5 Incredible Women You Should Know About

By Emaan Thaver

Women have achieved incredible heights in history. 

We are tremendously lucky to be living in a time where female empowerment and gender equality take top priority in international development forums, where world leaders come forth and declare themselves feminists, where there are discussions, movements and real changes taking place across the globe.

And while there is admittedly a long way to go, we have the luxury of living in what is arguably the most progressive period in history.

Time hasn’t always been this kind to women.

Female leaders in fields traditionally associated with men had a very different set of challenges to take on a hundred years ago.

They lived in a time where platforms for expression were limited, where there was no framework to assist their participation and where their ambitious plans faced oceans of opposition from society.

They had to pave their own paths.

They had to carve out their own successes in worlds they didn’t belong to quite yet.

I have always drawn strength and inspiration from hearing the incredible stories of women who may have been overlooked by history, but who deserve to be remembered for their contributions to womenkind and society.

Here are just five of the admirable women I’d like to highlight today:

  1. Nellie Bly 


Photo Source: newseum.org

Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, who went by her pen name Nellie Bly, was an American journalist, traveler and charity worker born in 1864.

Now, we’ve all read Jules Verne’s fictitious novel Around the World in 80 Days but Nellie was the first woman to make it a reality. Nellie started off her career as an investigative journalist with her first major undercover assignment at Blackwell Island on the coast of New York City.

She feigned insanity to gain entry into the notorious women’s asylum to investigate reports of patient abuse. Upon spending ten days at the institution and experiencing its horrors, Nellie wrote a report that shot her to nationwide fame. She then took on an assignment to “turn the fictional ‘Around the World In Eighty Days’ into fact for the first time.”

Traveling almost entirely alone, she began her trip on November 14th, 1889 and journeyed through England, France, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and China.

She visited a leper colony in China, bought a monkey in Singapore and met Jules Verne in Amiens.


Nellie’s Journey.

 Photo Source: http://www.pbs.org

Nellie made it back to New York seventy-two days after she started the journey, due to a missed ship connection.

Nevertheless, Nellie’s feat made history. 

Never before had a woman taken on such a gargantuan task- traveling alone was a risky enough venture exclusive to men, but traveling alone around the world to strange, unfamiliar lands under a deadline?  Unheard of.

Nellie’s love for adventure, spontaneity and fearlessness are something all women aspiring to see the world solo (including our own campus blogger, Tasnim!) can draw inspiration from.

2.   Irena Sendler


Photo Source: IrenaSendler.org

The unsung hero of the Holocaust period, Irena Sendler was a Polish nurse and charity worker who headed the ‘Zegota’ or the Polish Council to Aid Jews during a time when Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies were at their peak. Entire Jewish families were being rounded up and sent to live in appalling conditions in ghettos, the largest of which was the dreaded Warsaw Ghetto, located in the capital city. Roughly 375,000 Jews lived on meagre scraps of food in tiny, cramped quarters and as a result- thousands, including children, began to die of starvation.

Under the guise of being a health worker, Irena would enter the Ghetto and persuade parents to make a heartbreaking decision: part with their children so she could smuggle them out to safety. 

With the help of a few accomplices, she hid children in body bags, potato sacks and coffins- one baby was even hidden in a toolbox- to sneak them out of the ghetto without being caught by the Nazis. Once outside, the children were given false names and identities and adopted by families. Irena’s efforts resulted in the rescue of some 2,500 Jewish children until she was caught and tortured by the Nazis. Although she managed to avoid a death sentence, the secret police hounded her until Germany’s defeat in the Second World War.

This remarkable woman lived the rest of her days in relative anonymity until her story was uncovered.

Even so, she resisted being called a hero.

“I could have done more,” she said. “This regret will follow me to my death.”


Photo Source: IrenaSendler.org

She was awarded Poland’s highest distinction, the Order of the White Eagle, in 2003. She passed away in 2008 at the age of 98.

3.  Mary Kom


Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom, who goes by just Mary Kom, is a record-breaking champion boxer from Manipur, India.

Growing up in a rural district in eastern India, Mary’s parents were agricultural workers who did not have the financial resources to fund their athletic young daughter’s boxing ambitions.

In a country where physical strength is an attribute often considered ‘unladylike’ and ‘manly’, Mary’s dreams of becoming a professional boxer were ridiculed by her community and most of society.

But despite financial problems, possible ostracization and dishonour, Mary’s determination and resolve helped her reach incredible heights. She moved to a nearby town, Imphal, in her mid-teens and began training with the state boxing coach, M. Narjit Singh.

With rigorous training, Mary worked her way up the ladder and went on to win five world championships and became the first Indian woman boxer to have qualified and won a medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. She is also the only woman to have won a medal in each of the six world championships and inspired a 2014 Bollywood movie about her achievements.


