International Women's Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. – United Nations

On 8th March, we mark International Women's Day – taking time to celebrate the achievements of the inspiring women in our Scottish communities, congregations and lives, as well as across the world, who work to make things better for everyone.

International Women's Day grew from the women's labour movements of North America in 1909 and is now used as a focus point to create change; pushing for greater gender equality and full participation for women in economic, social, political and cultural arenas.

Gender inequality is a global issue, but it's also a problem in Scotland. We're working to create change in our communities and to strive for a fully gender just society and Church.

To celebrate International Women's Day 2016, we thought that it would be interesting to ask some Church staff and members to tell us about a woman of influence who has inspired them in their social, economic, cultural or political life and/or impacted on their faith journey. We hope you enjoy them. If their stories inspire you – get in touch, share them with family, friends or social media or tell us who your inspiration is!

  • Sally Foster Fulton

    Sally Foster Fulton

    When asked to write about an inspirational woman that influences Church of Scotland life and Scottish society, Rev Sally Foster Fulton was the obvious choice for me.

    Sally is the convenor of Church and Society council in the Kirk and soon to be the new head of Christian Aid Scotland. She is one of those people that instantly commands a room. With her intellect, charisma and passion for what she does it's hard not to be completely inspired by her.

    She does everything with a passion for justice at her heart of her every decision. She is also a woman of great faith-it is an honest, sincere and refreshing faith perspective that Sally teaches and one that I admire greatly. It's with this same passion for justice and faith perspective that has helped shape my approach to my Moderatorial year.

    Above all, Sally is a visionary and not afraid to champion the voice of the silenced or oppressed-speaking out always on the side of love.

    I will continue to be inspired by who and what Sally stands for.

    Hannah Mary Goodlad - National Youth Moderator

  • Tricia McConalogue

    Tricia McConalogue

    Tricia McConalogue is the project manager of Bridging the Gap, an incredible organisation in the Gorbals. In many ways the generosity of Bridging the Gap mirrors the sort of person that Tricia is, not least because it constantly strives to bring out the best in others.

    I first got to know Tricia the best part of 20 years ago and every time I think of her I realise what a privilege it is to have her as a friend. She knows about the struggles that many people face on a daily basis, and has deliberately never forgotten her own experiences of tough times although she doesn't go on about them. Whilst she has a deep sense of the big things that have to change, Tricia has an incredible ability to see the importance of little things. 'Small changes, big successes' is her regular catchphrase. She has a confidence about her which makes people want to listen, and an ability to point to others which means that you instinctively know that she is making sense. She has a wicked sense of the humour. I've been the butt of it on a number of occasions; and an incredibly kind and generous heart. And she is wise, astonishingly wise. And I am lucky to have her as a friend.

    Martin Johnstone - Church and Society Council Council Secretary

  • Mary Slessor

    Mary Slessor

    Mary Slessor was born in poverty and surrounded by tragedy, losing her father and two brothers before she was 14.

    In 1876, inspired by David Livingstone, Mary answered a call to Nigeria.

    In Calabar, she worked as a missionary, moved and driven by the need to challenge local superstition around twins, with the assumption that one was of the devil leading to both being abandoned or killed.

    A twin myself(and sharing her 2 December birthday!), I am drawn to Mary's story because it encapsulates the tenets of the Guild worship, prayer and action, underpinned by certainty of faith and exceptional dedication and courage.

    To this day she is revered in Nigeria and stands as a wonderful example of faith in action.

    Iain Whyte - The Guild General Secretary

  • JK Rowling

    JK Rowling

    Having grown up pretty much at the same time as Harry Potter, for me – and many others of my generation - J K Rowling is my inspiration. Not only did she inspire countless children around the world to get into books but also to use their imagination.

    Despite being the twelfth richest woman in the UK, she clearly hasn't forgotten her own experiences of poverty as a single mother, and social issues are often highlighted in her books.

    She has prominently supported charities tackling inequality, including: Gingerbread, a charity supporting single-parent families; the Volant Charitable Trust, a fund to combat poverty; and Lumos, a charity helping institutionalised children around the world.

    Any person glancing on Rowling's twitter feed can see that children around the world frequently look to her for advice – and often get a heartfelt reply.

    Jane Bristow - Communications Assistant

  • Mary Sherrard

    Mary Sherrard

    Having been involved in the Guild for many years, I don't have to look far to find inspirational women, particularly the many different ladies who have lead the Guild in the role I am currently privileged to serve in. One in particular immediately springs to mind.

    Mrs Mary Sherrard, the last National Guild President before the post was renamed National Convener, led the Guild from 1993-1996. Mary was in Bletchley Park during World War II, decrypting the German enigma machine. That was also where she met her husband, the late Rev John Sherrard. I first met her when her husband was our locum minister in West Wemyss, in Fife. Her family only found out about her work in Bletchley after the information was released by the government, so she sure is a lady you can tell a secret!

    Mary has loved the Guild for a long time and truly cares about the organisation, but more than that, she is a person who has a great faith which helped her hugely. This was especially true when there were many changes happening during her leadership (the Guild changed constitution in 1997 to allow men to join, and also changed many different ways in which the Guild operated).

    Today, Mary continues to be an active part of her Guild in the Borders. She is well known in all our Guild circles as someone who has affected great change and someone who continues to champion current projects, but she is also known as a good listener and a great encourager She is truly inspiring.

