Our iconic women

Today is International Women’s Day and, in honour of the occasion, Women in Public Life this year launched a campaign challenging islanders to nominate iconic women to ‘fill in the Guernsey map’. Amanda Eulenkamp asked four of the campaign members who they’d nominated and why, and what living in Guernsey means to them...

The Campaign

THE aim of the campaign, launched by Women in Public Life, was to fill an online map of Guernsey with flags from around the world, with each flag representing an iconic woman, nominated by a Guernsey resident who was born in that country or island.

Nominations were welcome for any women who are celebrated for what they have achieved – primarily in politics or public life, but it could be in other areas such as the sciences, arts or sport.

It could be a woman who is alive today or from any period in history

Women in Public Life committee member Linda Rolf said: ‘Our ultimate objective is to inspire and support a diverse and representative range of women to stand for public office in Guernsey because we know that balanced teams make better decisions.

‘More than one in three people who live in Guernsey were born outside the island. Most of them are UK-born but a third – 11% of the total population – were born elsewhere.

‘You don’t have to be a Jacinda Ardern. There are so many ways in which you can contribute to public life in Guernsey – as a tribunal member, for example.’

Cathy Wanyoike, originally from Kenya, nominated Wangari Maathai

I’ve nominated Wangari Maathai, who has inspired me in so many ways. She attended school in Kenya during the oppression, then received a scholarship to study in the US. She became the first female to achieve a PhD in East Africa and was the first female professor in the University of Nairobi. She didn’t just achieve, she was able to go out and influence other women to come out and demonstrate, she suffered herself but fought on to achieve so much.

(29295248) Cathy Wanyoike

She was the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace. Between 1901 and 2018, only 52 Nobel Prize awards were given to women, while 852 Nobel Prize awards have been given to men. Through her significant efforts, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to win the prize.

MAY 26, 2005 - BERLIN: Nobem Prize laureate Wangari Maathai of Kenia befor a discussion panel in the Marie-Elisabeth-Lueders-Haus, Berlin. (29295401)

I started getting interested in this whole campaign because I didn’t know much about Guernsey when I moved here – I felt out of tune with people. I thought that the information isn’t going to come to me, I’ve got to go out and find it. I had no clue what a douzenier or a constable was – I didn’t know who to vote for in the last election and there were 119 to pick from.

Reaching out to Women in Public Life helped me gain an understanding of how the island works.

When they mentioned International Women’s Day, I was delighted to celebrate women around the world. It’s not mentioned much, but we have so many nationalities here in Guernsey – we only really get to know each other through word of mouth.

As an international woman living here, I thought it would be good to get involved. I also started running some African food events which has introduced foods that people may not have tried before – it’s also been a great way of meeting people. After eating, we mingle and sometimes dance – African people love to dance!

I left Kenya when I was incredibly young and moved to Switzerland – so went from a country that has poverty to one that is impeccably clean. It was quite a culture shock! So, I’ve always loved to adapt.

Wherever you’re from, women face the same issues. The top jobs more often than not go to men; there are fewer women in the boardroom. But women are better than men (if I can say that!). Look at how countries like New Zealand, which is led by a woman, have managed Covid.

Women are under-represented in government here, so maybe we can get international women to join? Why don’t they come forward? A perfect example of an international woman in public life here is Sasha Kazantseva-Miller.

If anyone would like to join Cathy’s African food events, she can be contacted on 07839 708726

Evita Bormane, originally from Latvia, nominated Vaira Vike-Freiberga

My nominee is Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who was Latvia’s first female president. She was a strong personality, and how she treats people and her attitude to her country always inspired me. She didn’t live all her life in Latvia, but it doesn’t matter where you live – you will always have your country in your heart. Her speeches gave me goosebumps because she’s such an amazing lady – I will always honour her.

(29295251) Evita Bormane

It’s 15 years this year since I moved to Guernsey, and it feels more like home than anywhere else. I believe it’s my responsibility to give something back to Guernsey and one of the ways I can see how to do this is through Women in Public Life.

There are a lot of people living here who are not originally from here, and sometimes it’s been difficult to find out how to get involved. There’s some communication missing, and I found with this organisation that it was such a big support.

RIGA, LATVIA - december 20, 2005: Vaira Vike Freiberga, former president of Latvia (29295396)

I’ve worked in hospitality for years and customers become your friends, they start asking what are you interested in getting involved in? I’ve always been involved in charities and worked with Olio, which aims to reduce food waste, by collecting food from supermarkets that would otherwise be thrown away and delivering it to people. I did that for more than a year and felt I was helping people.

