Why we need a project like Virago

FeaturedA blue plaque made by virago, recognising the contribution women make to our society

cropped-27973267_1225546557578148_8379343175539895329_n1.jpgA Woman’s Place?

This year #timesup and #metoo have exploded into public debate, reigniting a discussion about gender inequality. But even though there is a lot to celebrate, 100 years on from women winning the right to vote, there is still so much more to be done. Virago are joining the fight, focusing on tackling the lack of respect and recognition for women.

40% of people in Britain think that women have had less impact on history than men.

 A study done by English Heritage found that a shocking 40% of people believe that women have had less impact on history than men.
Here at Virago we know that isn’t right.  Something has to change. This is a blog of inspirational women, recognising the work that they do.

Women only make up 13% of London’s Blue Plaques

We’re profiling the women commemorated on London’s blue plaques to boost
recognition of the impact women have made on history.
But only 13% of over 930 English Heritage blue plaques in London feature women. So we know this alone doesn’t go far enough. As well as promoting the women who have already been commemorated with blue plaques, we’ve also come up with our own blue plaque scheme.

Virago blue plaques

A blue plaque made by virago, recognising the contribution women make to our society
Everyone knows an amazing woman. We are recognising them with our scheme.
We know that women make a massive contribution to our history, to our society, and to our daily lives. Not all inspiring women are suffragettes and scientists, but that doesn’t make them any less phenomenal or any less deserving of recognition.

We are giving our own blue plaques to women who deserve recognition and we want you to help us by nominating the inspiring women in your life.

By Rose Nugee


‘Do not compare yourself to anyone !’ – French artist Jasmïn is a Virago woman

The 22 year-old Jasmïn is a singer, songwriter and producer. She is based in Paris. Watch her interview to discover her music and listen to the tips she gave us !

By Justine Chalabi

Spot Light on: Baroness Jowell

Here at Virago, we’ve celebrated at length the achievements of historical female figures, but today we wanted to talk about women who deserve recognition for the work they have done and continue to do.

Tessa Jowell recently caught headlines for her brave and brilliant speech in the House of Lords where she spoke open and honestly about her battle with brain cancer.

In the speech she spoke about the lack of new technology available for that battling brain cancer, she said

“Less than 2% of cancer research funding In the U.K is spent on brain tumors. No vital new drugs have been developed for the last 50 years..”

And while her personal story is the one making the headlines now, back in 1992 it was because she was elected Member of Parliament for Dulwich and West Norwood.

During her political career she played a number of roles, she was appointed as Minister of State in the Department of Health after the historic 1997 Labour win. She moved again to the department of education and employment in 1999 and was lastly promoted to Secretary of State at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport  after the 2001 election.

As culture secretary she set about trying to address her concerns with Television Broadcasting, she was a key member in the Communications Act in 2003 which established a new media regulator, OFCOM.  Jowell was also key to the successful bid Britain made in 2002 to host the 2012 Olympics, she came up with the idea in 2002 during her time as Culture Secretary with very little support from inside the cabinet. Jowell convinced the government to support the bid, in 2004 the big was launched and the games were awarded to London.  She was later promoted to Olympics Minister and held full responsibility for the responsibility from 2006 and retain her position throughout Labour’s time in office.

Following the general election of May 2010, she became Shadow Olympics Minister and remained on the 2012 organising committee until she resigned from her role in 2012.  That same year Tessa Jowell was appointed as a Dame Commander in the civil  division giving her the title DBE and she was later raised to the peerage in the 2015 Dissolution Honours giving her the title of Baroness Jowell.

It is clear that whatever life throws at her, public service has been a part of her life since she joined the Labour party in the early 70’s  and for her duty to public service even while she battles through cancer, we here at Virago believe Tessa Jowell represents and signifies everything we believe Virago here at Virago and we’ve made her an honorary Virago women.

It is obvious that she will more than qualify for a blue plaque.

by Azana Francis




Meet Lucienne Serrat, a Virago woman !


Youth for the world aims to develop a peace culture in Paris’ suburbs but also within the whole continent. In order to do that, they organise trips to the beach or cultural days at the museum for local residents. Also, lots of young people are sent to European countries to discover other cultures and learn languages.

When I’ve asked Lucienne how she thought about founding and be part of the organisation, she told me it came from a personal curiosity at first. This Virago woman wanted to interact with people and meet young people from every culture possible. Coming from a small village in the South of France, discovering other cultures and countries was fundamental to her.

Lucienne has always faced a lack of confidence but volunteering for more then 30 year and helping other people helped her become more confident. She thinks that in our path, we always meet people who believe in us and her husband Jean, is one of them who supported her in all her projects.

Granny Grandpi
Lucienne and Jean, on their wedding day, 1966


Most of the projects Lucienne founded within the organisation came from her encounters with various people facing different problems during the trips she has made.

After travelling to Tunisia, she discovered that many deaf and mute young Tunisians were not included in the community and in their own families because they couldn’t communicate properly. She then invited one of them to Paris for him to learn sign language. This project helped him to get a job at a school back home for him to teach other young people.


Danmark, 1990
Lucienne and young participants in a trip to Denmark, 1990


The latest initiative Lucienne and her organisation launched is one to help young refugees and displaced people to be a part of the community and to be understood by the local residents.

Watch our video to discover the biggest obstacle she’s faced and the advice she wants to give us all !


