Written by Theodora Chan
It’s 2021, and women around the world have been prominently in the news for all the right reasons. With movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up gaining momentum, we have more women achieving remarkable things in politics, finance, activism, science and technology.
As March is the month in which we celebrate International Women’s Day, and as women rise up around Australia and the world demanding change, we thought it only right to highlight some of the kickass ladies who captured our hearts and minds in the past year!
Gitanjali Rao, Inventor
At just 15 years old, Gitanjali Rao has invented a number of technologies, including a device that can identify lead in drinking water, and an app that detects cyberbullying. She’s also the inventor of “Epione” - a device for early diagnosis of prescription opioid addiction using genetic engineering. Currently, Rao conducts global STEM workshops and has taught over 30,000 students around the world.
Vanessa Nakate, Climate Activist
Vanessa is a climate activist from Uganda and the founder of the African-based Rise Up Movement. This 23-year-old campaigns internationally to highlight the impacts of climate change already occurring in Africa and focuses on how the climate crisis is exacerbating poverty, conflict and gender inequality. Most recently, she started the Green Schools Project, a renewable energy initiative, which aims to transition schools in Uganda to solar energy and install eco-friendly stoves in these schools.
Naomi Osaka, Tennis Champion
23-year-old Naomi Osaka stepped onto the international tennis scene in 2018 and made waves when she defeated Serena Williams in the US Open women’s singles finals. A three-time Grand Slam champion, she was a recipient of the Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year 2020 award. In addition to becoming the highest-paid female athlete in history, she took a stand against racial justice in 2020, wearing seven different face masks with the names of victims of police brutality.
Jacinda Ardern, NZ Prime Minister
Jacinda Ardern is possibly one of the most popular leaders in the world currently. Initially the second female state leader to have a baby in office, she made waves in 2020 for her handling of multiple matters. She banned semi-automatic firearms after the Christchurch shootings, passed the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill, is providing free period products in schools for those who need them, became the first PM to march in an LGBTQ+ parade, and has made headlines in her handling of COVID-19.
Bellen Woodard, Crayon Activist
Skin-coloured crayons have always been a tricky subject - especially since the stereotypical peachy colour doesn’t really match any known skin colour. That’s why 10-year-old Bellen Woodward has launched her own line of crayons with 12 realistic skin colours, as well as More Than Peach, a nonprofit that has donated more than $40,000 worth of multicultural crayons and sketchbooks to schoolchildren across the country. Her packet of crayons has also been added to the permanent collection at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.
Kamala Harris, US Vice President
This year, Kamala Harris became the first woman and first Black and South Asian woman to become the Vice President for the United States. Previously, she has served as the attorney general of California. One of her signature accomplishments as attorney general was creating Open Justice, an online platform to make criminal justice data available to the public.
Fang Fang, Writer
Fang Fang (the pen name of Wang Fang) is an award-winning Chinese author. She’s created more than 100 works, and in 2020, she began documenting events in Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak first emerged. Her diary has attracted international recognition and been translated into English and, although many in China have branded her a traitor, Fang believes that “when facing a catastrophe, it's vital to voice your opinion and give your advice.”
Kathrin Jansen, Head Of Vaccine Research and Development At Pfizer
For the past year, the world has been racing to find a safe and effective vaccine for the coronavirus. Starting in March 2020, Jansen led a team of 650 experts, in collaboration with German startup BioNTech, to develop a successful vaccine against COVID-19. Previously, she has led the development of the world’s two best-selling vaccines, against the human papillomavirus and pneumococcus, at two different companies.
Shemara Wikramanayake, CEO of Commonwealth Bank
Shemara Wikramanayake is the first woman to become Australia’s highest-paid CEO and the first Asian-Australian woman to head an ASX 200 listed company. As a member of the United Nation’s Climate Finance Leadership Initiative, she steers the company towards climate-resilient investments and advises the Australian government on green technology investment. She has recently led efforts to raise AU$1 billion for renewables investment in her position as one of the only CEOs named to the World Bank’s Global Commission on Adaptation.
Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Freetown Mayor
Mayor of Freetown, West Africa, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr is best known for her Transform Freetown plan, which targets 11 sectors (tackling environmental degradation and climate change to help create jobs to reduce youth unemployment). At the start of 2020, she launched #FreetownTheTreeTown, which inspires residents to plant one million trees over two years. At the last count, her town planted 450,000 seedlings which will help with flooding, soil erosion and water shortages.