International Women’s Day, held annually on 8 March, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. International Women’s Day is celebrated across Australia by organisations, universities and individuals.
International Women’s Day 2021 is poised to be especially powerful. From the recent election of the United States’ first female vice president, Kamala Harris, to Grace Tame being named Australian of the Year for 2021, the outstanding achievements of women are taking centre stage – including those of remarkable Australian women.
If you’re keen to learn more, look no further. We’ve compiled some of the most fascinating stories from some of the most inspiring Australian women. From women’s rights activists in Australian history to famous Australian migrant women, you can read their incredible stories below.
Anyone who follows tennis would have seen Ash Barty’s meteoric rise to the top of the game. Originally from Ipswich, Queensland, this 23-year-old is now world number one, making her the second Australian woman to hold the title. Barty is also the National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador for Tennis Australia and works to promote Indigenous participation in the sport. She was honoured as Young Australian of the Year in 2020.
Tennis aficionados supported her decision to take a two-year hiatus from the game when things got slow on the court. Since then, she has returned stronger than ever. A firm believer in the power of enjoying what you do, Barty has found her balance in dedicating herself to her sport while still spending time with her family.
Odds are, if you’ve taken a graphic design course or created a thumbnail for social media, you’ve used Canva. But did you know that the wildly successful platform was actually co-founded by an Australian woman? Entrepreneur and CEO Melanie Perkins launched the Canva journey back in 2007 as a University of Western Australia student. Now, she is recognised as Australia’s third-richest woman and one of the youngest female CEOs of a tech start-up valued at over $1 billion.
However, few people know about Melanie and Canva’s humble beginnings. In fact, the empire was born in her mother’s Perth loungeroom, which she turned into her office to develop and grow the business. A problem-solver by nature, Melanie founded Canva with the goal of making design simple for all. Today, her software has more than 20 million people from more than 190 countries using it – largely for free.
Hon Julia Gillard AC
Without a doubt, one of the most iconic and inspiring Australian women in history is Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister. Serving from 2010 to 2013, Julia was the 27th Prime Minister of Australia, delivering nation-changing policies throughout her term.
Prior to her political career, she studied arts and law at The University of Adelaide. Upon graduating, she began working as a solicitor in Melbourne before eventually joining politics and making history in the sector. She now serves as Chair of Beyond Blue, one of Australia’s most prominent mental health awareness organisations.
In 2019, CEO of Macquarie Group, Shemara Wikramanayake, was named Australia’s highest-paid CEO with a salary of $18 million. But her list of impressive accolades doesn’t end there: she was also listed on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International list for her outstanding achievements.
After joining the company in 1987, Shemara worked in 15 different roles in six countries before becoming the first Asian-Australian woman to head an ASX 200-listed company. As a member of the UN’s Climate Finance Leadership Initiative, her focus areas include climate-resilient investments and green technology investment. She has led efforts that have resulted in raising $1 billion for investment in renewables.
As the CEO at Macquarie, she’s also made huge strides for women in the workplace, enhancing flexible work arrangements and easing childcare costs.
Joining our list of inspiring Australian women is co-CEO of MECCA Brands, Jo Horgan, who founded the brand in 1997. Through her work, Jo has redefined the Australian beauty landscape, fostering an environment of innovation and excellence for her customers. With over 98 stores throughout Australia and New Zealand, Mecca Brands is one of the most well-recognised beauty enterprises in Oceania. Not to mention, the company has ranked in the BRW Best Places to Work Top 5 for the past four years in a row.
When asked about her business plan, she responded simply yet strongly: “I had an idea and was pretty bloody-minded about pursuing it.”
Poh Ling Yeow
Among the most famous Australian migrant women is Poh Ling Yeow, a Malaysian-born Australian cook, artist, actress, author and television presenter who immigrated to Australia when she was just nine years old. One of her most notable achievements is placing as the runner-up for the first series of MasterChef Australia, which attracted over 7,000 applicants.
Since then, you’ve likely seen more of Poh on your television screen, as she has returned to the series as a mentor and even signed with ABC for her own cooking series titled Poh’s Kitchen.
Got a $50 banknote? Take a look at the woman on the back – that’s Edith Cowan, the first female member of the Australian Parliament and one of the most renowned women’s rights activists in Australian history.
Edith used her term in Parliament to promote migrant welfare, infant health centres and women’s rights. Her key achievement was the introduction of the Women’s Legal Status Act in 1923, which aimed to open professional pathways to women that were previously reserved for men, such as practising law.