International women’s day (IWD) is celebrated worldwide on the 8th of March every year. First designated as a national holiday in 1910, the day is dedicated towards celebrating the political, cultural, economic and social advancements of women, and rejoicing in womanhood and how far the global feminist movement has come.
In 2021, the day took the theme of ‘choosing to challenge’, be that typical gender norms and expectations or finding new ways to celebrate what it means to be a woman, encouraging everyone to take a stand and call out commonly faced gender biases and inequalities.
This theme was in part inspired by the pandemic, which has exacerbated many common women’s issues. The age-old problem of women being expected to stay home is just one of these problems, with over two-thirds of extra childcare being left to women and an increasing number of women being forced to leave their jobs to supplement this.
However, the pandemic has in turn highlighted the work of several women who have gone above and beyond to defy such norms. These women have set a strong precedent in proving the potential of women to thrive in even the most difficult situations. In the spirit of international women’s day, here are three incredible women who have been highlighted by the pandemic:
- Jacinda Ardern
Jacinda Arden is New Zealand’s 40th prime minister, renowned for her progressive work on social issues, the climate emergency and her response to the Christchurch shooting of 2019.
Her work during the pandemic has been praised extensively and held in high esteem worldwide due to its vast success. Through closing boarders to all non-citizens, imposing a nationwide lockdown and keeping the population updated through regular broadcasts and interviews, Arden was able to keep the country at a record-low number of cases. Arden’s strong leadership and swift response to the outbreak of coronavirus meant that its impact was strongly mitigated in New Zealand.
Women currently hold only 7% of the world’s government leadership roles, but the work of politicians like Arden display just how important a role they play, and how vital it is to increase their place in world politics.
- Özlem Türeci
Özlem Türeci and her husband, Uğur Şahin, have been titled the German ‘dream team’ behind the breakthrough Pfizer vaccine, instrumental to preventing the further spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The German physician, scientist and entrepreneur is the daughter of Turkish immigrants. Türeci co-founded the biotechnology company BioNtech with her husband in 2008. The company focuses on the creation of immunotherapies for the treatment of diseases, and is the site that developed the RNA-based vaccine first to be approved for use against coronavirus. Globally, BioNtech aim to administer around 2 billion doses of the vaccine in 2021.
Türeci’s work is just one example of the importance of highlighting women in STEM, through their many contributions to field.
- Elizabeth Anionwu
Elizabeth Anionwu is a British nurse and Emeritus Professor of Nursing at University of West London. Her work highlighting disparities in the medical field, particularly for people of colour, has proven instrumental during the pandemic, displaying the disproportionate number of BAME individuals affected by the virus.
Anionwu is a Dame and Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing, celebrated for her specialist work on Sickle-Cell anaemia. She has become an influential voice during the pandemic for people of colour, ensuring their stories are heard and issues understood and emphasized.
Another vital issue that we can ‘choose to challenge’ is the way we view our appearances. The pandemic has both caused women to face many issues and experience many triumphs. Nevertheless, societies strong emphasis on appearance and beauty continues to plague us.
With masks and new pandemic-related stresses causing breakouts and the lesser focus on make-up grooming caused by lockdown, another issue we really need is to challenge is our perception towards skin. The growing skin positivity movement is looking to facilitate this, by normalising breakouts, pimples, and acne. It’s important to realise that real women (and men) do suffer from skin issues, and this should not define us, but rather create another front to unite us in the greater struggle to challenge the way in which we view womanhood for the better!