International Women's Day 8th March 2018

  • 8th March 2018
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International Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements throughout history. At Challenging Learning we’re marking the occasion with a free lesson plan all around 'Women's Suffrage'. To request your free copy please CLICK HERE.

At Challenging learning we're proud that 69% of our fabulous team are female. We asked our whole team to tell us about which extraordinary female has inspired them in their lives. With so much choice it was difficult to narrow it down to just one person. Here's a selection:


Becca Spencer
CHRISTINE SPENCER: My inspirational woman would have to be my mum, Christine.

A woman who has always wanted the very best for me and since the day I was born has single-handedly raised me to be exactly who I want to be today.

Every day I am thankful to have been brought up by someone with such a huge zest for life, no matter what is thrown our way, and in doing so has become my very best friend. 

Throughout her career as a teacher she has shown nothing but passion and dedication in every aspect of her work, which I have always strongly admired.

If I grew up to be just like her I think that would be a job well done.


Deb Ions
EMILY DAVISON: Throughout school I the story of Emily Davison to be quite moving. Imagine my surprise when I found out as a teenager that I was related to her (Emily and my Great Grandmother were cousins).

Throughout her fight to get votes for women, she was arrested 9 times, went on hunger strike on 7 occasions and force fed 49 times - which was an extremely harrowing experience. And she kept on going until her death at the age of 40 and I think this is what I admire about her the most. She NEVER gave up.

Much controversy surrounds her death. I believe - and there is much evidence to support this - that she was trying to pin the colours onto the King's horse and in doing so raise awareness of the campaign. Ironically her death raised a much greater awareness of the campaign.

Many people think she was miserable, sad and troubled. But she wasn't. She was strong, brave, intelligent and hugely principled. Emily's story still plays a vital role in helping women today and demonstrates the power of self-efficacy and sheer determination.


Lisa Cook
KAKENY NTAIYA: I am inspired by Kakenya Ntaiya, from the Maasai village of Enoosaen in south Kenya. Her priorities are to educate girls beyond primary, to keep them free from FGM and child marriage.
Kakenya challenged the route which her family and village had expected her to take. First, she negotiated with her father: she would be circumcised only if she could also finish high school. He agreed. Then she negotiated with the village elders to do what no girl had ever done: leave her i village to go to college in the United States. She promised that she would use her education to benefit Enoosaen. The entire village collected money to pay for her journey.

Kakenya is now fulfilling her promise to her community. As the founder and president of Kakenya Center for Excellence, a girls' primary boarding school in Enoosaen, Kakenya believes that education will empower and motivate young girls to become agents of change in their community and country. In May 2009 they opened their doors they hoping for 30 girls, 150 girls turned up with their families committing to the ethos of the school.


Mark Bollom
MARK's MUM: When I was around 5 years old, my Dad decided his life was to be lived elsewhere. That left me living with my mum and my younger sister.

Mum did it all. She got herself a job teaching in the local school, bought us a house (in which I was so safely brought up), ran the home, ferried us around to clubs and events, dealt with the ups and downs of our growing up and was, in so many ways, my closest friend. She put much of her own life on hold to ensure that our growing-up experience was stable and secure.

She didn't specifically inspire me to take part in sport, to cook, to read, to play music or to have an interest in politics, although all these things were allowed to flourish. She did however inspire me to attempt to live my life rationally, within my means and with a compassion for others. Thanks Mum - I'm not sure I fully appreciated that at the time.


Marilyn Keenan
THOMASINE FERRY: I hail my grandma - whom I called 'Nana' or 'Nan' - the woman who impacted greatly on my life and certainly influenced and moulded who I am.

Nan hailed from the harsh reality of a 1930's mining family where at 39yrs of age she faced the loss of her husband and soulmate to the grimacing pit face! Grandad lost his life doing a favour - covering a workmate's shift! Nan picked herself up and carried on the life she and grandad had begun together, bringing up two young daughters aged 10yrs and 14yrs of age. Nan didn't just want to survive though, she wanted to grow and thrive - she wanted to invest the so called 'compensation' into buying a business which would not only support her family but would set them up for life. Great ambition! Great determination! However, such foresight in a woman was not to be encouraged during that era and she was told she could not 'squander' the money but had to receive a weekly income. The knock-on effect of this was that her eldest daughter (my mum) was forced to leave school to earn an additional income rather than continue her education which was progressing so promisingly!