Photo Credit: AFP

Not only did Mary pave the way for future female athletes intimidated by the exclusivity of sport, but she also proved that one does not need to boast a privileged background in order to participate- thus breaking stereotypes alongside world records.

4.  Valentina Tereshkova

The first woman in space! 


Photo Credit: RSC Energia

Like Mary, Russian-born Valentina Tereshkova started from humble beginnings.

Her father worked as a tractor driver while her mother worked at a textile plant and money was hard to come by. Valentina dropped out of school at the age of sixteen and took up a number of odd jobs, including a stint as a textile worker at a local factor. It was around this time that she began training in skydiving, something she had always been interested in as a child.

Her interest in parachuting led her to be accepted into the Soviet space program despite having no experience because she had completed a whopping 126 parachute jumps over the years. Parachuting is seen as a highly valuable skill because it imitates the movements astronauts have to make during the descent to Earth.

After months of training, Valentina was finally selected to run the Vostok 6 mission to orbit 48 times around Earth.


Image Credit: NASA

She successfully logged 70 hours in space, making her the first woman to do so. She was awarded with the Order of Lenin for her contributions to the space program.

Following Valentina’s admirable feat, over 40 women have gone on to participate in space missions from around the world, proving that women have the stamina, strength and level-headedness to partake in space exploration.

5. Sybil Ludington


Photo Source:


One of the overlooked heroines of the American Revolutionary War, Sybil was a girl of just sixteen, living on the Ludington family farm in Dutchess County, New York.

It was April 1777.

The fierce War for Independence was underway with the British and Sybil’s father, Colonel Henry Ludington, had volunteered his services as a militia officer and community leader.

On the night of April 23rd, Sybil was awoken by the sound of horses’ hooves thundering outside. Sybil overheard a messenger on horseback telling her father that British troops were on their way to Danbury, Conneticut- where all the American guns and ammunitions were stored.

“Colonel Ludington! Colonel Ludington!” the messenger urged. “The British are burning Danbury, Sir! You must gather your men and march against the British!”

Colonel Ludington’s men lived in farms all over the vast countryside. The roads were rickety, unpaved and held danger in the form of street side bandits and British loyalists.

It would be a task to warn them of the British and rally them all together for battle.

Sybil volunteered herself. 

Armed with a mere stick and her horse Star, she set off in the dark night for a 40-mile journey across the countryside, rapping on the doors of the men and awakening them to the marching British. She fended off an outlaw with a manoeuvre of the stick, rallying over 400 soldiers together in the pouring rain by dawn.

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Photo Source:


Sybil’s incredible initiative in the face of the British threat sadly went unnoticed, only recorded in writing by her great-grandson. She is one of the quieter heroes of the American Revolution, living out a discreet life in the Catskill mountains of New York until she died in 1839 at the age of 77.


And we’ve come to the end of this list of admirable achievements for today’s blog post!

A few parting comments:

Here at U of T BIAAG, we celebrate women- past and present. 

We know that the only way to progress forward as a society is to learn and draw from the strengths of others in the past. Even when faced with insurmountable challenges, as many of these women encountered, there is always hope and help.

I hope that Irena, Sybil, Mary, Valentina and Nellie’s stories help you draw strength and assure you that, nothing, nothing is impossible just ‘because you are a girl’.


The Woman Traveler: How Much is She to Blame?

By Campus Blogger Tashnim Jerin

While scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed one afternoon, I came across an article titled: “Viajosola-women Around the World Stand up in Support for Female Solo Travelling”. It left an intriguing mark on my mind.

There are many things women are advised against doing; travelling solo is one of them. When I was in the eighth grade, during one lunch break, I was discussing my future plans with a teacher. I mentioned to her how I can’t wait to be older so I can travel the world.

“That’s a great idea!” She beamed. “But with a friend”, she added with a firm look.


A few years later, one of my friends (let’s call him John) spent one summer volunteering alone in India. I felt sad that he was allowed to go abroad alone and volunteer, yet my parents always held safety precautions as a key reason for why I shouldn’t volunteer abroad by myself. I sounded my frustrations to one of my high school teachers. Her reply was one I had been well-familiarized with by then.

“Well, John is a boy,” said my teacher. “And you are a girl. It’s different.”

Marina Menegazzro and Mari Jose Coni were two Argentinian women travelling in Ecuador. They were raped and murdered by two men they trusted during their trip. In the aftermath of the murders, the mass media and social networking sites were flooded with comments, many of which accused and criticized the two women for travelling alone in the country. Some commenters suggested perhaps their clothes were too revealing. Others made harsh critiques on the women’s decision to travel alone in what they should have foreseen as a dangerous area. It appeared that compared to the murders and sexual assaults committed by their perpetrators, the women’s choice of travelling alone was a bigger crime.