    Linda Young - National Guild Convener

  • Rev Rebecca Beggs

    Rev Rebecca Beggs

    I first met Rev Rebecca Beggs when she was called to be our minister in 1981. Although we actually only spent about 18 months in the same town, she became a firm friend and we kept in touch until she died about three years ago at the age 93. Rebecca had had a chequered career, starting off as a secretary in London, then retraining as a speech therapist, rising to be Vice-Principal of a college in Dublin; when the Church of Scotland allowed women to enter the ministry, she found herself at New College, responding to the call which she had always felt; St Bride's Kirk in Callander was her only parish.

    Why did she inspire me? She had a wonderful joie-de-vivre, embraced life and all the opportunities it presented her with. (She married for the first time at the age of 66!) She was interested in people, cared for them, and kept meeting and making new friends, while nurturing existing friendships. She had a good sense of humour, and a passion for justice, she hated cant and hypocrisy, and preached an inclusive Gospel with love and compassion. She was widely read, often quoted poetry, including her beloved Burns (she was an Ayrshire lass), and was an accomplished writer. My great regret is that I could never persuade her to write her own memoirs, because hers was a life lived to the full, but underpinned by a deep and practical Christian faith.

    Marjorie Clark - World Mission Council HIV Programme Co-ordinator

  • Margo MacDonald

    Margo MacDonald

    Politics in the Scottish Parliament is characterised by party political decisions making, parties choose candidates and set policy. The late Margo MacDonald MSP challenged this position by winning her seat as an independent candidate on a Regional List, without party support. This is a remarkable achievement. My friends and neighbours voted for her because they understood the value of a politician who thought and acted independently and in the interests of the local community. I knew Margo as an opponent when I campaigned against proposed legislation that was close was close to her heart, she never let this stand in the way of working together when we agreed or in offering hospitality even when we didn't. She has demonstrated that politics can be done without conforming to party structures or compromising on your beliefs which is an inspiration to me when imagining how our democracy could change in the future.

    Chloe Clemmons - Parliamentary Officer Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office

  • St Monica

    St Monica

    Writing on Mother's Day, I am reminded of Monica, the remarkable mother of Augustine, one of the towering figures of Christian history. Augustine has fascinated me for many years.

    Monica was married to a pagan, Patricius, who was fiercely bad-tempered and frequently unfaithful to her. That Patricius eventually became a Christian was due to in large measure to Monica's consistent and persevering Christian witness.

    Her part in the conversion of her brilliant but wayward son was likewise crucial. Dogged to a fault, when Augustine attempted to escape her influence by sailing to Italy, Monica simply followed him on a later ship. There, in Milan, she rejoiced to see him become a Christian and begin an astonishing career of service to the church.

    Monica's life continues to inspire me through her example of faithful witness, motherly devotion and persistent prayer.

    Right Rev Dr Angus Morrison - the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

  • Reverend Elineide Ferreiro Oliveira

    Reverend Elineide Ferreiro Oliveira

    I've not met Reverend Elineide Ferreiro Oliveira, but I am deeply impressed by her from a distance.

    Having seen her own sister suffer, her violent husband stabbed her seven times when she tried to leave him, Rev. Elineide felt called to create a refuge for women fleeing domestic violence in Brazil. The safe house currently helps about 150 women a year

    When she thinks about the things the women have gone through, sometimes the horror of it all threatens to overwhelm her. But her faith gives her the strength to go on. She is an inspiration to keep going on the long journey to gender parity.

    Wendy Young - Christian Aid

  • Mamie Martin

    Mamie Martin and Margaret Sinclair

    Mamie Martin moved to Malawi (then Nyasaland) in the 1920s with her husband Jack, a Church of Scotland missionary in Ekwendeni and Bandawe. While there she became aware of the need for girls and women to have access to education and she used her experience as a teacher to set up classes, with great success. Mamie died in Malawi giving birth to her second child in 1928.

    In 1991 Mamie's daughter, Margaret Sinclair, travelled to Malawi with her husband John to find her parents' house still standing, the Martin memorial church still in use, and that people in Bandawe still remembered the story of Jack and Mamie Martin. The idea of doing something for the Malawians in memory of Mamie was born on this trip and in 1993 the Mamie Martin Fund (MMF) was set up to assist with the secondary education on girls in Livingstonia, northern Malawi. The core of MMF's work involves funding the education for girls who begin secondary school but for various reasons run in financial difficulties that would otherwise mean the end of their education. Since its inception the MMF has helped fund the education of over 1,500 girls: these are girls who have gone on to become teachers, lawyers, nurses and entrepreneur and so pass on the benefits of their education to the next generation.

    Margaret Sinclair was an elder in the church I grew up in, and was deeply influential and inspiring to me as I grew up. Margaret also wrote me my first ever 'proper' letter when I was six. In it she thanked me for my donation of £2.37 to MMF and kindly illustrated what good it might do – the fact I remember it marks the significance it had on me to learn that I could help, even a little.

    The work of the Mamie Martin Fund continues today and more information as well as an opportunity to make donations can be found at http://www.mamiemartin.org/ An exciting new venture by Brodies coffee in Edinburgh has twinned with Alexander McCall Smith to produce 'Scotland Street' coffee, sourced from Mzuzu in Malawi, from which 100% of profits will go to MMF. Scotland Street coffee will be launched on 30th March 2016 at the Elephant House in Edinburgh.

    Andrew Kimmitt - Youth Assembly

For more information about International Women's Day 2016, visit the United Nations website.

Read about our 2015 International Women's Day campaign.