen how slowly not only the children, but grown men, also started to accept my presence in the camp. Five years from now, I picture myself where I am now - still working directly with people affected by this crisis. But my hope is there will more work on women’s empowerment in the camp, with a centre and a strategy and that I can help build this.

6. Muzoon Almellehan

Mezon, 15, campaigns against child marriage in Azraq camp

Muzoon Almellehan (pictured above at Azraq refugee camp in 2014) is an outspoken advocate for girls' education and against child marriage. Now living in the UK after being reunited with her family, she is a Malala Fund campaigner for girls’ education. She describes how – when she first arrived in Jordan as a Syrian refugee – she made friends with another 15-year-old girl, and then saw her friend leave to get married. She says:

I want to learn as much as possible and excel in school and become a journalist. I want to write about child brides, and I want to write for them so they know that getting married is not a solution.

Speaking in 2014, Muzoon said: “In my past year in Jordan I have talked to many girls who are my age or younger, who were planning to get married. I was able to persuade some of them to wait.”

When I had to flee to Jordan I thought this will be the end of my life. But it really was the beginning of something new, the start of my life-long challenge to fight against child marriage and for education for my fellow, beloved Syrian girls.

Muzoon is one of the key guests and speakers at the #March4Women event on Sunday 5th March.

7. Marah Zahalka

Marah prepares for a race

Marah Zahalka (above), a young Palestinian woman, is one of the Speed Sisters – the world's first all-female motor racing team. “I remember the first race I competed in: there were so many things against me,” she says. “I'm from Jenin, a very traditional and conservative community where they consider this a sport just for men, completely exclusively for men. So I received a lot of criticism. Even people close to me said, 'What are you doing? This is not ok, she's a girl.' That was the most difficult thing I faced when I first started.”

I heard all the criticism but I didn't listen to them. I took it all and put it inside me and turned it into positive energy so that I can prove to them that what I am doing is my passion and that I could be great at it.

Watch this short video about Marah and the Speed Sisters:

“CARE supported me [and] made me an ambassador for the next generation, to encourage girls to achieve their dreams,” says Marah.

On International Women’s day, my message to women and girls around the world is that as long as you have a dream, you can look beyond the political and social barriers put in place by the people around you.

Hold on to those dreams because when you really do that, it can take you far, as long as you have courage and persistence.