Their crimes were that they dared to be independent; they were ‘foolish’ enough to attempt breaking gender stereotypes.

The message sent was clear:

‘If you are a woman and you choose to travel alone, you should accept that you may or may not be inviting sexual assaults, murder and/or rape.’

So don’t be surprised or feel victimized if you do experience any of these things on your solo trip, because you have been warned.

Why is it that when a male traveler goes missing or is murdered, they are not sensationalized by the media as “a MALE traveler” and simply as a traveler? Why is it that when listing theories as to why the male traveler was murdered or went missing, no one seems to list off “His clothing was inappropriate”, or “He shouldn’t have travelled alone” as possible reasons?

Travelling is a rewarding experience that every individual should have the freedom to pursue, whether alone, or with a group. The lack of companion(s) should not be a barrier for a woman wishing to travel. After Menegazzro and Coni’s deaths, women around the world started the movement ‘Viajosola‘.

Viajosola, in Spanish, translates to “I travel alone.”


Women around the world shared pictures of themselves travelling alone with the hashtag #Viajosola and disclosed why they choose to travel alone. It’s a thought-provoking social campaign that was started to celebrate the independence and freedom all women deserve-to travel alone, without feeling as though they owe society an explanation for their actions, like a bad child who misbehaved. And like a bad child being punished for their misdeeds, women who travel alone shouldn’t have to pay the price for their dreams in the form of death or sexual assault.

I am still holding on to my dream of travelling solo. I am well aware of the precautions, the risks, and the warnings. But I am also hopeful that the day I finally make my long-awaited solo journey, I will be able to do so without feeling as if I am signing off an unofficial contract with society, in which I am agreeing if anything were to happen to me, it will be a result of my own foolish decision.


The True Cost of The Clothes We Wear

By Campus Blogger Nermeen Zia 


Andrew Morgan’s documentary ‘The True Cost’ begins by juxtaposing clips of high fashion runway shows with footage of garment workers toiling away inside sweatshops. I didn’t know much about the film or the fashion industry before watching, but it has entirely shaped my perception and altered how I see the world of fashion.

The director emphasized in the beginning of the film that he didn’t come from a background in fashion, and he never questioned where his clothes came from. Nor why it was becoming so increasingly cheap to buy them. Like most of us, he too endorsed the disposable, consumerist culture we grow up with.

However, that all changed in 2013 after the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The garment factory collapsed and left over 1000 workers dead and the world in a state of shock. For Andrew Morgan, this was a game changer. How could this have been allowed to happen? He began to research inner workings of the fashion industry and uncovered that not only were incidents like the one in Dhaka extremely common, but also that garment factories were like prisons for their workers- equipped with armed guards, barred windows and no fire escapes.


Unfortunately, the year following the crash was the most profitable in the history of the fashion industry, thus demonstrating a harrowing fact- consumers don’t really care about anything other than savings and deals. Morgan says that we need to consider that ‘there are physical human hands that touch the things we wear’ and their lives matter. In fact, there are many, many hands that touch our clothes before we do. There are over 42 million garment workers worldwide as 98% of clothing is made offshore, in countries like Bangladesh, China, India and Cambodia. Of those 42 million workers 85% are women. That’s almost 36 million women working in garment factories! And even worse, they are amongst the lowest paid labour in the world, with minimum wage of less than $3 a day.

Moreover, workers in these factories are expected to produce 100 pieces of clothing an hour and would be fired for taking sick days, or questioning their management. They have been beaten and bloodied for trying to bring about better conditions and in spite of forming unions, their cries for help go unheard. The living hell these women endure everyday simply to supply the western world with cheap clothing is not just horrifying but totally unacceptable.


Yet, it’s justified by large corporations who believe the work is not technically unsafe- there’s nothing dangerous about sewingand it’s a lot better than the alternatives. Essentially, Livia Firth, CEO of Eco-Age says, ‘we are profiting from their need to work’. But when did it become all about the profit? When did we forget that we are responsible for the hopes and dreams of the people who make the things we wear? When did we start treating their lives like they are as disposable as the clothes they make?

Furthermore, it’s undeniable that the problems in the fashion industry’s chain are extremely far-reaching. It’s not just about the economic oppression of the workers; there are so many detrimental health effects from the chemicals in the factories, from the pesticides used to grow cotton, from the polluted rivers. In fact, fashion is the 2nd most polluting industry in the world. It’s destroying nature at a rate that we can’t keep up with, and its damaging effects are not even being measured properly.

