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International Day of the Girl 2016: World’s most inspiring women

To celebrate the International Day of the Girl, we take a look at some of the women past and present, Kiwi and international, who have inspired generations.
inspiring women

We were the first country to give women the vote, and we consistently come out top in surveys looking at the best place to be a woman.

But who are the women past and present who young girls today look up to and are inspired by?

The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child, on 11 October, “Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement”, is a call for action for increased investment in collecting and analysing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data.

On this, the International Day of the Girl Child, we stand with the global community to support girls’ progress everywhere. Let girls be girls.

From the original Kiwi suffragettes, to modern media role models, here are ten of the women we think are pretty damn awesome and a shining light to young women everywhere.

Tell us who inspires you via our Facebook page using the hashtag #Dayofthegirl

Kate Sheppard

The leader of the New Zealand Women’s Suffrage movement – Kate and her contemporaries not only forged the way for NZ to become the first country where women could vote, they also influenced other countries to do the same. In doing so they changed the lives of millions of women the world over, even if it took decades for some change to come in.

Notable quote: “We are tired of having a ‘sphere’ doled out to us, and of being told that anything outside that sphere is ‘unwomanly.’ We want to be natural just for a change…we must be ourselves at all risks.”


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows became the fastest-selling fiction book when it hit shelves in 2007, but author J.K.Rowling went through hell and high water to get there. A single mum with a failed marriage, no money and living off benefits, Rowling hardly seemed destined for success when she wrote the first installment of the series back in the 90s – begging publisher to print her book. She has since made millions from the Harry Potter series and is the best-selling author in history – proof that even when things seem rough, good luck can be just around the corner.

Notable quote: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”

Anne Frank

Jewish diary writer Anne Frank became famous only after her death, for her depiction of life hiding from Nazis in occupied Amsterdam, Netherlands. Her Diary of a Young Girl is one of the most well-loved and widely-read memoirs of war, in which the young teen shows incredible optimism in the face of adversity. She died in 1945, aged just 16, in the Bergen-Belsen camp.

Notable quote: “I don’t think of all the misery, but of all the beauty that still remains.”

Helen Clark

Previously voted the most inspirational Kiwi woman in a nationwide survey, Helen Clark was the first elected female Prime Minister in New Zealand, is an incredibly influential member of the UN, and consistently fought for women’s rights during her terms in New Zealand’s highest office. She is passionate about women’s issues and still makes the list of most powerful women in the world year after year.

Notable quote: “Girls can do anything. We do do anything and we expect to be treated as equals.”

Malala Yousafzai

At 17, Pakistani schoolgirl Malala was the youngest woman to ever receive a Nobel Peace Prize, recognising her incredible work championing the right for girls to have an education. Her campaign got her shot by the Taliban in 2012, but this did not dissuade her from her mission. Malala continues to fight for education for all – and on her 18th birthday opened a school in Lebanon for Syrian refugees.

Notable quote: “Extremists have shown what frightens them most: A girl with a book”

Jean Batten

Kiwi Jean Batten was a record-breaking pilot who made the first ever solo flight from England to New Zealand in 1936, amongst other world record titles. She was the first woman to be awarded the medal of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, aviation’s highest honour. She was also know for her striking looks and sociable personality – leading to her being dubbed the “Greta Garbo of the skies”.

Notable quote: “Every flyer who ventures across oceans to distant lands it a potential explorer; in his or her breast burns the same fire that urged adventurers of old to set forth in their sailing ships for foreign lands.”

Carrie Fisher

We had to include Carrie because of the recent ageism debacle in which she came out on top. After Star Wars fans slammed the star’s appearance in the 2015 installment, saying she had aged “terribly,” Fisher hit back with the succinct response: “Youth and beauty are not accomplishments, they’re the temporary happy by products of time or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either”.

Diana Princess of Wales

Princess Diana won the world’s heart when she married Prince Charles in 1981, but it was her dedication to charity work that really cemented her role as the best loved royal. Her work with people suffering from diseases such as AIDS and Leprosy helped change public perceptions of these illnesses, with Nelson Mandela summing it up accurately when he said: “When she stroked the limbs of someone with leprosy, or sat on the bed of a man with HIV/AIDS and held his hand, she transformed public attitudes and improved the life chances of such people…people felt if a British princess can go to a ward with HIV patients, then there’s nothing to be superstitious about”.

Notable quote: “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.”

Angelina Jolie

It might have been enough for some to be an internationally recognised film star, impossibly beautiful and with enough money to live comfortably for the rest of their days, but not for Angelina Jolie. While filming Lara Croft in war torn Cambodia, Jolie returned home desperate to do something to help people in need. In the years that followed, she became a UN Goodwill Ambassador, travelled to dozens of countries and met hundreds of displaced people. She campaigned to bring awareness to the plight of what she termed “forgotten emergencies,” and has been involved with dozens of international issues. She fronted a campaign to end sexual violence in Military conflict zones – resulting in the largest ever meeting on the subject. After the summit, 151 countries endorsed a protocol to help prevent war rape. She also adopted three children from overseas, and had a double mastectomy in 2013 after discovering she had a high probability of developing breast cancer.

Notable quote: “I think we all want justice and equality, a chance for a life with meaning. All of us would like to believe that if we were in a bad situation someone would help us.”

Helen Mirren

British actress Helen Mirren has been an inspiration to girls all over the world for decades, but she’s just as good off screen as she is on it. Her consistent refusal to give a damn about what people think of her is what gives her such universal appeal, and perhaps how she had managed to have such a long lasting career where many actresses haven’t gone the distance.

Notable quote: “We’ve got to stop being polite. If I ever had children…the first thing I’d teach a girl of mine is the words ‘fuck off.’

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