Who are the women who can really inspire your students to strive for more in their own lives? International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated globally on 8th March, and its impact has never stopped growing since 1911, when the first IWD gathering took place.
This year’s IWD theme is gender equality, and although significant changes have been made in terms of women’s rights and possibilities since the end of the 19th century, there is still a lot of work to be done before women are treated in the same way as their male counterparts.
An event like this opens up a series of opportunities to help your students learn more about culture, read more, and practise their language skills.
Quick facts about Women’s Day
- 1909. The original idea was to celebrate all working women. It started as a celebration of working women in New York City.
- 1910. Following the American initiative, March 8th was ordained as Women's Day in Europe in 1910. However, apart from celebrating women, this day also marks the collective fight for women’s rights: the right to work, the right to education, and the right to vote.
- During World War I, this day was associated with women’s protest for peace and their right to vote, mostly in Russia.
- 1960s. The popularity of the day spread all over Europe.
- 1975. The United Nations began celebrating March 8th as International Women’s Day, and two years later its scope extended to a United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace.
- The latest addition to the agenda of Women’s Day celebrations is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” (United Nations, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development).
Learn more about IWD here:
Who are the most inspirational women today? Ask your students to suggest names of girls and women who inspire them, and prepare a mini (3 minutes max.) presentation about them.
Then, when it is your turn, you can share information about some women you think we can all learn from.
We have collected our own list of women who inspire us. Although our timeline goes backwards, it is interesting to observe that even if some women on this list lived a long time ago, their influence hasn’t ceased to have an impact on our lives.
Contemporary figures who have made a difference
She is one of the youngest environmental activists, whose voice has reached millions of people. She has shown that teenagers can make a difference, and their opinion matters.
- Follow Greta on Twitter.
She is one of the most influential young activists for female education. After being shot by the Taliban in Pakistan, she started striving for girls’ rights to education. She and her father have set up the Malala Fund, an international non-profit organization for girls’ education. In 2014, at the age of 17, she received the Nobel Peace Prize.
She became famous asHermione Granger in the Harry Potter film series. Apart from being a popular actor, she also has a BA in English literature. In 2014 she became a UN Women's goodwill ambassador, and she launched the HeforShe campaign, promoting gender equality. She has also promoted education for girls in Bangladesh and Zambia. Apart from being an activist for women’s rights, she is a supporter of spreading the love of reading. In 2016, she set up a feminist book club called Our Shared Shelf.
- Follow Emma on Instagram.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
She is one of the most prominent contemporary writers from Nigeria. She grew up in an Igbo family in Nigeria, and at the age of 19 she moved to the US to study Creative Writing. Her stories address historical and social issues, and she speaks up for feminist rights. Some of her most well-known books are Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah. Her TED lectures, ‘The Danger of the Single Story’ and ‘We should all be feminists’ have gone viral.
Our favourite fictional second-grader made it cool to be aspirational and have goals (including becoming the president of the US). She regularly ridicules sexist products or attitudes, and has openly denounced the tobacco industry. Plus she inspired a generation of girls to start playing the sax!
- Read Lisa's fan page.
Female authors who have made a difference
Before the 21st century
Most of the female writers who broke barriers in the 18th, 19th or early 20th century, like Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, the Bronte Sisters, Edith Wharton or Virginia Woolf, are still considered revolutionary, and they continue to influence the way we think about the role of women in society. Here are some of our favourite women authors and why we think their voices are still powerful.
Jane Austen is often thought of as the author of humorous love stories. However, she was also a social critic, and her novels show society of the time and its issues, including gender issues, through a magnifying glass. Her novels are witty and although she has an ironic view of her characters, she is also full of hope and love.
She is the author of one of the most famous Gothic novels, Frankenstein (1823). Although she is best known for this novel, she has written several novels, travelogues and short stories. Frankenstein is not only an amazing achievement for its time, but it is still relevant today. In the age of experiments in medicine and artificial intelligence, it raises ethical and moral considerations for scientists today as well as being a profound reflection on power and responsibility in relationships.
- Read Frankenstein in the Helbling Readers series.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Her most famous novel is Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), and she promoted anti-slavery ideas not only in her writing, but also in her personal life. She and her husband often helped slaves by offering them a safe place to stay on their way to freedom. She came from an intellectual family, and her sister opened a school for girls, where Harriet was also educated.
Read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the Helbling Readers series.
The Brontë Sisters
The three sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Agnes, are all authors of powerful novels that talk about passionate struggles, gender roles and social differences. Their characters all go through difficult phases in their own psychological development and relationships before they achieve their goals. The works of the sisters give a realistic description of their characters and their circumstances, which is greatly influenced also by the Yorkshire setting.
- Read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë in the Helbling Readers series.
She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921 for her novel The Age of Innocence (1920). Although her most famous novel is often thought of as a story of impossible love, it is also a sharp criticism of 1870s New York upper class. When World War I broke out, she helped the war effort by establishing workplaces for women, hostels for refugees, and new hospitals.
- Read The Age of Innocence in the Helbling Readers series.
She wrote beautiful psychological narratives exploring female roles and independence. She came from a conservative Victorian family, but she managed to establish her own creative freedom. Apart from writing fiction, she also wrote about social issues such as the necessity of financial independence for female writers (in A Room of One’s Own, 1929) or preventing war (in Three Guineas, 1938).
- Read To the Lighthouse in the Helbling Readers series.
This powerful heritage has continued in the works of contemporary female authors. Here are five of our favourites and why we think you should introduce their work to your students.
She was an American poet, writer, singer and civil rights activist. She wrote seven autobiographies. Read the first one, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) to learn about her childhood and teenage years. She worked alongside Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in the Civil Rights Movement in America. She spoke up for both black people and women, and her work influenced feminist writers, politicians and hip-hop musicians alike.
- Visit her website here.
Ursula K. Le Guin
She created a whole universe, the Hainish universe, and filled it with fantastic stories. Her books are mostly science fiction, but she wrote poetry, essays and short stories as well. Apart from inspiring millions of people to read her stories, another achievement is her feminist fiction, which questions gender roles and addresses gender equality.
- Visit her website here.
- Read The Earthsea Cycle, a series of fantasy books.
She is the author of award-winning fiction that explores African American history and racial discrimination. She was the first African American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. Her two most well-known books are Song of Solomon (1977) and Beloved (1987).
- Visit the website of the Toni Morrison Society.
- Watch this short video about her life and work by The New York Times.
She has gained worldwide recognition thanks to the adaptation of her 1981 novel, The Handmaid's Tale for television. Although she is most famous for her narrative fiction, she has also written poetry, children's books, essays and graphic novels. She is a feminist and environmentalist, and her works address power politics, questions of gender, identity, religion and climate change.
- Visit her website.
J. K. Rowling
Her Harry Potter series has inspired millions of children to fall in love with reading. She is also a writer of crime fiction under the name Robert Galbraith. Apart from being a successful writer, she also supports non-profit organizations that work against poverty, support one-parent families and multiple sclerosis research. In 2000 she set up Volant Charitable Trust to help such causes.
- Visit her website.
Who would you add to these lists? Who would your students add to these lists?
For more on International Women’s Day and projects for your classroom, check out this post: