From ordinary women standing up for what they believe in to the most well-known stars using their celebrity status to make a difference, here are some of the British women who’ve made an impact on us in 2015.
More: 10 Inspirational firsts that prove women can do literally anything
1. Katie Cutler
Beautician Katie Cutler made the news when she started a fundraising campaign for mugging victim Alan Barnes. Barnes, 67, is 4 feet 6 inches tall and visually impaired and suffered a broken collarbone when he was assaulted by his attacker. Cutler’s campaign raised an amazing £330,135 for Barnes and the 22-year-old was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June. She has now set up her own non-profit organisation, The Katie Cutler Foundation.
2. Charlotte Church
Incensed by the Tory election victory in May Charlotte Church declared herself a socialist and became a fixture at anti-austerity marches in Cardiff and London, brandishing a placard stating, “I’m angry as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”
“For Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, to describe my exercising of democratic freedom as ‘unbecoming’ really says more than I ever could,” the 29-year-old wrote on her blog. “Perhaps he thinks I should get back to the ironing and stop babbling on about airheaded notions such as protecting the NHS (a system that he himself has been most mobile in attacking), fighting for a fairer society (a concept that entirely eludes his party), and championing the plight of those in society who are less privileged than me. Perhaps he wants to quiet me because I threaten his status as a wealthy, privately educated, white male.”
3. Leslee Udwin
British actress and filmmaker Leslee Udwin directed India’s Daughter, a documentary telling the story of 23-year-old Delhi medical student Jyoti Singh, who was brutally raped and murdered in 2012. Released in 2015, the documentary helps shine a light on the Indian culture of systematic abuse of women.
4. Abi Morgan (and all the other women who brought Suffragette to our screens)
Screenwriter Abi Morgan was applauded for Suffragette, the first ever mainstream film about the British campaign for equal votes a century ago, which premiered in October after a wait of… oh, only several decades. The film also had a female director and producers and a production crew that was almost all women. The fact that feminist protestors hijacked the red carpet at the London premiere was hailed as the “perfect response” to the film by Helena Bonham Carter, who played Edith New.
5. England’s Lionesses
The England women’s football team took their sport to another level by making it to the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup, finishing in third place after a narrow defeat to Japan — higher than the men’s team have finished at any World Cup apart from 1966.
Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Fara Williams, Toni Duggan, Karen Carney, Jill Scott and the rest of the Lionesses have firmly established the England women’s team as a force to be reckoned with, proved that the public want to watch women’s football and hopefully sparked an interest in the game in young girls with the #WeCanPlay campaign.
6. Emma Watson
No list of this nature is complete without mentioning the feminist powerhouse that is Emma Watson. The badass witch from Harry Potter turned UN Women Goodwill Ambassador has established herself as one of the most passionate young advocates for gender equality.
She set the tone with her impressive #HeForShe speech to the UN in September 2014, followed by a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, and marked 2015’s International Women’s Day in March with a live Facebook Q&A about gender equality in London. Watson recently revealed that she was asked to omit the word “feminism” from her #HeForShe speech. Obviously she said no.
7. Mhairi Black
Scottish National Party MP Mhairi Black, 21, made history as the youngest MP elected to the House of Commons in 350 years. Black defeated Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary who was elected when she was still in nappies.
Since then she definitely hasn’t disappointed, from her anti-austerity maiden speech (which was viewed more than 11 million times in one day), pointing out the irony in the fact she is “the only 20 year old in the UK that the Chancellor is prepared to help with housing,” to her no-holds-barred tweets about the “braying” nature of Prime Minister’s Questions.
8. Ione Wells
Oxford student Ione Wells bravely waived her anonymity to publish an open letter to her sex attacker in her university newspaper, Cherwell. The letter, which sparked a flood of responses from across the U.K., marked the launch of Wells’ #NotGuilty campaign against sexual violence and victim blaming.
9. Victoria Derbyshire
BBC current affairs journalist Victoria Derbyshire displayed incredible courage by being filmed in an NHS hospital bed only hours after she underwent breast cancer surgery in October. Derbyshire revealed that she was documenting her illness and operation via a YouTube breast cancer video diary (which has been watched over 30,000 times) in order to demystify the experience for others and offer some hope to the 58,000 Brits who are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.
Now undergoing chemotherapy while she continues to work Derbyshire said, “The word cancer has such a chilling effect on people — me included. But what I have learned over the past weeks is that it is an illness and does not have to be elevated to this uber-powerful status. It is simply an illness which the NHS treats with expertise and care.”
10. Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren isn’t the only British actress to have talked about ageism and sexism in the film industry this year but she’s undoubtedly the most outspoken. From her take on the “ridiculous” James Bond — “We all watched James Bond as he got more and more geriatric, and his girlfriends got younger and younger. It’s so annoying” — to what we think should be every woman’s mantra: “Being powerful is so much more interesting than being beautiful.”
11. Clare Moseley (and all the other women making a difference to the refugees)
Merseyside accountant Clare Moseley is one of many women who have spent the last several months trying to make a difference to the refugees in crisis in Calais. In August Moseley left her business, husband and children to volunteer in the Jungle (the Calais refugee camp) and is now running distribution for Care4Calais. “I can’t stand by in all conscience and ignore what’s happening,” said Moseley.