Despite the setbacks, Nan not only had her pride she had a positive drive to focus on helping her family flourish. She was an organiser who created a local 'rest room' where friendship groups went on outings; played beetle drive; bingo; read books and socialised on a regular basis. Everyone knew where to find her and the rest room became one of my favourite havens where I was greeted with love, affection and great esteem by my Nan. She encouraged my ambition to become a teacher and celebrated my leap over each hurdle and accomplishment as I travelled the road towards meeting my goal. I'd swapped her dreadful experience of the mining pit for the 'Learning Pit.'

I have the great fortune of knowing my Nan lived to witness me qualifying as a teacher and sharing my excitement at securing my first teaching role. Nan loved and embraced life with all her soul. Her glass was always half full - never half empty! CHEERS NAN!!


Elaine Davies
MICHELLE OBAMA: I remember watching Barack Obama being sworn in, thinking 'I'm watching history - I've lived to see the first African American President of the United States'. But, I was also watching Michelle Obama, whose ancestors had been slaves, become the first African American First Lady in U.S. history - all while the odds were firmly stacked against her and her husband.

This in its self is inspirational, but then I heard her speaking eloquently and thought this woman is intelligent. Michelle Obama came from a working-class back ground, she was not brought up with wealth and privilege but managed to graduate from Princeton and Harvard Universities to become a lawyer - WOW! An inspiration to all - no matter what your background, race or gender you can make it.

During her time as First Lady of the United States she demonstrated a capacity to motivate, inspire and call others to action. Her commitment and belief in her causes comes across whilst making uplifting speeches, championing courage and self-esteem for women. Supporting women, especially with their education, is a cause she is passionate about.
Michelle Obama inspires me as her key message is to give back to others, less fortunate than ourselves, so they can succeed. She is a self-confident woman with integrity, humility, empathy, compassion and grace.

"There is no limit to what we as women can accomplish." Michelle Obama


Lisa Barrett
JANE BARRETT: My inspirational woman would have to be my mum, Jane Barrett. She raised me to be the person I am today and has overcome many struggles in her life from a tough upbringing herself, to beating cancer 25 years ago and losing both her parents while she was still fairly young herself.

She is strong physically and in mind and is the person I look up to more than anyone.

Through her own struggles she has never let it bring her down and has continued to be a fantastic and supportive mother and grandmother and never fails to express her pride in her children. She will always inspire me and makes me want to succeed in life just to make her proud of me.


Richard Kielty
ANNE FRANK: The female that inspired me from a young age sadly never lived long enough to become a woman.

Anne Frank was born in Germany in 1929 and her work, The Diary of Anne Frank, has gone on to be read by millions. Fleeing Nazi persecution of Jews, the family moved to Amsterdam and later went into hiding for two years. During this time, Anne wrote about her experiences and wishes. She was 15 when the family was found and sent to concentration camps, where she died, along with more than one million other Jewish children in the Holocaust.

She received the diary as a gift for her 13th birthday and began writing to an imaginary friend named Kitty.

During the two years Anne spent hiding from the Nazis with her family in a Secret Annex in their house in Amsterdam, she wrote extensive daily entries in her diary to pass the time. Some betrayed the depth of despair into which she occasionally sunk during day after day of confinement. "I've reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die," she wrote on February 3, 1944. "The world will keep on turning without me, and I can't do anything to change events anyway."

Anne's diary endures, not only because of the remarkable events she described, but due to her extraordinary gifts as a storyteller.

I first read Anne's diary as a teenager and this was my first encounter with the horrors of the Holocaust. Her work inspired me to learn more about the atrocities of this time and led me to write a dissertation for my degree on the subject.

Her writing has inspired millions to work towards a society free from prejudice and discrimination. She has shown how the young can inspire, lead and be a force for remarkable change.


Lesley Roberts
HOLLY WILLOUGHBY: Although not an obvious choice, I think she is inspirational in lots of ways. She is hard working, ambitious, loyal, family-orientated while also being glamourous, funny and humble.
She appears to be pretty close to 'having it all' - and whilst I am sure she is not, and has as many (ok not so many as most) 'off days' she raises her children without a nanny, presumably gets up pretty early to go to work while putting in long hours, enjoys a laugh and a party when she can while still managing to cook lush family Sunday suppers and protecting her children from the limelight.


Laura Taylor
MAYA ANGELOU: Recognised the world over thanks to her series of revealing autobiographies, most notably I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya's upbringing in the American South was intercepted by abuse, racism and a period of mutism. Despite the trauma of her childhood, Maya continuously eclipsed the boundaries set for black women and achieved many a 'first' in her time: Hollywood's first black woman director, San Francisco's first black streetcar conductor, first black woman to write a major film, first African American and woman to recite her own work at a presidential inauguration.

These achievements elevated her status to that of inspiration to many, which continues beyond her death. I leave you with some of her most rousing poetry:

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.