Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Feisty Charlotte and brave Malala inspirations to us all

Tabloid fight: Charlotte Church took on the Murdoch empire

So 2012 draws a close, a year we in the UK will remember for two very different things.

We'll always recall, with a little flush of pleasure, the brief period of genuine national unity which knocked us all for six during the London Olympics, an event, and an accompanying wave of communal emotion, unlikely to be repeated during any of our lifetimes. And we won't forget being bombarded by gruesome revelations about a (still growing) number of male celebrities feted by millions for decades - a scandal which has hopefully shaken us so much that it too will mark a set of social circumstances which won't arise again, symptoms of a culture we've come to reject.

It's in the spirit of the women whose tenacity and courage marked both events - the Olympic performers, and the abuse victims speaking out about Jimmy Saville and others - that my 2012 list of Women of the Year is compiled.

Malala Yousafzai - who didn't read the story of the unrepentant 15-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for promoting girls' education and wonder, with a little shudder, if they had it in them to act with such immense courage? After treatment in a British hospital it's uplifting to hear what good progress Malala is making. I hope the petition to get her nominated for a Nobel peace prize, already signed by tens of thousands, is successful.

Kath Grainger - there are any number of amazing women I could have chosen who shone in this year's summer of sport - Jessica Ennis, Ellie Simmonds, Victoria Pendleton. But I've plumped for Grainger because she has the undaunted life-force of that other Scottish 'Try Again-er' Robert the Bruce, always digging her heels in and finally, in 2012, securing that so long elusive gold medal. I also like her because she's doing a PhD in Homicide, proving that elite sports people are not all dull, one-track minded obsessives.

Hillary Clinton - always the sharper, more informed, deeper-thinker of the Clinton double act, Hillary also knew she didn't have the charisma or XY chromosomes it took to make it to the very top in US politics. It must have half-killed a woman of her ability and ambition, but she has stood tall, focussing energies on issues like poverty and human rights while always playing second fiddle to the boss man. As Secretary of State she has supported Obama with grace and her usual fierce intelligence - her visit to Belfast last month reminds us of her family's continued interest in Northern Ireland - and it will be a loss to western politics and fledgling democracies worldwide when she leaves her post next month.

Charlotte Church - the one-time 'Voice of an Angel' showed her tough backbone this year when she exposed the cold, threatening behaviour of those guarding the Murdoch millions, an empire she tried harder than any other celebrity to avoid making a financial deal with. That she finally surrendered for the sake of her mother's reputation and mental health is testimony to our screwed up moral order, rather than her failure of will.

Lena Dunham - with Girls, the HBO comedy drama she writes, directs and stars in, 26-year-old Dunham has shattered many myths about what really goes on inside women's heads, her sometimes galling truthfulness replacing years of phoney fantasy which has served powerful groups of both genders. I really hope her influence spreads far into Hollywood, women's magazines and all those other airbrushing, hypocritical liars who have created such damaging images of womanhood until now.

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