Dr Patricia Donnelly is head of the NI Covid-19 vaccination programme, the biggest vaccination programme in the history of our health service with over half a million of the population already vaccinated.
A clinical psychologist, she has also been director in a number of Trusts across a wide range of services and has been involved in a number of key projects with the Chief Medical Officer, such as chairing the HSC Clinical Ethics Forum and advising on Covid escalation plans.
Under Dr Donnelly, Northern Ireland is also the first part of the UK to have all care homes vaccinated to ensure that our most vulnerable are protected.
“I am so proud of the commitment and hard work of colleagues in health and social care and in primary care in delivering this important programme,” Dr Donnelly says.
“My message to other women is — be confident, be ambitious, create your vision, get everyone on-board, get a sense of impetus, respect everyone’s contribution and communicate your message well. Then you can achieve anything.”
Northern Ireland women’s football team captain Marissa Callaghan has played with Cliftonville Ladies since 2005, winning a Women’s Irish Cup with the north Belfast club in 2015.
Capped 62 times for Northern Ireland to date, scoring six goals, she represented her country at Under-15, U17 and U19 level before making the step up to the seniors just over a decade ago.
Under Marissa, the team are headed to the Women’s Euro 2022 play-offs in April, but she admits one of her career highlights was her first game as captain, picking up two goals at Solitude in front of a home crowd.
“I love the game, I get to travel, play against the best female players in the world, wear the green shirt with my name on the back and represent Northern Ireland. I feel very lucky to have those opportunities and if that’s something you want to do, then dream big.
“Listen to your coaches, listen to your parents, work hard and have fun because anything is possible if you work hard enough for it,” she says.
Dr Lindsay Broadbent is a research fellow at Queen’s University Belfast, investigating respiratory viruses, and has become a familiar voice on our airwaves over the last year as she talked us through the science around Covid-19.
In 2016 she was the first ever Northern Irish recipient of the Microbiology Society’s Young Microbiologist of the Year Award and began a Wellcome Trust ISSF fellowship in February 2020, but when the pandemic worsened her research shifted to SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19.
Dr Broadbent is passionate about science outreach and engagement and even did a couple of science-themed stand-up comedy gigs as part of NI Science Festival.
“I always look to those I respect for advice and one of my favourite quotes is from Ruth Bader Ginsburg: ‘I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability’,” she says.
Royal College of Nursing head Pat Cullen was recently named 2020 Aisling Awards Person of the Year in recognition of her leadership of the frontline health heroes during the most turbulent 12 months for nurses in a generation.
She led members in the first strike by nurses in December 2019 and January 2020 in a bid to force political leaders to fulfil longstanding pay promises to the profession, resulting in nursing staff achieving pay parity with their counterparts in England and Wales and a commitment from the Executive to deliver safe nurse staffing legislation.
She swept into action during the first spring surge of the pandemic when she demanded the government quickly guarantee supply of scarce PPE to frontline nursing workers, and faced down suggestions from the Department of Health that nurses should reuse PPE.
Maeve Monaghan is chief executive of the NOW Group, an award-winning social enterprise that supports people with learning difficulties and autism into jobs with a future through services including employment and training, via social enterprises such as Loaf Catering and Cafes, Loaf Pottery, a family service and the innovative ‘Just A Minute’ JAM Card, which now has over 60,000 users across Ireland.
Maeve is responsible for the incredible growth of the organisation from a small charity employing three members of staff to an award-winning social enterprise with over 60 employees and an annual income of £2.8 million last year. Within the NOW Group, 16% of paid employees have a registered disability and the company donated 955 lunch packs and 260 hot meals to any school child that needed one during the October half term week.
“We champion people of all ages, gender, ability and background, and on International Women’s Day will be giving a special nod of recognition to not only the brilliant women within our organisation, but the many courageous and inspiring female participants and families that our services support,” she says.
Disability campaigner Michaela Hollywood from Crossgar, was born with spinal muscular atrophy which affects all of the muscles in her body.
After founding Trailblazers, a campaigning network for young disabled people, she received a Point of Light award from then Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015, recognising outstanding volunteers. Michaela was an Olympic torchbearer at the 2012 Games. During the pandemic, she has been shielding with her family, but hasn’t let the grass grow.
