When it comes to recognising the role and rights of women in society, there are few periods in history which have seen as much change as the past century.
From the upheaval of the Suffragettes in the early 1900s, to the crucial part played by women on the home front and in the military during both World Wars, as well as the Sixties feminism movement, the role of women has been scrutinised like never before.
The changes are perhaps best exemplified in International Women's Day, which takes place tomorrow as a celebration of women's success in all its forms.
This year's theme is Inspiring Change, with thousands of events worldwide to mark the economic, social and political achievements of women.
Among those taking part will be women from Northern Ireland who will be reflecting on their changing role in society at events across the province.
We spoke to five successful local women from across the generations about their own personal achievements, the best thing about being a woman today, and their thoughts on women's equality, as well as who most inspires them and what they would like to change in the world.
Professional snowboarder Aimee (22) lives with her parents Sara and Chris in Holywood, Co Down when she’s home. She’s currently competing in the USA and was a member of the GB team at the Sochi |Winter Olympics. Sister to hairdresser Josh, Aimee is dating Co Down man Ross Vaughan. She says:
My best personal achievement was coming sixth in last year’s X Games in Aspen and also becoming the first woman to land a double backflip in a competition.
I think that the best thing about being a woman is that I can express myself both as a tomboy and a woman. I can definitely be a tomboy but then it’s fun to put a dress and heels on, get my hair done and look nice.
In the last couple of years women in my sport have really progressed. We are not there in terms of the tricks yet but we are riding the same courses as the guys. There’s not many other sports where women do that, which in itself is really progressive. For instance, in some sports there are differences in the distances, which may be shorter for women, but in ours we are riding the same sized jumps, which is really cool.
I’m a big fan of cycling, so I really admire Victoria Pendleton, who I watched compete in the summer Olympics in London. I read her book and learnt everything she went through, how she overcame the hurdles along the way. It’s really inspiring to see the passion and the emotion that’s there. I also really admire Australian snowboarder and Olympic silver medallist Torah Bright, who competed in three different events at Sochi.
And if I could change one thing in the world, it would be to cure all illness and just generally increase happiness for everyone.”
The freelance broadcaster (39) regularly presents BBC NI’s flagship outdoor events such as last year’s World and Police Fire Games. She lives in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim with husband Alastair and children Samuel (7) and Rosa (5). She says:
Having my two children is definitely my greatest achievement. I’m so proud of them and feel so blessed that I have two healthy, wonderful kids. Don’t get me wrong, they can be challenging but they give so much love.
I love the way women can be so supportive to one another, yet we are so complex in many ways. I like that we can meet in business, make a connection and then start to talk about family, friends and fashion.
There definitely has been a lot of progress for women’s equality and, for my own part, I’m quite happy with my lot. But I do think women are still under-represented in many areas of corporate life, particularly on boards. I’m a member of Women in Business and it’s reassuring to know that there’s a network of women who are offering help and support at a moment’s notice.
My mum Margaret is the woman that I most admire; she’s kind, funny, strong, wise — everything that a mother is supposed to be and more. Yet she lost her own mother when she was just 21. I’m amazed at how she’s managed to come through all those milestones of getting married and having me and my older sister Kelly without someone like her mother in her life.
I’m on the fundraising board of the charity Women of Concern and I would like to see more done for women who live in poverty throughout the world who can’t feed or get medical help for their children. It’s something we all take for granted here.
The Downtown radio presenter (48) lives in Lurgan with her children Ruairi (27), Eolann (24) and Mainie (11). She presents the Daytime programme from 10am-1pm weekdays, and The Big Sunday Show. She says:
I would say my biggest achievement has been juggling motherhood and my broadcasting career and how I’ve coped with all the changes over the years.
I love the way that women are fantastic at doing so many things at the same time, and it’s a quality I see in myself and my friends.
Women’s equality has definitely come a long way but there’s still more to do. In the West we have it easy compared to other women throughout the world.
Probably the person I most admire would be Oprah Winfrey for the work that she does in education for women in Africa.
If I could, I would make it easier for domestic violence victims — both women and men — to report the abuse and to be believed about what’s happening to them.”
The broadcaster and columnist (55) lives in east Belfast and is in a relationship with partner Alan. She says:
Probably my biggest achievement is being blessed with such great family and friends, many of whom I’ve known since my schooldays. I’m as loyal and supportive to them as they are to me.
As a woman today I enjoy having the freedom and opportunity of being able to do what I want. I don’t take this for granted.
I’m not one for banging on about women’s rights as so much has changed for the better. We still have a way to go but I think it’s better not to change things in a confrontational way.
I really admire a Co Armagh woman I once did a story on, Vera Magee, who left here at the beginning of WWII and later became a translator for General Patton.
Women have it so much better than those in Third World and Middle Eastern countries and I would love to be able to change some of the religious and social customs there that often hold them back so much.”
The actress is in her late 60s and lives in Larne. A widow, she has one grown-up daughter Patricia and three grandchildren, Gabriel (15), Daisy (13) and Livi (10). She is currently on a province-wide tour of the Give My Head Peace show. She says:
For me, my greatest achievement really is about two things — being able to cope when I was left on my own with a 10-year-old child (Olivia’s husband died when she was 38) and I’m very proud of the way she turned out along the way. I looked after her and was still able to pursue my talent, I worked all day and then went to act in the theatre at night.
The thing I admire most about being a woman is that we are capable of multi-tasking to a very high degree ... while not feeling sorry for ourselves. I think that’s where women have it over men.
And actually I really, really admire women who have a disabled or life-limited child or have someone that they are looking after constantly. They have to continue to lead as normal a life as possible while looking after other siblings too, and it’s a very difficult thing to do. Many men also do it, but I want to speak for those women who don’t normally get any accolades.
We are nearly there when it comes to women’s equality but I think that while many men think that they give women equality to the degree that they think they should have, they are in for one hell of a shock. There’s still a sort of a stigma out there when a women does really well. I do think that there are some men — not all, of course — who still really resent the success of women.
If I could change one thing in this world, it would be to increase tolerance in people from all walks of life. |People need to listen and remember they are not always right.”
MARKING A SPECIAL DAY
The 106th International Women's Day takes places tomorrow
It was first held in 1911, and is celebrated on March 8.
The United Nations sets a general theme each year in order to stimulate debate, advancement and to shine a light on anything that still needs to be changed to improve the treatment of women economically, politically, and socially
Events will be held in capitals such as London, Washington, New York and Paris and supported by public figures such as Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton, and Jodie Foster
For details on events taking place, visit www.internationalwomensday.com