LIFE AND ADVICE

8 influential women and how they’re spearheading important change

Here are their stories.
Loading the player...

Over the years, we’ve seen some incredible women champion social, political and cultural movements on a global scale; from Grace Tame’s #LetHerSpeak campaign, to Malala Yousafzai’s fight for girls’ right to an education.

WATCH: Grace Tame & Brittany Higgins Address Gendered Violence

In honour of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on 8th March, we have shared the stories of some of the most influential women who have broken boundaries with their advocacy, and continue to spread their message to create impactful change.  

grace-tame
Grace Tame. (Credit: Getty)

Grace Tame 

She was just 15 years old when Grace Tame was groomed and sexually assaulted by her 58-year-old maths teacher, Nicolaas Bester. When she was 16, the high-school student reported him to the police.  

Six years later, the 2021 Australian of the Year began the #LetHerSpeak campaign which aimed to change the law in Tasmania which forbade victims of sexual assault to share their personal stories.  

“I got in touch with a journalist, Nina Funnell, and we started working on a series of stories, and as we were about to share those, we encountered Section 194K of the Evidence Act [which prevented the victims of sexual assault from publicly telling their stories in the Northern Territory and Tasmania]. That’s when we started the #LetHerSpeak campaign,” Grace told The Australian Women’s Weekly

After 10 years of forced silence, the campaign won a court order which allowed Grace to self-identify as a rape survivor.  

“To have my truth back meant regaining my sense of self,” Grace said, according to Australia Post. “I’m now driven to protect and serve others. I want to take away the shame that sits at the feet of survivors and return it to the predatory behaviour where it belongs.” 

At age 26, Grace won the coveted Australian of the Year award where she committed to continue using her voice to elicit change.  

“I don’t have a limit. I don’t have an off button,” Grace told AWW. “Besides continuing the conversation, I want to see more education initiatives that shed light on the issue of child grooming. 

“That is really key, especially at the primary and early high school level – going straight to where the lessons need to be learned. 

“Another goal is to make headway on federal legislation, and to work towards a standardised definition of sexual assault and naming offences. At the moment you’ve got eight jurisdictions with eight definitions of consent; inconsistency breeds ambiguity.” 

malala-yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai. (Credit: Getty)

Malala Yousafzai  

Malala Yousafzai has always loved school. In her birthplace of Mingora, Pakistan, she attended an all-girls school ran by her father, who was a teacher.  

But in 2008, when Malala was just 11 years old, the Taliban took control of her town in Swat Valley in Pakistan; the extremists declared that girls could no longer go to school. 

Four years later, the activist spoke out publicly about girls having the right to learn. Then, on her way home from school, a masked gunman boarded her school bus, asked: “Who is Malala?”, before shooting the school student in the side of the head. 

Malala woke up 10 days later in a hospital in Birmingham, England. It took months of surgeries before the teenager was able to join her family in their new U.K. home. 

Determined as ever to continue campaigning for the right of girls to receive an education, Malala and her father established Malala Fund – “a charity dedicated to giving every girl an opportunity to achieve a future she chooses”.  

That same year, Malala received a Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the youngest-ever Novel laureate. 

Since then, Malala has graduated from Oxford University after studying philosophy, politics and economics. She continues to campaign for girls to receive free, safe, and quality education, travelling around countries to hear and share different stories and battle gender discrimination. 

“I know the power that a young girl carries in her heart when she has a vision and a mission,” Malala told Vogue

The activist has become an incredible inspiration to those that have come after her, including climate change activist Greta Thunberg and gun control campaigner Emma González (both of whom are on this list), who even text her for advice. 

“With more than 130 million girls out of school today, there is more work to be done,” Malala writes on her website. “I hope you will join my fight for education and equality. Together, we can create a world where all girls can learn and lead.”  

greta-thunberg
Greta Thunberg. (Credit: Getty)

Greta Thunberg  

After a then-15-year-old Greta Thunberg stood outside the Swedish parliament holding a sign that read: “School Strike for Climate” to pressure the government to meet carbon emissions targets, a global phenomenon ensued.  

Thousands of young people across the world followed Greta’s lead and organised their own strikes, skipping school to protest. 

A year later, the teenager received the first of three Nobel Peace Prize nominations for her activism, and was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019.  

While attending a UN climate conference in New York, Greta delivered a chilling speech to our world leaders. “You all come to us young people for hope. How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she said. 

