Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

International Women’s Day: The women making history in 2021 - so far

image of some of the world's influential women

International Women's Day is on 8 March. Image: REUTERS/David Gray RP2DSFHPKSAA

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Education, Gender and Work

  • International Women’s Day on 8 March is an opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements.
  • From politics to business, religion to sport, women in all spheres across the globe are already excelling this year.
  • Here are just a few of the women who have made history so far.

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

So said Kamala Harris in November, after being elected the first woman Vice President of the U.S.

This International Women’s Day (8 March), we’re celebrating the groundbreaking achievements of women across the planet - who are now paving the way for those little girls to follow in their footsteps.

Have you read?

JANUARY

Kamala Harris

image of Kamala Harris being sworn in at the inauguration of Joe Biden
Kamala Harris makes history by taking her oath. Image: REUTERS

When Harris laid her hand on the Bible on 20 January 2021, she made history on three counts: she was inaugurated as the first Black, first South Asian American and first woman Vice President. Before the pandemic, the lack of gender equality in politics meant political empowerment had a gender gap of 75% still to close: the greatest gap by far of the four sub-indices in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Report 2020.

a graph showing the state of the gender gap from The Gender Gap Report, 2020
Politics is where the biggest gender gap still persists. Image: Global Gender Gap Report 2020

Amanda Gorman

Kamala Harris wasn’t the only woman making history on Capitol Hill that day. The stage was shared with 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the first US National Youth Poet Laureate, who became the youngest poet to perform at a presidential inauguration. Gorman made history again in February, when she became the first poet to perform at the Super Bowl, reading her poem Chorus of the Captains. On 8 March, she will moderate an International Women’s Day Conversation between Hillary Clinton and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.

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Kaja Kallas

image of Estonia's new Prime Minister Kaja Kallas
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has pledged to tackle climate change. Image: REUTERS/Janis Laizans

Less than a week after Harris entered the history books, across the Atlantic, Kaja Kallas became Estonia’s first female Prime Minister. The country now has both a female Prime Minister and President.

FEBRUARY

Zara Mohammed

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On 1 February, Zara Mohammed became the first woman, and at 29, the youngest person to be elected as the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, the nation’s largest muslim representative body. She said she hoped it would encourage women to take on leadership roles: "I think women sometimes hesitate to take on leadership roles even though they are more than qualified to do so.”

Sarah Thomas

image of referee Sarah Thomas at the Super Bowl
Referee Sarah Thomas was just one of the groundbreaking women at the Super Bowl. Image: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The Super Bowl, on 7 February, enjoyed a slew of female firsts, with Amanda Gorman the first poet to perform, and Sarah Thomas becoming the first woman to officiate as referee, while Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant coaches Maral Javadifar and Lori Locust became the first female coaches to win a Super Bowl title. Thomas said: "I never set out, at all, to be the first in any of this, but knowing the impact I'm having on not just my daughter, but young girls, women everywhere - and young men and men too - is remarkable."

Whitney Wolfe Herd

image of Whitney Wolfe Herd, the youngest female founder to IPO a company
Whitney Wolfe Herd, the youngest female founder to IPO a company. Image: REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

When the Bumble Inc. CEO listed the social media and dating platform on 11 February, she was carrying her one-year-old son - and, at 31, became the youngest female founder to take a US company public. She told CNBC: “This should just serve as an example that anything is possible and I’m so excited to hand the baton on to the next woman who surpasses me as the youngest woman.”

Sister Nathalie Becquart

image of The Sailing Nun, Sister Nathalie Becquart pictured during a meeting held on Zoom.
The Sailing Nun, Sister Nathalie Becquart, during a Zoom call. Image: Reuters/handout

February 11 was also a significant day for progress on gender equality in the Roman Catholic church. Known as ‘The Sailing Nun’ for her love of seafaring and nautical imagery, French Sister Nathalie Becquart, became the first woman to be appointed by Pope Francis as an undersecretary to the Synod of Bishops. It means she will have voting rights at the assemblies, which many women have called for. “This is a very brave sign and a very prophetic choice by Pope Francis,” she told reporters. “I also hope this points to a concrete change.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

image of incoming World Trade Organization President (WTO) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
From World Bank to World Trade Organization. Image: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

On 15 February, the former minister of finance in Nigeria was unanimously chosen by the World Trade Organization’s 164 members to be its new director-general - making her the first woman and the first African ever to hold the post. Okonjo-Iweala takes over at a challenging time for the WTO.

Discover

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

Seiko Hashimoto

image of Japanese speed skater and Olympic medallist Seiko Hashimoto
From Olympic medallist to Tokyo 2020 president in three decades. Image: Kyodo/via REUTERS

Seiko Hashimoto, Japan’s former Olympics Minister, took charge of the next Olympic Games as Tokyo 2020 president after her predecessor, Yoshiro Mori, resigned following a comment that women 'talk too much'. Only five of the 24 members of the Japanese Olympic Committee are women. Hashimoto is a seven-time Olympian and won a bronze for speed skating in 1992 (pictured).

Jasmine Harrison

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When her oars touched the coast of Antigua on 20 February, after 70 days at sea, 21-year-old Jasmine Harrison became the youngest woman to row solo across the Atlantic.

Chloé Zhao

At the Golden Globe Awards on 28 February, Zhao became the first Asian woman and only the second-ever woman to win the prize for best director, for her film Nomadland. Barbra Streisand, the first woman to win the award, congratulated Beijing-born Zhao on Twitter, saying: "It's about time!"

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