By Rita Azzi
Over the years, women have fought to find their place in the world, in society which for decades hasn’t made it easy on them. Women have been fighting for gender equality, their goal is to be appreciated by society rather than underestimated and undermined by men. Through the decades, some women have proved to the world that their voice matters and they can create a difference. With Mother’s day approaching, here are some inspirational women who have shaped the word through their devotion, professionalism, passion and kindness.
Princess Diana of Wales
Princess Diana was famous for HIV/AIDS advocacy. She raised awareness and gave patients hands-on attention. In April 1987, when the AIDs pandemic was at its peak, many turned away and ignored what was happening. However, Princess Diana opened the UK’s first specialist HIV/AIDS unit at London’s Middlesex Hospital, a space that would exclusively care for patients with the virus.
While visiting the unit, she famously stated the following: “HIV does not make people dangerous to know. You can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it. What’s more, you can share their homes, their workplaces, and their playgrounds and toys.”
For people living with HIV, her initiatives marked the start of her monumental efforts to see them treated with dignity, respect and compassion. She showed everyone through several actions that HIV can’t be passed through day-to-day contact. Of course, it didn’t change everything overnight and abhorrent stigma and discrimination remain today, but the Princess’s impact was felt worldwide and the memory of her kindness and heartfelt actions remain with us to this day as she had an impact on the entire world.
In 2008, Michelle Obama spent her days campaigning for her husband Barack, experiencing a level of scrutiny that was undeniably linked to her race and would persist for years to come. That August, she delivered a stirring address at the Democratic National Convention in which she talked about the “improbable journey” from her working-class Chicago upbringing to that very stage. Speaking of her young daughters, she shared that “their future—and all our children’s future—is my stake in this election.”
After her husband won, she gracefully stepped into the role of First Lady as the first black woman to do so. Focused on social issues like education and healthy living, she was deeply committed to the well-being of the nation and to the future of its people, especially its children. Her confidence and openness created an approachable air to the White House. Though her days as First Lady are over, her influence hasn’t waned. Her lived experience sends the message that through kindness, diligence, intelligence and honesty, anyone can effectively change the world.
Ellen DeGeneres is another female inspiration who stood up for what she wants no matter what society would perceive of her, and by doing so, she became an inspiration for a lot of people. In 1997, the comedian and actor appeared on the cover of TIME along with three seismic words: “Yep, I’m gay.” The lead character on her sitcom, Ellen, came out at the same time, making DeGeneres the first to play a gay lead on American network TV. At that time, Ellen took an enormous risk since polls showed that more than half of Americans believed same-sex relations were “always wrong.”
Of course, there were repercussions, but ultimately the risk paid off, and not just for Ellen, who described the decision as “the most freeing experience.” As she persisted and then thrived in show business, generations of LGBTQ people felt a new sense of possibility. Comedian Kate McKinnon, an openly lesbian cast member on Saturday Night Live said: “If I hadn’t seen her on TV, I would’ve thought I could never be on TV.”
Oprah Winfrey is one of the most influential women of our times. Throughout the years, she spoke from experience and took every chance she had to inspire and motivate people by setting an example with her powerful words. Oprah has gone through some tough periods in her life and has shared her story with the world many times in hopes to spread a message. Like many women, she went through things that could break a person (poverty, violence, assault etc…) and has risen above them. Through her inspirational talk shows, Winfrey became one of the pioneers of the women empowerment movement. One of her popular sayings that have inspired many is “Turn your wounds into wisdom”.
Madonna, the American singer, actress and entrepreneur had a social-cultural impact on the world through her recordings, attitude, clothing and lifestyle since her early career in the 1980s. She stood up for what she believed in more than once and built a legacy that goes beyond music.
Sociologist, historians and other social scientist studied her career path which led to the rise of the Madonna studies, an academic and critical response dedicated to her work and persona for which Madonna’s semiotic and image was diversified in a wide range of theories such those from feminism to queer studies among others. Her critical reception, alongside her media coverage made her “one of the most well-documented figures of the modern age”. One of her popular sayings include: “A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want.”
As the chorus of the #MeToo movement reached its peak, with women everywhere speaking out about abuse they had endured at the hands of powerful men, one voice from the past seemed to echo into the present.
Anita Hill testified before Congress in 1991 and accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment and spoke alone as a black woman in front of an all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary Committee. The attorney explained in detail how Thomas had harassed her when he was her supervisor at two government agencies. Anita said: “I did what my conscience told me to do, and you can’t fail if you do that.”
Hill made such at an impact that the month after her testimony, Congress passed a law extending the rights of sexual-harassment victims. The following year Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received a 50% increase in sexual-harassment complaints than it had the year before. Hill then continued her career as an author, commentator and professor, focusing on equality.
Highly known for her radical deconstructivist designs, Zaha Hadid was the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 2004. She said: “ I like architecture to have some raw, vital, earthy quality” and it her distinguished taste that made her a unique woman through history. Considering she was working in a largely men-dominated industry, Hadid’s accomplishments were all the more remarkable. Based on her supporters, Hadid was very often subjected to controversies that her male counterparts were not. Hadid rose above all these obstacles Today she is well revered and in the forefront of architectural design. She came through and achieved modern, cutting-edge philosophies that have helped her to push the boundaries of architecture and design. Today her firm employs 350 people and has handled 950 projects in over 44 countries.
Last but not least, Rola Hteit, the first Lebanese female pilot who broke all stereotypes and operated a flight with an all women crew on board. In 1995, Hteit followed in the footsteps of other female Arab pilots in Tunisia and Egypt and became the first Lebanese woman to enter the cockpit. After she joined the MEA, the airline welcomed more female pilots, who joined the team as First Officers (co-pilots).
Such achievements don’t go unnoticed and Lebanese women were and are still breaking the male monopoly in piloting planes and challenged the gender-biased society we live in. However, it is because of the daily microaggressions that women are subjected to that have motivated them to work harder and achieve their dreams. Captain Hteit and MEA’s female pilots are an inspiration to young girls who dream of being whatever they set their minds to and challenge the status quo.