As she’s continued to campaign for the government to respond to climate change, Greta has fostered a previously non-existent faith in her fellow young people to make a practical difference.  

“I didn’t think young people cared about climate because all the young people I knew were like, ‘Oh yeah, the climate is important, but I don’t want to do anything about it.’” the activist told The Guardian

“But it turned out many young people around the world actually care. A lot! And they are very ready to do something about it. I’m very glad I was proven wrong.” 

brittany-higgins
Brittany Higgins. (Credit: Getty)

Brittany Higgins 

Brittany Higgins had only been working for then-Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds for a few weeks when she alleged she was raped by a male colleague inside Linda’s ministerial office.  

Brittany claims she told superiors, including Linda’s then chief of staff Fiona Brown, about what had happened at the time.  

“On the Tuesday [26 March 2019] … my former chief of staff came in,” Brittany told The Guardian. “She wasn’t normally Canberra-based and she came into the office that day. I think she stated that she wanted to speak to [my colleague] and I – and it was in front of other people. 

“It was a strange white noise thing where I hadn’t processed it yet. In that meeting they asked me to recount the events of that night. I was very candid. I thought I was going to lose my job. I was extremely honest about what had happened.

“That was the first time when I said it out loud, that I full internalised the (alleged) rape – that I fully understood what had happened.”

Prior to working for Linda, Fiona had been working for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and went back to working for Scott after the 2019 election.  

But Morrison claimed he only learned about the allegation when Brittany publicly shared her story in February 2021. Her alleged rapist has since been charged and plead not guilty. He is set for trial in June 2022.  

That same month, the PM announced a review into workplace culture in Parliament House… but only after speaking with his wife, Jenny.  

“Jenny and I spoke last night, and she said to me, ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?’ – Jenny has a way of clarifying things, always has.” 

The review was conducted by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and found that a despicable one in three staff working across parliamentary offices had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. 

Brittany’s story sparked a mass movement around Australia. In March 2021, Womens Marches (March4Justice) against gendered and sexual violence in government and society were carried out across the country. 

There is even a March4Justice2 happening this month. Get all the details here.  

hunter-schafer
Hunter Schafer. (Credit: Getty)

Hunter Schafer  

You know her as Jules from HBO drama Euphoria, but trans woman Hunter Schafer is also making waves off screen. 

While pursuing her passion for art, writing, fashion, modelling and acting, Hunter was also the youngest plaintiff in the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal’s lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s House Bill 2 (which is also known as the “bathroom bill”). 

This bill required people to use the public restroom that aligned with the sex they were assigned at birth.  

When joining the bill, Hunter wrote in Teen Vogue that her goal was to “represent other transgender youth in North Carolina who are as hurt as (she was), and to raise awareness and acceptance for transgender individuals”.  

This form of representation has continued throughout Hunter’s career, as she provides a space for fellow transgender people to see themselves materialised on screen. 

“I’ve received quite a few messages from trans people who are excited about the representation on the show,” she told Marie Claire in 2019referring to her role in Euphoria. 

The HBO drama also has a trans consultant, Scott Turner Schofield, to ensure they handle Jules’ storyline appropriately. 

“I’m always very quick to say, ‘you can’t just find any trans person and think they’re going to tell a good trans story’, because we are all completely overwhelmed by mainstream culture and the tripes (about trans people) it tells us – even trans people,” Scott told Polygon.

“But the difference with Hunter is that she was already an activist. She’s a very articulate trans woman and she already understands these things. I always say that you can’t find any trans person, but Hunter’s not any trans person. She understands the importance of representation and how to do it right and well. Their powers combined make my job really easy in that regard.”

emma-gonzalez
Emma González. (Credit: Getty)

Emma González 

On Valentine’s Day 2018, a mass shooter entered Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and killed 17 people. 

Following the shooting, survivor Emma González started campaigning publicly for gun control. She started the political action committee Never Again MSD, as well as organising the March for Our Lives protest in Washington D.C. 

It was during this protest that Emma took to the stage to give a powerful speech. The student fell silent for an extended period of time, before saying: “Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting, and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape, and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.” 

Now a college student, Emma has spent the past years championing political causes. When asked if she was hopeful about the future of the country, the activist explained that she has faith in the possibility of change, as long as people are willing to put in the work. 

“I’ve met so many people who are ready to engage in our political system, and these are exactly the people we need to engage,” she told Variety

“People who are devoted to the concept of keeping people safe, focusing on the rights of people who need to be kept in mind, who need to be kept alive. People who are looking out for each other, not just themselves. People who are sacrificing a lot because they feel like it’s their job. Because not enough people do that anymore. 