If I were to take on a public role in Guernsey it would take helping people to a different level; and I hope it would attract other people who are originally from elsewhere to get involved, too.

Sasha Kazantseva-Miller, who has dual Russian and Spanish nationality, nominated Christiana Figueres and Jacinda Ardern

I haven’t nominated anyone from Russia or Spain, but two people who have recently inspired me.

(29295255) Sasha Kazantseva-Miller

One is Jacinda Ardern – New Zealand’s prime minister – because she’s an example of a politician who is trying to make a positive and compassionate difference for the community while ensuring sustainable economic growth and transition to a greener, cleaner economy. To me, she’s a real political inspiration.

Wellington, New Zealand, December 2020,New Zealand Prime minister Jacinda Ardern in press conference (29295388)

The second woman is Christiana Figueres, she’s a Costa Rican diplomat. She was a founder of the Global Optimism group and was head of the UN climate change convention when the Paris agreement was achieved in 2015. She is a leader who has been able to bring together a complete diversity of nations, views, opinions, and personalities in this incredible United Nations effort to actually change something.

After listening to her podcasts, she inspired me to start my own podcast, Transition Islands.

Being an international person, not being a local, doesn’t prevent you from taking an active role in public service. Guernsey is the first place where I felt a real connectedness to community and that real community spirit. I’ve always lived in big cities with millions of people – London, Moscow, Madrid, Bangkok, and Singapore. You were just one person among many.

I think that sense of belonging is extremely important and something we probably lost across the world. Because of urbanisation, people move much more within their own countries and other countries and continents. We’re kind of losing that sense of identity.

I had a sense of belonging here and felt I could contribute, based on my international experiences and everything I have to bring – that diversity of experience and life.

We moved to Guernsey because of my husband’s job, but then, because of how easy it is to meet people here, you start to build your own connections. I gradually got more involved with different community organisations and have run my own business here. Getting the Guernsey Press on a daily basis gave me a quick dive into political life and everything that happens on the island.

I got involved with Women in Public Life – I was a supporter and ambassador from the beginning. I remember saying that I have absolutely no interest in politics! But I got involved with the initiative and met a few deputies and thought: ‘I can do this’.

I participated in the Commonwealth Women’s Parliamentarian conference recently – it was all about bring regions together to share ideas on policy development and advancing women’s and girls’ rights.

International Women’s Day is a big thing in many countries, including Russia. There are fundamental inequalities that are still prevailing.

Maria Jose (Joey) Freeman, originally from Chile, nominated Maria Teresa Ruiz and Daniela Catrileo

Maria Teresa Ruiz is a Chilean astronomer who was the first woman to receive Chile’s National Prize for Exact Sciences, the first female recipient of a doctorate in astrophysics at Princeton University, and the first woman president of the Chilean Academy of Sciences. She inspired me to do my PhD.

(29295253) Maria Jose (Joey) Freeman

My other nomination is Daniela Catrileo. In Chile, most of the indigenous people were killed by the Spanish, there’s very few remaining compared to other South American countries like Peru. In the south of Chile is a community of people called Mapuches – Daniela is a Mapuche poet and a professor of philosophy. She has done a lot for their community, fought for their rights.

Maria Teresa Ruiz. (29303836)

I’m fairly new to Guernsey, but I immediately felt a sense of community here. I was surprised at how many people living here are not actually originally from here. I’ve lived in lots of places, but this is now home, and I’ve made lots of friends quickly. I love Women in Public life as it’s doing good things for the island.

The reason I wanted to get involved with this campaign is because women – especially previous generations – struggled so much to achieve, they didn’t always pursue their dreams. We can do whatever we want, but sometimes we need that little push. I hope this campaign will motivate and inspire more women to be involved with the community to do things, things they dreamed about but didn’t pursue because they lost confidence – especially after having children or a career break.

You’re either lucky to go back to your career, or you change. I’ve been an academic all my life, but there’s not a University or engineering department here so I’m no longer a professor. I established a Pilates business here which is obviously different, although I studied biomechanics. I love to see how we move, how animals move, how we relate that – I understand what movements do for you.

International Women’s Day wasn’t something we celebrated in Chile. When I was growing up there was no real diversity there. I think it’s important that there is more diversity, especially in public life. I’m not a feminist, but I think there needs to be a balance.

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