Blog post

Celebrating Women's History Month

We embrace Women's History Month as an opportunity to inspire, educate, and advocate for a more inclusive and equitable future.

By Women and Allies Network - 1 March 2024

Women’s History Month (WHM) is a time to recognise and celebrate women’s contributions to history and modern-day society. It originates from a 1978 Women’s History Week celebration in Santa Rosa, California, that gathered momentum over time. By 1987, March was officially declared Women’s History Month in the United States, and it has since spread globally.

WHM also coincides with International Women’s Day, which takes place on 8 March. International Women’s Day has its roots in the early 20th century from numerous efforts to promote women’s rights as part of the suffrage movement. Notably, on 8 March in 1917, women’s protests in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) against food shortages, poor living conditions, and World War I helped to spark the 1917 Russian Revolution. Today, International Women’s Day is still an important occasion for promoting women’s rights and championing gender equality and equity.

In celebration of WHM, I want to talk about a woman who inspires me. I came across Aemilia Lanyer (1569 – 1645), when writing my dissertation for my undergraduate English degree. Lanyer was England’s first female poet to seek status as a professional writer, at a time when it was seen as improper for women to participate in the public sphere.

She also challenged patriarchal society and made arguments about equality for women in her writing. Her work was seen as radical at the time, but her early feminist perspective shows us that women have been fighting for their rights and railing against societal conventions for much longer than we might think.

Hannah Gibson (HR Operations Assistant)

We asked other members of the network about women who inspired them and these are some of the responses: 

Suzanne Ap-Thomas (Joint Honours Business Lead): "My Nana (or Grana as the great grandkids called her - Great Nana was too much of a mouthful!), Joan Ap-Thomas. She was born and raised in South America, travelling backwards and forwards by boarding the Royal Mail Ship to come to England to her boarding school. She was a very intelligent woman, completing the Times Crossword each day to keep her mind active well into her 90s.

She took responsibility for raising her four children and channelled her energy and intelligence into volunteering; running the local Guide group and working in the Cancer Research charity shop, a good 30 minute walk each way, well into her 70s, to name just two. She was unwavering in putting others first; she'd help the "little old ladies" (often 20 years her junior!) and supported a young mother who had moved in down the street who spoke Spanish as her first language (which Nana spoke fluently due to her childhood in South America), baking cakes with her and her children, whilst speaking Spanish to her so she wouldn't feel so homesick.

She didn't do 'wow' things, she constantly and consistently performed everyday acts of kindness. She had a cheeky sense of humour and always put others first. Although she died in 2014, she continues to inspire me and I often think about how she would have approached a particular situation based on her principles of seeing the best in everyone, seeing each person as beautifully unique, and being charitable.

Kate Haresnape (Web and Digital Content Officer): Courtney Love from the band Hole inspires me. She is, of course, mostly known for her marriage to Kurt Cobain and her musical career has been somewhat sidelined due to this. She never really fitted into the achingly cool, alternative music scene she was part of and often faced derision from her peers and the media who thought she was too loud, too proud, just too much. Regardless of these pressures, she never became "less" to make herself more acceptable. As a result, she has won legions of fans who adore her today and has created her own rock-star legend that extends far beyond the roles traditionally deemed suitable for women. 

Laura Buckley (Communications and Content Officer): I’m inspired by Jessica Heagren, the founder of Careers After Babies. She is leading the movement to create a world-class cohort of employers of working parents. She published a report in 2023 which showed how the world of work isn’t set up to cater to working mums, and how the impact of this is being seen in the loss of women in senior roles and some women being forced to leave the workplace altogether, not to mention the continuing gender pay gap. Her work is inspirational to me as she is giving mothers a voice and pushing for change.

Ameilia Bevans (Student Engagement Officer): A young actress who inspires me is Yasmin Finney, in a time where areas of the media are attacking trans women at every turn, she is unashamed to be who she is, loud and proud about being a trans woman (and I love Doctor Who!)

Ruth Richardson (Associate Lecturer in Social and Community Studies): I am inspired by many women but one of the first names that comes to mind is Vanessa Boon. Vanessa is doing her MA at the University of Derby. They are also the Chair of International Women's Day (IWD) in Derby. Vanessa has worked tirelessly for years to support IWD in Derby. As a consequence, she has sometimes faced attacks directed at her both personally and professionally but somehow remains steadfast in her commitment to women's rights and to supporting the endeavours of IWD. Furthermore, she does all this, as a volunteer!

Find out more about Women's History Month at Derby

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Women and Allies Network
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We are a forum for networking, peer support, sharing ideas and articles of interest, forging scholarly connections and collaborations, organising formal and social events, and positively influencing policy and practice on gender equality at Derby.