International Women’s Day on March 8 is a celebration of women’s achievements as well as recognition that we still have some way to go until equality is the norm, not the exception.
The date is important both locally and globally because women everywhere still need their spirits bolstered by an empowering show of solidarity. No woman is alone and an increasing number of role models serve not only as an inspiration but proof that the glass ceiling can be broken.
Here we take a look at six female icons from countries hosting King’s Colleges, many of which will be marking the day with an assembly dedicated to its significance.
Ana Botín – President of the Santander Multinational Bank
Not only was Ana made an Honorary Dame by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the British financial sector in 2015, that same year she was presented with the first Award for Responsible Capitalism.
Ana, 59, is also a pioneer when it comes to being the first woman to run a major European bank and was ranked 8th on the Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Powerful Women.
Within her corporation, she has made a point of boosting female direction, aiming for 30% of its CEOs to be women by 2025 – they currently account for 20%. Beyond 2025, the aim is technical equality, which means a 60%-40% general gender ratio.
Ana has also introduced a life-work balance scheme and is adamant there will be no discrepancy in salaries between male and female staff members taking on equal responsibility in a banking institution that is ranked 16th in the world.
Forbes also notes that Ana has a policy of “backing small companies and companies owned by women.”
Fuencisla Clemares – Country Manager for Google Spain and Portugal
Fuencisla Clemares, Google’s country manager, recently told the news site El Español, “Being a female executive has its pros and cons – you have to know how to play it.”
Born in 1974, she began her career in retail and moved into the online world in 2009, joining Google as Retail and FMCG Industry leader in Spain.
But before she joined the cyber giant, she was already involved in company balanced gender initiatives, starting with the McKinsey Women initiative, which she co-lead in 2002. Currently, she is leading the Networking stream of this initiative within Google.
Asked by El Español how she manages to juggle motherhood with a top job, she replied, “Working very hard, pushing myself, lots of preparation and training and trying to surround myself with exceptional people. Everything I’ve achieved has not been achieved alone.”
She is visiting King’s College Madrid on the 9th of March to speak to our students!
Atheyna Bylon – Olympic boxer
A national police officer outside the ring, Atheyna Bylon was encouraged to pull on a pair of gloves by her fellow officers and get into a sport which she herself admits to thinking was for men only.
She started at 19 and didn’t take long to get hooked. Twelve years later, she was fighting in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“No way are we the weaker sex,” she said last year. “I’ve always said that if you set yourself to do something, if you want it, you can do it. Boxing is the best example.”
Bylon believes herself to be a role model for many women in her country and, with regard to Women’s Day, she said, “If women did not exist, the world would end. If women are not there, men are not born, they do not grow and they do not reproduce. For me, every day is Women’s Day.”
Angela Merkel – German Chancellor
Certainly the most powerful woman in Europe, if not in the world, Angela Merkel may not be keen to be labelled a feminist but she is undoubtedly a role model for women everywhere.
With 13 years at the helm, she is Germany’s longest-serving Chancellor, though she plans to step down next year.
As her time at the top approaches its end, she has become more vocal about issues such as equal pay and disproportionate male leadership. However, she stops short of calling herself a feminist as she says she is not someone who has fought all their lives from women’s rights.
Still, with her influential position, her call for gender parity, which to her “just seems logical” should have a huge impact.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga – former President of Latvia
The first female head of a former Soviet Bloc state, Vaira Vike-Freiberga fled Latvia during World War Two and returned 50 years later in 1998 aged 60 to become President within the space of eight months.
When the family went into exile, their first stop was the refugee camps that had been set up in Germany. After her baby sister died, her mother gave birth to a little boy, which was her first introduction to women’s issues.
“A young girl of 18 was lying in the same room with my mother,” she told the BBC. “She had given birth to a little girl and didn’t want her. She didn’t want to name her child and she didn’t want to have anything to do with it, because the child was the result of a group rape from Russian soldiers.”
The family ended up in Canada and Vaira studied a doctorate in Psychology at the University of Toronto where she learned that women were tolerated, rather than welcomed.
“Our dear professor at one point in a seminar said, ‘Yes, well, we actually have three married women here in this PhD programme, it’s such a waste, because they’re going to get married and they’re going to have children, and they’re actually taking up a place that a boy could have taken who will become a real scientist.’ And all of us girls in that seminar, we remembered that for the rest of our lives,” she said.
The remarks made Vaira determined to show the professor “that we women can succeed even better than his favourite boys”.
Vaira’s stepped down from the Latvian Presidency in 2007, a few months before her 70th birthday after which she co-founded the Club de Madrid – an organisation of former leaders who try to promote democratic leadership and governance.
She is also working on initiatives to empower women as she believes there is still much to do before women achieve equality.
Emma Watson – British actress
With her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies, Emma Watson was hailed a feminist icon from a tender age. Perhaps on account of that, she has deliberately taken on roles that show women in a feisty light, such as her recent portrayal of Meg March in the remake of Little Women.
In the summer of 2014, she became the Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women and subsequently gave a speech at the UN headquarters that launched the HeForShe campaign, which was designed to draw men into feminism on the basis that gender equality is beneficial to everyone.
During the speech she said, “I am from Britain and think it is right that as a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decision-making of my country. I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men. But sadly I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to receive these rights. No country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality.”
Famously, Emma subsequently posted this remark on social media: “If you stand for equality, then you’re a feminist. Sorry to tell you.”