“I have a dual focus at the moment – ensuring we don’t lose the benefits and minimising the negatives of COVID and lockdown for disabled people is the longer term,” she says. “Short term, I am working on getting access to Risdiplam for adults with SMA under an Early Access to Medicines Scheme in Northern Ireland and we have just launched a petition. My overall priority is to make sure every disabled person in Northern Ireland has the accessibility they deserve.”
Northern Ireland’s first mental health champion Professor Siobhan O’Neill is known for her passionate involvement in suicide prevention. Her research programmes focus on trauma mental illness and suicidal behaviour in Northern Ireland, and the transgenerational transmission of trauma.
Siobhan coordinated the largest ever study of mental health in Northern Ireland, the World Mental Health Surveys, NI Study of Health and Stress.
As mental health champion, Professor O’Neill contributed to the development of NI’s mental health strategy, a 10-year plan for excellent mental health services, and the Department of Education’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing Framework for Schools.
She has created a TV, radio and social media campaign to promote good mental health and wellbeing through the pandemic and is advising government on policies and practice to promote wellbeing and trauma informed practice during the current pandemic and through recovery.
Musician and producer Hannah Peel is an Emmy-nominated and RTS winning composer who regularly broadcasts on BBC Radio3’s Night Tracks.
Born in Craigavon, she studied music at Paul McCartney’s LIPA University in Liverpool. After 10 years in London, she moved back to Northern Ireland, where she continues to release albums, write for TV and film, present on BBC Radio 3 and create orchestral arrangements for other artists, including the likes of Paul Weller.
Hannah actively supports creators who are new and upcoming with a focus on supporting women in music who are interested in the technology and production elements of music.
“Music is a continual act of exploring and developing knowledge. There are no set rules or written journey into creating and so to find your own voice and skills is massively important to surviving in this industry. I’m so blown away with the fervent talent in young female artists in Northern Ireland. It’s powerful and a change in landscape is already beginning to happen,” she says.
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon is supporting a green recovery from Covid, with sustainable public transport and active travel at the heart of infrastructure. She has allocated £20million to support a range of initiatives including pop-up cycling lanes, greenways and greener alleyways. She recently introduced three zero emission hydrogen buses, while construction work is underway on the £380million Belfast transport hub to help improve connectivity across the island.
In a bid to improve road safety, the minister has identified 100 schools for the first rollout of a new part-time 20mph speed limit scheme and is delivering a safety scheme on the A1.
“It is refreshing to see the vital role women play in infrastructure within my Department and beyond as we move towards a brighter future where we can cut emissions, improve our health and wellbeing, better connect our communities and build a fairer society.
“This International Women’s Day let us all choose to challenge — challenge each other, challenge society and challenge ourselves to choose change,” she says.
Coleraine-born actress Bronagh Waugh has won acclaim worldwide with roles in The Fall, Steel Country and Supernatural, but has been busy off screen in a number of campaigns.
She pledged not to get married until equal marriage was introduced in Northern Ireland and was a high-profile supporter of the campaign for free, safe and legal abortion.
Just before Christmas, she teamed up with fellow actor Bronagh Gallagher to tell the stories of women who had been supported by Women’s Aid NI to escape domestic abuse.
The Unlock Your Lockdown campaign was launched as police figures revealed that an average of 87 people a day had been abused by someone who is supposed to care for them somewhere in Northern Ireland over the past year.
Dr Ciara Fitzpatrick, lecturer and researcher in the School of Law and Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University, is passionate about tackling poverty and has worked to amplify the voices of those who are too often unheard.
Her research has revealed the deep extent to which political rhetoric has stigmatised those living in poverty in the last 30 years and over the last 18 months, has used every platform possible to verbalise research on poverty and to project the voices of those on a low income. Alongside campaign group, the Cliff Edge Coalition and UC:Us, a group of Universal Credit claimants who are pushing for policy change, she is campaigning for a better safety net and highlighting the current poverty crisis in Northern Ireland
“My message to other women, particularly those who are struggling on a daily basis to get by, is to speak up and speak out. You should not be ashamed. Poverty is a political choice and there is much to be done!”
Writer Lisa McGee’s star is truly in the ascendant, as Derry Girls has become one of the most popular Irish comedy shows in decades, winning over audiences around the globe.
A third season is on the way, and there are plans for a Derry Girls movie to wrap things up. The series has even been immortalised with a mural on the wall of Badger’s Bar in Derry.
