“I grew up obsessed with fashion. Because it told the world who I was in a way that I didn’t have to. And yet, from every touchpoint. I was excluded. British Vogue is challenging that. It’s saying that clothes are something that we all wear and because of that we all deserve and it’s valid that we have a voice in this conversation.”
These are the words of Sinéad Burke, a lecturer, a diversity advocate, and among the 15 women that the HRH and the Duchess of Sussex herself—Meghan Markle—chose for the September 2019 issue of British Vogue.
“I am thrilled to reveal the cover of the September 2019 issue of British Vogue— and to introduce you to the bold, brilliant and inspirational woman who has guest-edited it with me: HRH The Duchess of Sussex,” wrote editor-in-chief Edward Enninful on Instagram, and announcing Meghan as the first co-editor of a September issue in the magazine’s history.
This passion project poses the question: What change do you want to see in this world?
Fifteen women with 15 different cases. Each and every one of them has been pushing boundaries, stimulating conversations about equality, mental health, refugee welfare, environmental action, diversity, body positivity, women’s rights, and many more. The Duchess of Sussex is bringing her advocacies, and using her voice to highlight these remarkable individuals who are redefining the world for the better.
A supermodel and mental health advocate, Adwoa Aboah suffered from depression and drug addiction. She attempted suicide by overdose in 2015 at a rehab center in London, which resulted in a four-day coma before recovering in a psychiatric hospital. She now fights for the importance of mental health, and the struggles that come with it. “Being an advocate has transformed my life. It’s so cheesy to say, but I really feel like this is what I was meant to do.”
Adut Akech is a model, an advocate, and a former Sudanese refugee. She was profoundly bullied in school and was often told that she would never make it in the business. Now, with a model of the year title and an impressive list of runway credits, magazine covers, and fashion campaigns under her belt, she lives a life without boundaries. She is now changing the beauty industry by fighting for diversity and refugee rights. “I want to help people to understand that refugees are normal people, just like everybody else.”
A former Somali refugee, Ramla Ali is the first Muslim woman to win an English boxing title, and had long kept her boxing a secret from her strict family – believing they would disapprove, as some still do. Ali was a toddler when her family fled the Somali capital Mogadishu in the early 1990s after her elder brother was killed aged 12 by a mortar while playing outside during the civil war. She now represents women all over the world who long to live their life in sports, and wants everyone to know that anything is possible, even for Muslim women. “Boxing has always been perceived as a male-dominated sport. All the senior heads of federations are men. I would love to see more female heads. That is how there will be more positive changes for women.”
Jacinda Arden is the Prime Minister of New Zealand. She is the youngest living female Prime Minister, and served as the leader of the Labour Party and the opposition since 2017. She intends to halve child poverty in New Zealand within a decade. “I’m proud we’re now a nation where girls don’t consider politics or political leadership extraordinary.”
Diversity advocate and lecturer Sinéad Burke is an Irish writer, academic, influencer, activist and broadcaster, popular for her TED talk ‘Why design should include everyone.’ Through writing, public speaking, lecturing, and social media, she highlights the lack of inclusivity within the fashion and design industries and consults with leadership to ensure the process of designing for, with and by disabled people is embedded into their business model. “We need to constantly be asking what voices are not in the world, which perspectives are not being considered, and make sure that change occurs with as much intersectionality as possible.”
Popular for her role in Crazy Rich Asians, Gemma Chan is not only an actor but also a strong campaigner. She constantly fights for diversity in Hollywood, and has been delving into environmental sustainability projects, using her platform as a means for dialogue. “I would like to see a real increase in the diversity of people who are in a position to make decisions in the industry.”
Laverne Cox is British Vogue’s first trans cover star. She rose to prominence with her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, becoming the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in any acting category. Laverne has been noted by her LGBT peers, and many others, for being a trailblazer for the transgender community, and has won numerous awards for her activist approach in spreading awareness. “I’m here to highlight the profound humanity that transgender people of all kinds possess.”
Being well known for her many awards in being actress, Jane Fonda was a visible political activist in the counterculture era during the Vietnam War. Along with other celebrities, she supported the Alcatraz Island occupation by American Indians in 1969, which was intended to call attention to the failures of the government with regards to treaty rights and the movement for greater Indian sovereignty. “Actors are like repeaters: we pick up signals from voices that have a hard time being heard and amplify them.”
A women’s rights advocate, actor, and producer, Salma Hayek Pinault has been fighting for equality and using her voice as an actor to advocate women’s rights. “Twenty-five years ago, I started to become an activist for women’s rights. Nobody wanted to talk about it. One time I heard: “That’s not a sexy cause.” It was a huge struggle. Now, everybody’s an activist.”
Francesca Hayward is the Royal Ballet principal dancer, and is proud of the color of her skin. She is an advocate for diversity in the arts and has been using her roles to fight for more women of color in the industry. “I’m very proud of the color of my skin and that I’m inspiring people from all backgrounds, but I think it will be great for the next mixed-race or black female Principal dancer that she doesn’t have to be asked about that.”
As an actor, Jameela Jamil fights for body positivity. She has been sharing her experiences with eating disorders and bad habits, and wishes for girls to never be ashamed of their bodies. “My digital campaign against diet culture, I Weigh, has changed me, too – I smugly thought I would help all these people to recognize their worth, and they’ve ended up helping me.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian novelist as well as a writer of short stories and of nonfiction. In her TEDx talk titled “We Should All Be Feminists”, she shared her experiences of being an African feminist, and her views on gender construction and sexuality. She said that the problem with gender is that it shapes who we are. “I long for more stories of women who are strong without being superheroes, who do not need to be extraordinary to be admirable.”
As an actor and youth vote activist, Yara Shahidi is making a difference through education and social activism. She has become the face for Science Sleuth Campaign, which has partnered with Dosomething.org for the push of STEM subjects. “Even if you aren’t necessarily academic, the way that we learn to engage with one another in school has everything to do with who we choose to relate to and who we care about.”
Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg has done more for our planet than any of us has ever had. And she’s only 16 years old. She has delivered urgent speeches about the planet to the World Economic Forum, the European Parliament, TED, and the UN Climate Change Conference. She is pressing global change as no one else has ever before. “I’m here to change the way we look at the climate and ecological crisis, so that together we can put pressure on people in power to change things.”
Christy Turlington Buns is a model, a maternal health advocate, charity-founder and campaigner, and a filmmaker. In 2005 she began working with the international humanitarian organization CARE and has since become their Advocate for Maternal Health, after suffering from her own complications in childbirth in 2003. “When you’re working in the global health sector, oftentimes the hope when you start something is that you’ll be out of business at some point and there won’t be a need. But I know that the issue I’m working on – it’s not a done deal.”
From fighting for the change of Euro-centric educational systems to pushing for reproductive rights, these public figures, along with thousands of other women fighting for global change, are at the helm of something groundbreaking. Because hopes and dreams can only go so far—and in a world filled with hate, turmoil, and ignorance, actions are needed the most. Progressive and sustainable forces that are driven by the demand for re-intervention, and panic, because our world is experiencing a decline.
And we must act fast.
This issue is vital, and not just to women, but to everyone—people of all ages, color, race, gender, and beliefs.
This is a call to humankind.
Photo courtesy of British Vogue
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