Visible Women

From protesters to poppy sellers: the women making waves this week

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Moya Crockett
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Dropping every Friday, new series Women Making Waves highlights stories from around the world about women who rocked the boat, pushed for change and made history this week.

Women swallow abortion pills at Northern Ireland pro-choice protest 

Women at the protest in Belfast on Thursday 

In the wake of Ireland voting overwhelmingly to legalise abortion, attention has turned to Northern Ireland’s extremely limited abortion rights. At a pro-choice demonstration in Belfast on Thursday (31 May), a number of women swallowed illegal abortion pills in front of police – a reference to how criminalising abortion does not prevent women from seeking terminations.

“Women every day in Northern Ireland are using these pills – as long as we don’t talk about it, as long as we act like it is a secret, politicians are not under pressure to legislate on this,” Eleanor Crossley Malone, one of the protesters who took the tablets, told Sky News.

Several women at the Belfast demonstration dressed in the red cloaks and white bonnets of The Handmaid’s Tale, a nod to Margaret Atwood’s novel about a world where women’s fertility is rigidly policed. Despite the fact that the pills used to induce medical abortions have been deemed effective and safe for women to use by the World Health Organisation (WHO), they are banned in almost all circumstances in Northern Ireland, where women can face life in prison for having illegal terminations.

Despite this, many women in Northern Ireland order abortion pills online, enabling them to induce medical abortions without consulting a doctor. Crossley Malone, a member of socialist feminist movement Rosa, said that she was acting “in defiance of the extremely outdated, medieval, anti-choice laws that exist in Northern Ireland.

“We’re not going to take it anymore,” she said. 

Serena Williams wears ‘Black Panther’ catsuit on court

On Tuesday (29 May), Serena Williams took part in her first Grand Slam match since giving birth to her daughter. Never one to do things by halves, Williams strode out onto the court at the French Open in Paris in a lustrous black catsuit – and went on to beat Czech tennis player Kristyna Pliskova 7-6 (7-4) 6-4.

Explaining her striking choice of outfit after the match, Williams said that it reminded her of the film Black Panther. “I call it, like, my Wakanda-inspired catsuit,” she said, a reference to the fictional African nation where Black Panther is set.

“It feels like this suit represents all the women that have been through a lot mentally, physically, with their body to come back and have confidence and to believe in themselves,” she continued.

“I definitely feel like it is an opportunity for me to inspire a whole different group of amazing women and kids.”

Williams has said that she almost died while giving birth to her first child, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr, in September. Since then, she has suffered from blood clots that could potentially affect her ability to play tennis. In the wake of her triumph at the French Open, she paid tribute to “all the moms out there who had a tough recovery from pregnancy” on Twitter. 

England’s longest-serving poppy seller retires after 97 years 

Poppy wreaths in London on Remembrance Day 2017 

Struggle with the idea of sticking with any job for more than a couple of years? Raise a glass to 103-year-old Rosemary Powell, who announced on Friday (1 June) that she is to retire from selling poppies for the Royal British Legion after 97 years.

Powell first began selling poppies with her mother in Richmond in 1921, when she was just six years old. She told BBC News that war “has had a significant impact on my life”: she lost two godfathers and three uncles in World War One, and her father was wounded after being shot during the Battle of the Somme.

Later, she served as a nurse in World War Two, during which her first fiancé and younger brother both died in action.

The Poppy Appeal had “always been a very important cause for me,” Powell said. “We did it in memory of those men who were killed, for their sacrifice.” However, she felt she had to retire now that she was “getting old”. 

Kim Kardashian meets Trump in the Oval Office 

Was it an example of a celebrity using their platform for good, or a sign of the relentless celebritization of politics? Whatever side of the debate you stood on, Kim Kardashian’s visit to the White House this week certainly got people talking.

The reality star posed for a photo op in the Oval Office on Wednesday (30 May), after meeting with President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner to discuss prison reform in the US. Kardashian was there to ask Trump to grant clemency to Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman currently serving a life sentence for a first-time non-violent drug offence.

Johnson has been in federal prison for over 21 years after she was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to sell cocaine. She has always maintained that she worked as a ‘go-between’ and never personally sold drugs or made deals, but was sentenced to life in prison without parole, plus 25 years, in 1997. Since hearing about Johnson’s case last October, Kardashian has been paying her legal fees.

The sight of Kardashian with Trump prompted horror and cynicism from some commentators. Naomi Fry, writing for The New Yorker, described the scene as “palpably creepy” and “a nightmare we can’t wake up from”; many others questioned why Kardashian didn’t invite established and experienced prison reform activists to accompany her to the White House.

However, Kardashian herself said that she felt the meeting had gone well. “I think that [Trump] really spent the time to listen to our case that we were making for Alice,” she told Mic. “He really understood, and I am very hopeful that this will turn out really positively.”

Women Making Waves is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign to raise awareness of women who’ve made a difference. See more Visible Women stories here.  

Images: Getty Images