The women who inspire other women

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AS DELEGATES gather for today's Scottish Women's Convention in Edinburgh to mark International Women's Day 2007, we ask 20 high-profile women to name women they have found influential or inspirational in personal, professional or political terms.

Some of the role models cited are well known, others unsung family members, as in the case of Bridget McConnell, director of culture and sport with Glasgow City Council, and wife of the First Minister. She will address the convention on women in art and education and cites the inspiration provided by her mother and, particularly, her grandmother.

"She was the daughter of a miner and the wife of one," she tells The Scotsman. "She had six daughters and one son, who died in the pits, and my burning memory is of her absolute passion for education."

While women may appear to have forged ahead in many fields since her family adjusted priorities to give her piano lessons, Mrs McConnell stresses there is little room for complacency. "There are still huge barriers facing many women," she says, "not least those with children and in poorer areas."

She emphasises the need to widen access to education, and points to the collections of her department's flagship, the revamped Kelvingrove Art Gallery, as reflecting traditional attitudes to women, whether idealised in Bellini's Madonna and Child, rendered as objects of desire in a JD Fergusson canvas or perceived as "objects of male terror", in the gory Judith with the Head of Holofernes.

She recalls the triumphant 1996 Charles Rennie Mackintosh exhibition, which, for the first time, gave Mackintosh's artist wife, Margaret MacDonald, full credit as his collaborator.

"Museums historically have seen men as solitary geniuses, and women as their supportive bystanders - if they're lucky. Often they're just written out of history," she says.

Some of Kelvingrove's nastier exhibits reflect unsavoury institutionalised attitudes in the shape of the scold's bridles, once judicially inflicted. "People think these funny," she says, "but they mutilated women."

Mrs McConnell hopes these exhibits, visited by two million people over the past six months, might further influence behaviour and policies.


Writer and broadcaster

In the 1960s, I had a high regard for Barbara Castle, who was a member of Harold Wilson's government. Quite small, with flaming red hair, she was very much a feminist, but she was always immaculate, arriving at the TV studio with her clothes in a hanging-bag and insisting on good make-up. I only wish she'd been the first woman prime minister.

Then there was Betty Friedan, who wrote The Feminine Mystique. It blew the lid off the idea that women were destined to stay at home and do the cooking.


Head of the Royal College of GPs, Scotland

The late comedian Linda Smith was a wonderfully funny woman, and I saw quite a lot of myself in her.

She was a very quick thinker, something that is essential in medicine, and could make people laugh at the simplest things. I often tell medical students to use humour in a consultation: it can be tricky to do in a serious situation, but Smith always pulled it off. She was constantly looking at things differently, approaching subjects from a new, and often very funny angle. I loved listening to her.


Founder of lingerie company MJM International

A woman who has definitely inspired me in business is Anita Roddick. She's not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, and on top of all her business achievements, like me, she's a mother and understands how important that role is. I've got a strong ethical code of practice and think her unwavering ethical approach is wonderful. On top of it all, she's simply incredibly successful - everyone's heard of Body Shop, haven't they?



My mother Jean. She was looking after seven children under the age of ten before she was 30. My dad worked away on contract welding jobs and only came home one week out of every six, so she spent ten years with us children, mostly alone, in a cramped and damp two-room Glasgow corporation flat. She survived on small wages by making some of our clothes, and spreading food over the week. She sang along with her precious radio all the time. I don't know how she managed, with no white goods except for the fridge and the gas stove.



Lisa Simpson: a beacon of common sense, rational thinking, equal rights and tolerance.

Sometimes I think Lisa is the only thing reminding the world that America is actually still a decent, sane place, not a collection of gun-crazed creationists. So all hail Lisa Simpson, patron saint of smart, mouthy women (and awkward eight-year olds).


Director, the Care Commission

Peggy Herbison was the MP for North Lanarkshire and a cabinet minister in the Wilson government.

She came from a working-class background and grew up in Shotts, where I grew up, so she's a big inspiration for me. Another lady I admire is Dolores Ibarruri, the anti-fascist who led a battalion of women during the Spanish Civil War. There's a lovely statue of her in Glasgow. At a time when fascism was sweeping through Europe she stood up for her beliefs and famously said: "They shall not pass."


Chair of the Scottish Women's Convention

Helen Dinning was very active in the Scottish trade union movement and the Labour Party, and she was an absolutely wonderful woman. She was encouraging, she motivated women and she left you with a real feeling of "I can do that". She never sought high office, but she understood what it meant for women to do that - how difficult it was, what the barriers were.

She did it all for the right reasons and was such an inspiration to many women across Scotland who are in positions of influence now.


Cookery writer

Scarlett O'Hara. Beautiful, self-willed, with strong ambitions. When faced with hardship and adversity she put aside her desires for frippery and did everything in her power to save her family from hardship and loss. She loved fiercely those who understood her best, but also expected more from them than was fair. Hard-working and tenacious, she thought nothing of using her feminine assets to gain the advantage!