The writer’s work includes RTÉ’s restaurant drama Raw and the recently revived play Girls and Dolls, as well as Channel 4 series London Irish.
More recently, she’s shown that she can turn her hand to darker material, including Channel 5 thriller The Deceived starring Normal People’s Paul Mescal.
Gillian Armstrong is a passionate advocate of cloud and AI who was recognised by Amazon in 2019 as a Machine Learning Hero. She has played a key role in organising local conferences and meetups including AICon and Serverless Days Belfast and has spoken at global Amazon events including flagship tech conference ‘re:Invent’ in December.
A Solutions Engineer with Liberty IT, she has worked at the company since joining as a QUB graduate in 2004, and has led the debate on the ethical impact of tech and AI.
“We continue to focus on creating a more balanced gender mix into tech. But to keep women engaged, it’s vital that we create space and opportunity for them to progress to leadership positions, and to be supported and empowered once they are there,” she says.
Emily Wilson has been campaigning to raise awareness of dementia since her husband Jim was diagnosed in his 40s. He passed away last year.
After giving up her job at Belfast City Council to care for him, she has volunteered with the Alzheimer’s Society, raising awareness, taking part in University of Ulster research into early onset dementia and services for families and raising funds. She is a champion of dementia-friendly communities, is working to set up dementia-friendly church services and won the Outstanding Contribution award at the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friendly Awards.
“My aim in life is the same as the Alzheimer’s Society — a world without dementia, a world where there is hope,” she says.
Charlotte Dryden became CEO of the Oh Yeah Centre in 2016, and one of her proudest achievements has been setting up Women’s Work, an initiative designed to celebrate, platform and increase the visibility of women in music.
Launched by Annie Nightingale in 2016, the festival has increased the number of female musicians availing of Oh Yeah from under 15% to over 40%. Over the last year, which has been devastating for musicians, she has been lobbying and advocating hard for the music and arts community.
“I think like many women I have a serious case of imposter syndrome — I fight it daily.
“If I were to take my own advice I’d say please, please, please believe in yourself,” she says.
Nisha Tandon is founder and director of ArtsEkta, which promotes intercultural arts, culture and heritage, runs Belfast Mela and is a vibrant social enterprise.
In 2007, she initiated Northern Ireland’s first multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary arts festival, Belfast Mela, which now attracts annual audiences of up to 30,000 people. In June 2014, Nisha was the first Asian woman from Northern Ireland to be awarded the prestigious UK Asian Women of Achievement Award for contribution to arts, culture and heritage, and later that month was awarded an OBE for services to the minority ethnic sector in the 2014 Queen’s Honours List.
During the pandemic, ArtsEkta organised Mela at Home boxes as well as a host of Zoom activities, teaming up with housing associations to deliver some 15,000 cultural diversity boxes including cooking and crafts activities that could be carried out at home.
The group has provided food parcels, school uniforms and laptops and tablets for families in need of assistance, as well as helping with interpreters for hospital appointments.
Feminist activist Kellie Turtle from east Belfast is the co-founder of Belfast Feminist Network and has been involved in high profile campaigns including decriminalisation of abortion and the public protests that led to the Gillen Review.
In her time as Women’s Sector Lobbyist, she developed the Childcare for All Campaign and the Mas Project, a network of perinatal mental health support groups delivered in women’s centres.
“Since last March I’ve been supporting a group of incredible people from Christian organisations to have a new type of conversation about abortion.
“While this work feels quiet and slow I know it’s going to bear important fruit in the coming years as faith communities here can become a source of support for people who’ve had abortions rather than a place of judgment.
“My message for other women is that this is a time to make change where you are, rather than trying to make headlines,” she adds.
“People need relationships right now more than ever, so the most powerful thing we can do is find ways to be in a relationship with each other.”
Multi-award-winning entrepreneur Katie Matthews is the founder of two businesses, The Mind Tribe UK and Excel In Education Tutoring School, and has founded Young Entrepreneur’s Network Northern Ireland.
During the pandemic she set up and ran free mental health support groups for the community, for teenagers and young people, for key workers and entrepreneurs.
“For other women, I would say believe in yourself — just because you make a mistake or ‘fail’ at something does not mean it has to be the end of your story.
“Look for learning and opportunity in every situation and do not let others’ limiting beliefs of you dictate the belief you have in yourself,” she says.