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Firefighters, protesters and campaigners: these are Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017

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Stylist Team
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To celebrate the best in people, Stylist photographed and interviewed 10 heroic women – just a few of the many who served to inspire us all in 2017. Photography: Mark Harrison. 

If 2016 was a hard year, 2017 has often felt even tougher. From Donald Trump’s inauguration in January to the Grenfell Tower fire in June, to the seemingly endless confusion and gloom surrounding Brexit and the shock of multiple terror attacks in the UK and abroad, we’ve hardly enjoyed 12 months of peace and prosperity.

But while it might have been a difficult year, there have also been incredible moments of compassion, courage and resilience. As 2017 draws to a close, we wanted to highlight the achievements of women who have done extraordinary things this year: women who have risked their lives to save others, stood up to intolerance, campaigned for change and spoken out against injustice.

To this end, Stylist has photographed and interviewed 10 courageous women who inspired us in 2017. One of these, Grenfell Tower firefighter Louisa De Silvo, featured on the cover of our 397th issue, but each and every one of them could have been a cover star.

“We chose people who we thought had shown extraordinary courage and determination,” says Anna Fielding, Stylist’s associate editor (features). “These are not everyday people – they’re incredible. But I hope it will show our readers that they can be incredible too. We all have so much potential.”

Lisa Smosarski, Stylist’s editor-in-chief, says that aim was to remind readers that 2017 was full of bright spots.

“It is hard to reflect on 2017 without focussing on some of the toughest challenges we’ve faced in the UK, and it would be easy to get lost in this sadness and fear,” she says. “But for me, the most amazing thing about these stories, were those of hope. It’s reassuring to know that our world isn’t broken because the majority of people are good, kind, selfless and generous – especially when put to the ultimate test.

“So in true Stylist fashion we wanted to celebrate those women who had made their mark on our year with acts of true courage and bravery, and who offer hope that we can still come together and create a world we can be proud of.”

Below, you’ll find links to profiles of each of Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017. We hope you’ll read, enjoy and share their stories. 

The firefighter: Louisa De Silvo

“I have experience of attending fires in tower blocks, but no incident comes close to Grenfell.”

Louisa De Silvo is a London-based firefighter. On 14 June 2017, she and her colleagues were called to the fire at Grenfell Tower. The building held 129 flats. Although 71 people died, 223 people escaped thanks to the work of all the emergency services personnel. Here, Louisa speaks on behalf of them all. Read her story here.

The peacemaker: Zakia Bassou

“This is us, we are a community, and this doesn’t represent any of us – the Muslim or non-Muslim community.”

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack at Borough Market on 3 June, Zakia Bassou, 27, organised for herself and fellow Muslim women to distribute roses carrying messages of peace and love to members of the public on London Bridge, making headlines worldwide. Read her story here.

The silence breaker: Bex Bailey

“If 2017 has been the year of women speaking out, 2018 needs to be the year that people listen and act.”

Bex Bailey is a charity worker and Labour Party activist. In October of this year she spoke out about her rape at a political event in 2011 when she was just 19. At the time, Bex was advised by a senior party member to keep quiet as it might “damage” her career. Her courage meant the party is looking at how it handles sexual abuse and harassment allegations. Read her story here.

The justice seeker: Margaret Aspinall

“I don’t see myself as a heroine. To me the heroism belongs to everybody.”

Margaret Aspinall was 41 years old when her 18-year-old son James was killed in the Hillsborough disaster. As chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, she has fought for almost 30 years to overturn the accidental death verdict. In 2016, it was found that the 96 people who died were unlawfully killed. The first prosecutions were announced this year. Read her story here.

The activist: Akeela Ahmed

“Facing sexism or Islamophobia is my everyday experience, but while giving that speech I felt all these people were with me as opposed to against me.”

Akeela Ahmed, 37, helped organise January’s Women’s March On London, held in response to the election and inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Trump’s comments about women – particularly his “grab them by the pussy” remark – people of colour and disabled people galvanised around 100,000 women and men to take part in London, with attendee numbers worldwide estimated at five million. Read her story here.

The campaigner: Anna Veglio-White

“You can feel powerless, but to form this group and stand up and say this is wrong, and fight it successfully – I hope it has a domino effect.”

Anna Veglio-White, 25, formed Sister Supporter in 2015. The group campaigned to introduce a ‘buffer zone’ around the Marie Stopes West London clinic to protect women seeking abortions from harassment by religious sects outside. In October, they won. Ealing Council’s decision was the first of its kind in the world. Read her story here.

The period-poverty champion: Amika George

“People have fought so hard for girls to get the same education as boys, and for something like periods to hold them back, I think it is ridiculous.”

Amika George, 18, started a period-poverty campaign in the spring. Her petition, which asks that girls on free school meals be granted free sanitary products, has gathered 83,000 signatures and support from MPs and celebrities. She is leading a #FreePeriods protest near Parliament Square, London, on 20 December. Read her story here.

The challenger: Gina Miller

“Two things I’ve learned through 2017 are how strong I am and that I can rise above things – that I can stay calm in the face of adversity and act with grace.”

Gina Miller, 52, is a campaigner for transparency who brought about the court case arguing that the British government did not have the authority to implement Brexit without approval from parliament. Following an appeal, the Supreme Court ruled in her favour in January this year. Throughout the Brexit process, she has continued to advocate for transparency and honesty. Read her story here.

The survivor: Lauren Richmond

“I want other women to know you can get away and your life won’t fall apart.”

Lauren Richmond, 22, was badly beaten by her then-boyfriend, league-cricketer Jordan Greaves. She left him, pressed charges, and shared pictures of her injuries on social media. Her posts went viral: a strong example of a woman standing up to her abuser. Read her story here.

The protestor: Saffiyah Khan

“My dad said I wasn’t allowed to go to any more protests because he had to pick me up from the police station once, but with this he couldn’t be angry at me.”

An image of Saffiyah Khan, 19, confronting a member of far-right group the English Defence League went viral in April. Picturing Saffiyah smiling with her hands casually in her pockets – amused and unafraid in the angry, red face of Ian Crossland – it became a symbol of defiance against intolerance. Read her story here.