Director, Scottish Chambers of Commerce and Glasgow's Lord Provost

My personal inspiration has come mostly from a variety of ordinary women and men I have met throughout my life. My real role model was closer to home: my mother, Margaret. She instilled a great sense of integrity, trust and honesty. She had a strong work ethic, always meeting her commitments, and was a great motivator of people. My mother nurtured in me a desire to succeed and to ignore any barriers. That ambition still drives me.


IT pioneer, millionaire and philanthropist, funding autism research

Probably one of the most influential women for me was my foster mother, Ruby Smith, who brought me up after I arrived in England [as a five-year-old refugee from Nazi Germany]. She knew that I was not available for adoption, but she loved me, gave me a home and really was a strong influence. As I began to mature, I read about people like Mrs Pankhurst and Sophia Jex-Blake, the first woman to qualify in medicine in Edinburgh.


Minister for Communities

Elsie Inglis stands out for me.

I admire greatly her desire to improve women's health because, in her day, it was not regarded as an area of importance. She was committed to improving hospital provision for women and also the inequalities of society. We still face challenges to complete that legacy.

She was also an important campaigner in women's suffrage and, as a female politician, that comes very close to my heart. Without women like her, I don't know where the rest of us would be today.


Director of the Commission for Racial Equality, Scotland

As well as women in my family and all of the ordinary women who have inspired me over the years, the person who sticks out is the non-violent Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Aside from her political views, I admire the fact that she has made choices based on those views that have ultimately made her life harder. She has sacrificed so much for her beliefs. One of her speeches started: "It's not power that corrupts, but fear," and that really speaks to me.


Chief executive, Scottish Refugee Council

I am inspired by the women of Karibu, an organisation of asylum seeking and refugee women from Africa based in Glasgow. In the hardest of circumstances, these magnificent women have made it their business to become community leaders and to promote integration between themselves and their Scottish neighbours. Their ability to care about other people, their strength, positivity, intelligence and courage in the most adverse of circumstances, inspire me to do my job every day.


Deputy leader of the SNP

Politically, I would have to say Winnie Ewing. When she was first elected, she was a women in a man's world and got a lot of abuse in the House of Commons. I think things were very tough for her, but she kept going because she was campaigning for something she believed in.

She was certainly partly responsible for my sense of nationalism.

On a more personal level, my grandmother Margaret Sturgeon was someone who always spoke her own mind and stood up for what she believed in. Her civic values were very influential on me.



That's easy: Margaret Thatcher. She is my heroine. She was more than just the first woman prime minister; she had a toughness and a willingness to fight for her beliefs. Many of her reforms, denounced at the time, have been accepted across the political spectrum. Often she had to fight her own party. But she showed what was possible through sheer strength of will. I also believe she was more compassionate than she is often portrayed. Most people do not know that she is involved to this day in the drive to get more women into parliament.

A giant of history, I hope one day to shake her hand.


Journalist and presenter

The presenter Joan Bakewell. When I was coming into my teens, she was one of the few women on television, and she completely contrasted the typical 'female' role in broadcasting at the time.

"She came across as very bright and modern and, although she was in a serious business, never seemed to take herself too seriously. Even though at that time I didn't intend to work in television, looking back she must have been a very strong role model. Sometimes these things can be quite subconscious, but she certainly informed my view of life in journalism.


Author and broadcaster

I've been incredibly fortunate, academically and professionally, to have had wonderful mentors. The first two were geography teachers, Marie Williams at Winston Churchill Comprehensive, Woking, Surrey, and Dorothy Green at Woking Sixth Form College.

Professionally, I was lucky to be adopted very early in my career by two women. One was Anne Mason, a producer at Scottish Television, and Erina Rayner, who encouraged me to go in front of the camera for my first TV contract.


Author and biographer

There are two authors. One is Naomi Mitchison, mainly because of her sheer energy [Mitchison was 101 when she died] and commitment, and as an example of a women who didn't let any of the conventional barriers stand in her way .

Also Doris Lessing. I admire her enormously as a writer, but also she tackled life with such courage and conviction. She's now well into her eighties and still writing. Once you've reached my age, examples of older women who are still going full steam ahead are very inspiring.


Lord Advocate for Scotland

My mother. It's bound to sound sentimental and predictable, but there is no-one who comes close to her. She is now 91 and still living on her own. She is a lioness of a mother: when we were young she was strong, kind, exceptionally loving and funny. She worked very long hours to keep us going. Her optimism has infected all of her children.


Novelist and comedian

I suppose Martha Gellhorn [the American novelist, travel writer and influential war correspondent]. She led a full, courageous life, did a lot of political work and was married to Hemingway. Also people like the peace campaigner Angie Zelter, of Trident Ploughshares, and the other people at Faslane demonstrating against Trident.