“A lot of people have folded up within themselves, ignoring responsibilities because they don’t want to take on the task of fixing the country that has been broken for so long.” 

jessica-emily-quinn
Jessica Emily Quinn. (Credit: Instagram)

Jessica Emily Quinn 

At just nine years old, New Zealand born Jessica Emily Quinn broke her femur while playing in the backyard with her sister. When the leg didn’t heal, medical professionals discovered there was a tumour in her femur, which had caused the break. 

The cancer was far along with a high risk of it having already spread. When chemo didn’t shrink the cancer, the decision was made to amputate.  

“My surgery options were quite limited,” Jessica told Stuff. “A full disarticulation would have seen my leg gone from as high up my hip socket as possible. Getting a prosthetic in that situation’s really difficult, because you don’t have a lot to attach it to. A lot of people in that situation end up in a wheelchair. The other option was a really rare surgery called a rotationplasty. I was, I think, the first successful one in New Zealand.” 

Following the surgery, Jess spent a large amount of time in the ICU, with her immune system dangerously low over Christmas in 2001. 

“From there, I don’t remember a lot. Things just started to improve. From what we could see, the cancer had gone. I had my last day of chemo – that’s always a big party at the hospital – and went home and progressed back into life. That’s how I see it but I’m sure it was probably a bit less seamless than I make it sound.” 

Jess has said she was “super excited” to get her first prosthetic. But it was a hard transition for a child. She was on crutches for a few years as she learned how to walk again, experiencing constant blistering in the process. 

The now-influencer later got a blade, which came with less excitement for her as it had “no chance of looking like a leg”. But while originally concerned she’d be self-conscious of any unwanted attention, the experience turned out to be freeing as she was no longer hiding anything.  

As she grew up, Jess harboured frustrations at the ableism evident in the modelling industry, as well as all the PhotoShopping and airbrushing that accompany shoots.  

So irritated was Jess that she completed her own photoshoot with her friends which she shared to her personal Instagram, gaining around 10,000 followers overnight. 

“A concern I had when I did that photo shoot and wanted to get some work out there was, I didn’t want to be put in the category of being a disabled model. I love that movement, I think it’s really cool, but I wanted to appeal to anyone who’s got an insecurity,” Jess said. 

“It’s a huge topic at the moment: empowerment and diversity and body image and all that kind of stuff. I did that at a kind of pivotal moment. I was part of a conversation that was already happening.”  

These days, the New Zealender is a fashion school graduate, social media influencer, blogger and brand ambassador.  

She spends her days championing body diversity and inclusivity, inspiring self-acceptance amongst her followers in the process. 

“I want to find as many ways as possible to share my message and keep telling my story in the hopes I can help someone else overcome whatever they’re going through.”

meissa-mason
Meissa Mason. (Credit: Instagram)

Meissa Mason 

If you have TikTok, there’s little doubt you would have come across Meissa Mason on your FYP. 

She is a Wiradjuri, Gomerio and Awabakal woman who posts anything from her iconic makeup looks, to educating users on Aboriginal experiences, to promoting Blak businesses, and more. 

“Becoming a content creator wasn’t something I planned, it is something that I have slowly fallen into and recently been navigating,” Meissa wrote on Instagram in November 2021. 

Her first video was a Beetlejuice cosplay. “Not long after that I discovered a couple of mob creators online making educational comedy skits and just being deadly, and it sort of empowered me to make more personal videos,” she wrote.  

Oh! And in between all of this, Meissa is also a part-time student, studying a double degree of a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Arts – majoring in Indigenous Studies and minoring in Visual arts.   

In an interview for MTV, Meissa explained she is “seriously passionate about creating representation spaces for our mob to excel, and encouraging healing among mob”. 

“This is imperative for us,” the TikToker emphasised.  

As well as TikTok, the beauty influencer also uses her Instagram to share knowledge about First Nations Australians: from tips around being a good ally on Invasion Day, to information about rallies to attend, to promoting Indigenous brands, and more.   

Hey girl! Want more fashion, beauty, health and pop culture news from Girlfriend?

Follow us on Instagram @girlfriendmag & turn ON our post notifications in the top right-hand corner of our IG profile so you never miss a post

Sign up to our weekly newsletter

Remember to add our homepage to your favourites https://www.girlfriend.com.au/

& click here for our newsletter link for all your GF updates!

Related stories