Phenomenal Women – Iman

Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid or Iman as she is better known is a world-renowned supermodel and entrepreneur.  Born in Somalia to a relatively wealthy family.  Well educated, Iman decided to attend University to study political science, and it is while she was there that she was discovered and embarked on her modeling career.  Her striking features soon elevated her to the title of supermodel.

After 14 years as a model, Iman decided to create her own brand of cosmetics focusing on shades and tones appropriate for darker skin which in those days were more challenging to find.  Exploiting a gap in the market, she is now a successful businesswoman.

Also known for her marriage to David Bowie, Iman is a devoted mother and also pursues philanthropic activities including ambassadorships and award wins.  When David Bowie died in 2016, she paid tribute to him saying

“the struggle is real, but so is God.”

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Phenomenal Women – Coretta Scott-King

Most well known for being the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, Scott-King was always an activist and a civil rights campaigner, but the spotlight shifted to her talents and achievements after the tragic death of her husband.  Not only did she become a widow and single mother to four children but she also picked up the mantle to fight racial segregation and oppression that her husband had left.

Some of her notable achievements included founding the King Center, campaigning successfully to have a day of commemoration for her husband as a public US holiday and finally winning the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2004.

Up until her sad passing in 2006, she remained a vocal advocate for change and lent her voice to many campaigns including anti-apartheid demonstrations and LGBT+ campaigns.  Her speeches were almost as legendary as her husbands, and one of our favourite quotes by her is:

“Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.”

Phenomenal Women – Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

I am sure that you have all heard of Nelson Mandela, but there is not as much information about his first wife, Winnie Mandela.  Winnie Mandela was a fierce woman who stood beside her husband as he fought against apartheid in South Africa.  Not only was she a passionate activist but she also held political office and headed the African National Congress Women’s League.

Born in South Africa to parents who were disappointed that she was a girl Winnie spent her young years as a tomboy as a way to belatedly fulfill their wishes.  Unsurprisingly it wasn’t long before she had her first experience of injustice within the racially oppressive Apartheid system and this early interaction with hate would set the wheels in motion for her future battles against injustice.

A little-known fact is that Winnie also experienced prison life in South Africa after being arrested for her role in a protest against the discriminatory South African laws.  Sadly the strain of extended separation and increasingly divergent political views split the Mandelas apart in 1996, but Winnie Mandela remains a real heroine for Justice in her own right.

Phenomenal Women – Indra Nooyi

Our latest profile is of another formidable businesswoman.  Indra Nooyi is the Chief Executive of PepsiCo.  A worldwide brand and household name, PepsiCo is globally one of the biggest FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) companies and at its helm is a woman.  A passionate speaker and innovative leader she is trying to push boundaries for the company while retaining its impressive reputation and market share.

Born in India where opportunities for women to be business leaders is limited Indra was always a high achiever, focusing on the sciences in her early education then moving on to business and management.  Most notable for us at WokHQ was an article that was an interview that she did with Huffington post talking about the need for women to work together and help each other more.  She recounts an example to help make her point:

“Many times we’re in a presentation and the guy is giving a presentation, not going so well, so we call a break.  They go to the men’s room. “Hey Bill, that was awful, your presentation.  Fix it, man.  Don’t gesture so much”. Little fist bump, they come back, and Bill’s doing fine.”

Woman does a terrible job and you walk into the women’s room and you go, ‘you know Mary, that was terrible, what were you doing?’ ‘God she’s so bitchy’. No! I’m trying to give you constructive feedback. So what we do is, we assume feedback from women mean something is wrong, if the same feedback came from men, we’d accept it. Or worse still, we don’t give the feedback the way we should.

Even though we know they’re not doing well because we go, ‘good she’s struggling, I can take that position’. I think we have to change our whole approach to supporting each other, taking advice from each other, seeking it out. One thing I feel very badly about is all my mentors in my life have been male. But then I sit back and say maybe I came into the work force at a different time. Let’s figure out how we can help each other way more than we are today.”

Phenomenal Women – Mellody Hobson

Everyone at WoK HQ was excited to share this profile because we know that depending on the industry you work in you may have missed her.  Mellody Hobson is a formidable American businesswoman.  Her accomplishments include being the President of a large investment company  (Ariel Investments)as well as being Chair of the Board of the DreamWorks Animation company.  Just one of these jobs would be enough for one person, but the Mellody takes them both in her stride.

Her story is all the more important and poignant because she joined Ariel as an intern proving that it is possible to learn and rise through the ranks.  She also serves on various boards and gives her time to raise awareness about the issues that are important to her in a range of ways including fronting a television show about money management in 2009.

The final thing we will say about Mellody, because it is interesting, but by no means, an achievement or an accolade, is that she is also Mrs. George Lucas!

Phenomenal Women – Janet Jagan

Irrespective of your political persuasion, no series looking at notable women especially Guyanese women would be complete without mentioning Janet Jagan.  Janet Jagan was the first female president of Guyana which is no easy feat considering that it is an extremely patriarchal society.  It is so patriarchal that she was only able to take the role of President after her husband’s death in 1997.

An avid activist and women’s rights organiser, Janet was dedicated to progressing equal rights for women and founded the Women’s Political and Economic Organisation in 1946.  Born in Chicago to Jewish immigrant parents her dedication to Guyana was even more remarkable because it was her adopted home after her marriage to her Guyanese husband.

In yet another tribute to her adopted homeland, Janet was one of the early and staunch objectors to the British rule in Guyana and along with her husband and many others she actively fought for independence and was subject to house arrest and jail by the British government in their efforts to undermine the challenge to colonialism.

A heroine to some and a bitter political foe to others she received polarised opinions in Guyana, but ultimately she still stands as an example fo what a tenacious woman prepared to challenge stereotypes can achieve.

Phenomenal Women – Rita Williams & Ramona Nedd

Today it is Mother’s Day in the UK, and it is also the 17th anniversary of the passing of my grandmother.  I only ever had one grandmother, so it was heartwrenching when she passed.  Her story is one of strength and resilience she was a domestic for rich plantation owners in Guyana and was descended from the indentured East Indian labourers who were duped into moving to Guyana after the abolition of slavery.  A single mother to 6 children she made immense sacrifices for the good of her family including sending my mom and her sister’s to live in a Catholic orphanage giving them the opportunity to have a good education and raise their aspirations.

My mother obviously got her work ethic from her mom, and she took the opportunities given to her through being placed in the Orphanage a focused student and avid athlete she balanced school work with netball, swimming, and cycling.  As soon as she could start working she sacrificed higher education to begin working to support her younger siblings and to enable her mother to stop working in other people’s houses.

So today I wanted to honour both these women who set the blueprint for the other women in our family, as one of my favourite quotes says,

“Here’s to all the strong women, may we know them, may we be them and may we raise them!”