Who’s the woman who has inspired you most?

Caron and ShirleyIt’s International Women’s Day today and on Twitter, there’s been an #inspiredby meme on Twitter where we have to say which women have inspired us.

I went a bit mad, as you can see from my Twitter feed. I’ve been lucky enough to know so many fabulous women in politics from all parties that if I started writing about them now, I’d still be here this time next week. And that would just be politics. So I’m going to limit myself to just two.

The first is someone who was my first political hero, ever since she made that speech at that first SDP conference where she talked about being required to scale unscaleable heights as she announced her candidacy for the Crosby by-election. She’s done so much to advance and advocate women’s rights internationally. She was a minister in a world where it was ok for interviewers like Robin Day to compliment female MPs on their outfits and say how pretty they looked. She was brave enough to recognise that she and the Labour Party had come to the end of the road and to branch out in a new direction when the SDP was formed. Her energy even now, at the age of 84, is incredible. It was fantastic to have her come to Scotland for the best part of the last 10 days of the referendum campaign last year. She was filling halls and winning debates right up till the last minute. I found it quite emotional to see a Yes campaigner come up to her on Dunfermline High Street and say that she’d been her hero all her life too. I’m talking of course about Shirley Williams. She’s had such a fascinating life. It must have been so hard to have been uprooted and sent to strangers across the Atlantic during the War, thousands of miles from her parents but she threw herself into that experience. As she grew up she met some of the most progressive thinkers of her day.

The second was actually the first person who came into my head this morning when I started to think about the women who’d enriched my life.  I first met her I think in 1992. She had just been elected as chair of Women Liberal Democrats and I travelled from my then home in the East Midlands to Bath for their AGM. It was a really special day. Tobe Aleksander was there with her new book “The couple’s guide to living together”, Rachel Coleman was then a teenager and gave a highly fascinating talk about her trip to Russia to go to their space school. Then as now, Lindsay Northover put forward a reasonable, persuasive. compelling case for women’s equality, for the party to develop policies that considered the impact on women, for measures to improve our gender balance.She inspired me to stand for WLD Policy Committee through which I met some lifelong friends. If you can still remember a meeting among thousands 23 years later, it must have been a good one.

She’s still doing that job now. She was at the Equalities consultation session in York last year talking about how the fact that childcare was so high on the political agenda was directly attributable to the Labour women elected under All Woman Shortlists. She’s now Minister at the Department for International Development, prioritising increasing the rights of women in the poorest countries in the world. The other night, she gave a speech about extending LGBT equality worldwide which we reported here.

So, here are two of the women who have inspired me over the years. Add the women who have improved your life, challenged you and made you think in the comments.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • In the Liberals / Lib Dems Certainly Shirley Williams, Lesley Abdela, Nancy Seear (partly because she was a pioneer in the field of Personnel work, my professional field). In the modern Lib Dems Kirsty Williams is an inspiring leader.

    In the international field, Mary Robinson (former Irish President) was great. Benazir Bhutto, like so many in Pakistani politics, sacrificed her life for the building of a better country, and had to battle against many foes and vested interests. Graca Machel, married to two Southern African Presidents (Samora Machel, who brought Mozambique out of colonial dictatorship, and Nelson Mandela). She quietly inspired both in their life’s work.

  • Alex Sabine 8th Mar '15 - 11:44pm

    As regards women in politics, for different reasons (although they shared a fair few attributes), I admired Margaret Thatcher, Barbara Castle and Betty Boothroyd. I have met, and like, Shirley Williams more than I admire her as a politician, though I certainly agree with Caron that her boundless energy and enthusiasm are infectious. I know the interview you are referring to, Caron, and it is indeed cringe-making to watch today, but Shirley charmingly deflectd any awkwardness – I seem to remember her saying words to the effect of “I don’t mind at all” being complimented in that way. I think she knew that Robin Day was a good egg underneath the surface chauvinism.

    I don’t know all that much about Nancy Seer, but I fondly remember an amusing interview in which she browbeat a rather shocked John Smith over the various policy U-turns the Labour party had made in the late 1980s/early 1990s. He was completely floored by this unknown “Liberal peeress” as he called her – to which Nancy Seer immediately retorted that she was a peer, not a peeress.

    When I was responsible for inviting speakers to the Union at Durham university, I invited Ann Widdecombe to do a Q&A and she was an absolute star. I didn’t agree with much of what she said, but she was clearly 100% sincere and actually answered every question (on all manner of subjects which politicians wouldn’t usually allow themselves to be drawn on) very straightforwardly and thoughtfully. (Indeed, it proved almost impossible to get her to wind up!) Anyway, she was impressive.

    I find the Labour MPs Kate Hoey (something of a maverick) and Gisela Stuart (that rare species, a German eurosceptic – although not perhaps as rare as they used to be) to be principled and always worth listening to.

    I can’t say I admire Nicola Sturgeon exactly, but she is a very effective communicator and political operator, as the Westminster parties are finding out to their cost. From the little I’ve seen, I think Kirsty Williams has proved a good leader of the Welsh Lib Dems.

  • Alex Sabine 8th Mar '15 - 11:47pm

    Apologies, I mis-spelt Nancy Seear.

  • Ruth Bright 9th Mar '15 - 6:05am

    All the women who spoke out about Rennard.

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Mar '15 - 6:35am

    Vera Brittain.
    Rosie the Riveter.

  • Bill Le Breton 9th Mar '15 - 7:45am

    Annie Kenney … Do look her up on Wikipedia , I can’t seem to paste the link here using an iPad.

  • peter tyzack 9th Mar '15 - 8:18am

    Shirley Williams was first to my mind. Also inspirational are Kirsty Williams and Tessa Munt.. possible future Leadership contenders?

  • I am happy to echo Bill Le Breton’s suggestion of Annie Kenney.

    In case anyone could not find the link, here it is —


    She was a working class political activist who amongst many other things was imprisoned for heckling posh Liberal Grandees. The sort of person who nowadays would be told by Dr Michael Taylor to “stop moaning and whining”.

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Mar '15 - 9:30am

    Thank you Bill Le Breton and John Tilley for directing me to the information on Annie Kenney. An inspirational woman indeed.

    There have been so many inspirational women. In the 60’s there were the women taking part in the Singer Sewing Machine dispute. Then in the 70’s the women who took part in the Grunwick dispute.

    Really,for me , there are too many courageous women to mention who have done the heavy lifting for women today and deserve the title ‘inspirational’.

  • Helen Suzman – for many years one of the few rays of hope in South Africa.

  • Nick Tregoning 9th Mar '15 - 9:52am

    Aung San Suu Kyi.

  • Bill Le Breton 9th Mar '15 - 10:32am

    Jayne, I first came across Ms Kenney in the early Nineties … That is the nineteen nineties.

    I found she had written an autobiography and then found that there was only one copy left, and that was in the Galsgow Central Library. I took a photocopy just in case. Who knows, it may be one of only two copies in existence! I hope not.

    It was wonderful all these years later to see that she had a page on Wiki, with a photograph!!! And that someone had written something about her in 96.

  • Denis Loretto 9th Mar '15 - 3:04pm

    In terms of practical politics and sustained high level leadership – Angela Merkel.

  • Donna Summer

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Mar '15 - 8:41pm

    Sophie Scholl.

  • matt (Bristol) 11th Mar '15 - 10:48am

    I’ve had to think about this – but certainly a largely publicly unknown woman (whom I have only known tangentially and briefly in the past) who I would submit as incredibly inspirational is Dr Shirley Firth: http://swvg-refugees.org.uk/public/index.php/about-swvg/our-patrons

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