But it’s as though the bigger the problem gets, the more we look away and try to pretend it doesn’t exist. It really is overwhelming when you start to unravel the implications of buying a $10 dress from H&M. It’s hard to say no, but try to think ‘this cost at what cost?’

Stella McCartney, a well known designer, said ‘the customer has to know they’re in charge. without them, we don’t have jobs… if you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy into it.’ We, as consumers, really have all the power. This industry is only functioning in overdrive because we demand it. In order for the injustice to stop there needs to be a reduction in consumption and there needs to be a conscious switch towards buying better. We have to start supporting companies that pay their workers a fair wage and look after their wellbeing like People Tree and Krochet Kids and reject the idea of ‘fast fashion’.

Every time we buy something we are making a moral statement. Let’s use that power to start building the world we want to see- a world in which people are not treated like things, a world in which a garment worker doesn’t have to send her children away, a world in which the clothes we wear aren’t produced by the blood of the people who make them.


Event Report: BIAAG UTSG kicks off its first event of the school year with a bake sale!

By Tashnim Jerin, Campus Blogger


On December 2, 2015, the BIAAG chapter at UTSG had its first event of the school year: a scrumptious bake sale filled with yummy baked goods. Amid the busy exam season, it proved to be a relaxing getaway for students from the agonizing routine of exams, lectures and tutorials. We had a variety of baked treats, from Timbits, Pillsburry cookies, brownies to banana muffins, candies and pastries.



Aside from grabbing a quick bite from our table of baked delicacies, students shared their thoughts on women empowerment on a bulletin board to get the conversation started. We asked the question: “Why does Because I am a Girl matter to you?” We had some very inspiring responses! “Everyone should be treated the same regardless gender!” read one comment. Another student wrote, “Girls can be equally as successful as men.”


We at BIAAG believe that to raise awareness for an issue, it is critical to educate ourselves and our peers. There couldn’t be a better way to do so than share these powerful ideas with one another.


Keep a lookout for our next event as we wrap up this school year with a bang!





Hi there!

Thanks for stopping by!

We’re the U of T Chapter supporting Plan Canada’s Because I Am a Girl initiative.

Because I am a Girl is a global initiative to end gender inequality, promote girls’ rights and lift millions of girls – and everyone around them – out of poverty.

The Because I am a Girl initiative was founded by Plan International, one of the largest international charities in the world. Founded in 1937, Plan has supported girls and boys in the developing world for more than 75 years through collaboration with children, their families, and their communities.

Why focus on girls?

Girls in the poorest regions of the world are among the most disadvantaged people on the planet.

Girls are more likely to:

  • live in poverty
  • be denied access to education
  • be denied medical care
  • be malnourished

simply because they’re girls.

And yet, studies show that investing in girls – and ensuring they have enough to eat, an education and a safe environment – is the key to transforming lives, lifting families, communities, and entire nations out of poverty.

What Plan Canada has accomplished so far

In 2009, Plan Canada launched the Because I am a Girl initiative here in Canada. Since then, the initiative has been launched globally, and after a successful campaign led by Plan Canada, the United Nations officially declared October 11th International Day of the Girl.

  • We operate a wide range of programs worldwide to improve the status of girls and give them equal access to health care, education, protection, independence, and an opportunity to participate in society.
  • Our State of the Worlds Girls report series is an ongoing investigation that helps shine a light on specific barriers to young girls’ development and their access to basic human rights.
  • With the help of Plan Canada and the support of thousands of Canadians who signed petitions and wrote letters to their Members of Parliament, the United Nations officially declared October 11th as International Day of the Girl – a day to advocate and recognize the rights of girls globally.

Where BIAAG is going

Plan’s Because I am a Girl initiative has a global goal of supporting 4 million girls in getting the education, skills and support they need to move themselves from poverty to opportunity.

We are working with girls, communities, leaders, governments, global institutions and the private sector to help ensure that:

  • Girls’ education be prioritized by world leaders
  • Girls complete at least nine years of quality education, and support the crucial transition to secondary education.
  • Funding for girls’ education be increased
  • Child marriage is abolished
  • Gender-based violence in and around schools is put to a stop
  • Girls and boys participate equally in decision making and are able to inspire those with power to take action.

Additionally, we aim to reach 40 million girls and boys indirectly through our gender programs that will help create positive change for generations to come. Through our work, we also we aim to reach 400 million girls through policy change that will help bring about quantifiable improvements in policy makers, service providers and government support for gender equality and girls’ rights around the world.

U of T’s Because I am a Girl Club aims to not only support these campaigns and initiatives, but also raise awareness and facilitate discussion about these issues around campus.

Stay tuned to hear more about our upcoming events and developments!

You can also find us on our Facebook page or contact us at: biaag.universityoftoronto@gmail.com