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To mark International Women's Day this year, The Elders have shared photos of themselves with women who inspire them, to highlight the importance of women's engagement, leadership and action in seeking a more peaceful and just world. 

Each Elder has provided a photo and a short paragraph explaining why they have chosen their inspirational woman. 


Ernesto Zedillo with Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez:

"The most lucid and forceful advocate of women's education in Mexican history happens to be a nun who lived in the second half of the 17th Century! Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez became a nun in order to have the time, and other conditions, to study and write, soon emerging as a towering figure of the so-called Golden Age of Spanish Literature. Sor Juana's defence of women's rights, certainly the one to obtain an education, traverses her magnificent poetry and prose. 

She was censured and harassed by members of the higher ecclesiastical hierarchy for her ideas. Eventually, she was forced to dispose of her library and stop writing. I like to think that Sor Juana would soon have revived her beloved library and admirable writing had she not died, only one year after her forced retirement, as a result of cholera she caught whilst looking after other nun stricken by the plague. In my own education, I have been fortunate to have had recited to me many times since early age - by my mother, teachers, and wife - Sor Juana's Hobres Necios, whose first stanza (translated into English) says:

You foolish men who lay 

the guilt on women, 

not seeing you are the cause 

of the very thing you blame;

These words, and in fact, Sor Juana's entire life and work, should resonate and inspire today's true believers and champions of women's rights."


Juan Manuel Santos and Pastora Mira: 

"This woman, Pastora Mira, is an inspiration for me because she showed me the power of forgiveness. Her father, her husband and her brother were killed in the war, her daughter is missing, and her son was tortured and killed. 

Some days after the death of her son, a wounded combatant came to her house asking for help. She cured him. He slept in her late son's bed. Once he recovered, he saw a picture of her and her son. He was shocked and asked her if that was her son. She said "yes, why do you ask?". He replied, "I must tell you; I was the one who tortured and killed him. I am so sorry."

She looked at him, petrified. She then embraced him and thanked him. "Why do you thank me?" he asked, astonished. 

"Because by telling the truth and asking for forgiveness you have liberated me from hating for the rest of my life. So, I forgive you." What a lesson!"

Graça Machel and her daughter, Josina Machel: 

"My daughter Josina is incredibly inspiring to me. As a survivor of gender-based violence, she has both brought to light and brought to life new approaches and valuable insights to address the challenges women face globally. I am so proud of her resilience and the fortitude she demonstrates on a daily basis - both in her quiet personal moments - and publicly through the organisation she founded, Kuhluka Movement, where she works to combat the violation of the rights of women. 

She challenges me intellectually and keeps my spirit fighting for a world where women are valued and respected as equals; without fear for their personal safety of the denigration of their dignity."

Ban Ki-moon with his mother, Shin Hyun-Soon: 

"My mother, though she is not here with us anymore, used to tell me about the danger for women for giving birth. She said, "Women would look once again at their rubber shoes before going into labour, being unsure whether she would wear those shoes again." That was very inspiring. 

I began to emphasise the importance of women's health when travelling to many many places in Africa, by saying: "Women in South Sudan should be as safe and healthy when they give birth to new life, as women in Sweden and Denmark.""

Mary Robinson and Bineta Diop:

"Bineta influenced me greatly when I started to work on women, peace and security issues in Africa with my colleagues in Realising Rights. 

She had founded Femmes Africa Solidarité, and was encouraging countries to develop plans of action under the key Security Council Resolution 1325. Later, she became the Special Envoy of the African Union Commission on Women, Peace & Security and helped me on the gender dimension of my mandate in 2013-2014 as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Great Lakes in Africa. 

I was deeply impressed by how she leads with modesty and humility, and constantly praises others. She also has an incredible networking skill, and believes this is the future for women and for Africa."


Lakhdar Brahimi and Ela Bhatt

“A woman who inspires me is Elder Emeritus, Ela Bhatt. With the now two million members of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) trade union that she created almost single-handedly, she has pulled millions of Indian families out of abject poverty. She now continues to help other poor women in countries such as Afghanistan.”

Gro Harlem Brundtland and Greta Thunberg: 

“I admire Greta Thunberg for her great courage and commitment, and for her perseverance and stamina in pursuing her vital cause.”

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