Earlier in the month, I did a series on Instagram highlighting the outstanding contributions women around the world have made to their respective fields, many of which are more or less male-dominated. It seemed particularly relevant in the week in which International Women's Day was celebrated. And yet, reminding ourselves of the accomplishments of strong, talented and inspiring women such as these is something we should be doing on any given day of the year. Indeed, their examples give should fuel the dreams of girls of today, tomorrow's women. Gender does not in itself define who we are and what we are able to achieve.
In case you’ve only recently connected with me (hello, and welcome!), and missed it, here’s who were highlighted.
Dr Kakenya Ntaiya
Although free primary education was commissioned over 10 years ago by the Kenyan government, only 11% of Maasai girls in Kenya finish primary school.
Kakenya Ntaiya was one clever Maasai girl who struck a deal with her father that most children would never have to, just to be able to go to school- she would undergo the customer genital mutilation ritual he insisted on, only if she was allowed to finish high school. Despite the tremendous odds, she not only completed high school, but even earned a college scholarship in the US. She went on to work for the United Nations and obtained a doctorate in education.
But what makes Dr Ntaiya an even greater source of inspiration, however, is what she has done to help the girls in her homeland. She’s established the Kakenya Center for Excellence which since its establishment in 2008 has served more than 4,000 youth and allowed over 300 girls to receive an education receive an education in a safe, nurturing school environment. Many girls live at the centre and this spares the girls from having to walk miles back and forth, which puts them at risk of being sexually assaulted (a common risk there) and means the girls don't spend all their free time doing household chores. The majority of the school's expenses are paid for by Ntaiya's U.S.-based nonprofit. Families are asked to help cover the cost of the girls' meals, (payment accepted in maize or beans), Ntaiya covers the costs of any students who cannot pay.
"I came back so girls don't have to negotiate like I did to achieve their dreams," Dr Ntaiya said. "That's why I wake up every morning."
Professor Sue Black
I don’t know about anybody else, but I always love to hear about women excelling in roles associated with men, particularly in the sciences.
Professor Sue Black is one such inspiring female. She is a renown forensic anthropologist and the world’s leading expert in disaster victim identification. Prof Black is Director of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) based at Dundee University in Scotland. Here, she heads a team which has developed ground-breaking forensic techniques.
Prof. Black has been instrumental in solving a number of high-profile criminal cases, including that of Scotland’s largest paedophile ring in 2009 and the 2016 conviction of the UK’s most prolific paedophile Richard Huckle. Further, she worked in the aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings of 2005, the Kosovo genocides of 1998-1999 and the Asian tsunami in 2004.
Dr Daman Mullhi
Dr Daman Mullhi has served as Consultant Anaesthetist at the Heart of England NHS Trust since 2005. She is an expert in elective and emergency anaesthesia for all major specialties and champions safe anaesthesia for Radiological services.
She also plays an active role in medical education and is the director of PR at the UK Sepsis Trust. Dr Mullhi describes herself as passionate about patient safety.
Her goal is to increase awareness among the public and healthcare professionals, knowing that this will help to improve patient outcomes.
For over 20 years, Katherine Boo has shined a spotlight on America’s poor, and, more recently India’s, by writing about the distribution of wealth and opportunity in these lands.
The author of the gripping book Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Boo says “I’m always thrilled when readers sense the connections and get drawn into the dilemmas faced by the people I write about, because in this age of high walls and security gates it’s pretty easy not to see and think about those people at all”.
But what’s even more incredible to me is the angle from which she chose to write. Dismayed by the usual sensational way in which slums are described, Boo chose to focus on what the residents of these slums were doing in striving to extricate themselves out of their disadvantaged positions and use the opportunities they did have to the fullest.
Rosa García is the CEO of Siemens Spain and the president of the German Chamber of Commerce in Spain. She also serves as an advisor for Acerinox (one of the world’s largest producers of stainless steel) and Bankinter (a Spanish bank listed on the Madrid Stock Exchange).
She has received numerous awards, including the “Best Female Executive Award” from the Spanish Federation of Female Directors Executives, Professionals and Entrepreneurs (FEDEPE).
García joined Siemens in 2011 and within the first 2 years at the helm of Siemens in Spain, she successfully implemented measures to transform the company into one of the best organisations for which to work and to be a client of. She’s done this by establishing an organisational culture based on her own beliefs of simplified processes, open communication and inspiring employees to grow and to be passionate about what they do.
Garcia’s leadership philosophy is remarkable. She believes that it is important for leaders to be concerned not only with the work performance of employees, but also with their personal lives in addition to their health and well-being. García says (my translation): “Management requires knowledge, yes, but also empathy and the strength to bring the whole team to a common objective.” She also feels the responsibility to “respond to the challenges of the planet and guarantee a sustainable future based on innovation” (my translation).
Vera Wang is what we can call a “late bloomer”, a very successful one at that! Wang purportedly had her “a-ha” moment when, dissatisfied by the limited choices of bridal wear at the time, she designed her own wedding dress at age 40. This was just the first of many, as she went on to open her own bridal boutique a year later, and today is arguably America’s foremost bridal wear designer.
Wang’s story is inspirational in many ways. We’re reminded that it’s never too late to find what you’re truly good at and meant to do, as well as that sometimes one small spark of an ingenious idea is all it takes to ignite the fire of passion within us. Wang’s example also cautions us from naively believing that success comes over night. In an interview with Business of Fashion, Wang said “People have done far better than me in far shorter periods of time, but that wasn’t my story. It was brick by brick, client by client, store by store. It’s been a trip of passion, but it has not been a quick trip. Nor has it been easy. And that is the truth.”
Dr Paula Dawson
Dr Paula Dawson has the distinction of being Jamaica’s first and only licensed rehabilitation physician / Physiatrist in Jamaica and one of only three in the English-speaking Caribbean. Physiatry seeks to diagnose and treat the pain, as well as help individuals who have suffered an injury, illness or are in someway disabled to regain functional ability, without the use of surgery.
Essentially, physiatry aims to improve the quality of life to those with physical impairments or disabilities and enable them to be as independent in daily life as possible.
Dr Dawson works with many doctors internationally in introducing new techniques to help people with back pain and also those with neurological diseases including cerebral palsy, brain injury, stroke and spinal cord injury.
She is passionate about early intervention and developing comprehensive, patient-centered treatment plans, which gives a patient the best possible chance of recovery.
Tell me, friends, which women have had a powerful and last impact on your life? Share your stories below.