By Justine Chalabi

In honour of Maya Angelou’s 90th birthday, here is a special selection of 10 female poets and poems to inspire you

Portrait image of feminist Instagram poet Rupi Kaur, author of Milk and Honey and feminist icon.

How important it is for us to recognise and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!

– Maya Angelou, who was born 90 years ago today.

As a poet Angelou channelled her Virago strength into empowering poetry. She always promoted the work of women and the importance of literature so we’re celebrating 90 years since her birth by continuing her good work.

Maya Angelou was definitely a Virago woman. Her seminal book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, is even published by a publishing house which shares our name! We hope if she were alive today she might be proud of the project we’re running here. She was passionate about women’s right and women’s writing and often talked of the power of literature to inspire. So we’re celebrating her birthday in a way we hope she’d enjoy. In honour of Maya Angelou, here’s a collection of poetry for virago women: these are the female poets who inspire us to be #phenomenalwomen.

1. Maya Angelou – Still I Rise

Let’s kick off with Maya Angelou’s own poem, Still I Rise, which talks about having the resilience to continue when others try to beat you down, and which celebrates female sassiness and strength:

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Read the whole poem here.

2. Maya Angelou – Phenomenal Woman


‘Phenomenal Woman’ is another wonderful example of Maya Angelou’s empowering Virago spirit. It’s full of confidence and sunshine and self determination. A truly Virago poem!

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Read the full poem here:

It’s no surprise that a poem this strong would be the favourite of inspirational women everywhere. There have been some brilliant women who’ve recited this.

Hear Serena Williams read Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise in the video below, recorded before just Serena won the 2016 Wimbledon Women’s Tennis final and in the process equalled the world record.

3. Wendy Cope – Differences of Opinion

Black and white photograph of Feminist poet Wendy Cope. Picture by Stevie McGarrity Alderdice

A true national treasure, Wendy Cope is one of Britain’s best loved poets. One of her best Virago Poems is Differences of opinion. The whole poem is below:

Differences of opinion

He tells her that the earth is flat —

He knows the facts, and that is that.

In altercations fierce and long

She tries her best to prove him wrong.

But he has learned to argue well.

He calls her arguments unsound

And often asks her not to yell.

She cannot win. He stands his ground.

The planet goes on being round.

Read more of Wendy Cope’s poetry here.

4. Hollie McNish – Mathematics

Wise, rude, sharp, and totally unique, Hollie McNish’s poetry performances have been watched by millions on YouTube and she’s been described as the most important spoken-word artist of her generation.

And when I meet these paper claims
That one of every new that came
Takes away ones daily wage
I desperately want to scream
‘Your maths is stuck in primary’

Watch her recite the whole poem below:

5. Sylvia Plath – Lady Lazarus

Sylvia Plath is one of the defining voices in twentieth-century poetry. Her achievement is even more remarkable given that she only published a single volume in her life time. Ariel covers women’s creativity, motherhood, and the female voice. Her poetry is fiercely defiant of the sexist world of 1960s America in which she lived, and one of the most ferociously Virago poems in Ariel is Lady Lazarus:

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

Read the whole poem here.

6. Imani Cezanne- Heels

A powerful slam poem which demolishes one of the stereotypes around women’s appearance, Heels encourages women to dress for themselves – not for men. Imani Cezanne flaunts her self-love and her confidence and she encourages you to follow suit.

I wear heels because it’s useless to cater to the insecure.

Watch her perform the whole poem below:

7. Amanda Lovelace – The Princess Saves Herself in This One

Winner of the 2016 Goodreads Choice Award, the princess saves herself in this one is a collection of poetry about resilience. It is about writing your own ending. Lovelace’s book is divided into four different parts: the princess, the damsel, the queen, & you. Here’s the title poem:

This independent review summarises the power of The Princess Saves Herself in This One, better than we could:

“Gut wrenching at times and exhilaratingly inspiring in others. I finished it in maybe 3 hours, if that, and I have absolutely zero regrets about it. If you want a good Sunday afternoon read that will tear on your heart strings, comes with a trigger warning, and will leave you feeling strong & beautiful, then this book is for you. It dives deep and swims wide, so fair warning. But you will not be able to put it down. So you can’t say I didn’t warn you..”

8. Lily Myers- Shrinking Women

Shrinking women, Lily Myers’ slam poem expresses the pressure women feel to take up less and less space, to be quiet, to be small and to eat sparingly.

I have been taught accommodation.

My brother never thinks before he speaks.

I have been taught to filter.

“How can anyone have a relationship to food?” He asks, laughing, as I eat the black bean soup I chose for its lack of carbs.

I want to tell say: we come from difference, Jonas,

you have been taught to grow out

I have been taught to grow in

you learned from our father how to emit, how to produce, to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence, you used to lose your voice every other week from shouting so much

I learned to absorb

Watch Lily Myers perform the full poem below.

9. Adrienne Rich – Power

Adrienne Rich was an American poet, essayist and radical feminist. She was called “one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century”. Her poem ‘Power’, about Marie Curie, speaks about the strength and fortitude of women.

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
her wounds came from the same source as her power

Read the full poem here:
Another poem of hers, the very popular ‘Planetarium’ is full of energy, science, fun and most importantly “woman”:

I am a galactic cloud so deep      so invo-

luted that a light wave could take 15

years to travel through me       And has

taken      I am an instrument in the shape

of a woman trying to translate pulsations

into images    for the relief of the body

and the reconstruction of the mind.

Read the full poem here.

10. Rupi Kaur – milk and honey

No list of Virago poetry would be complete without “instagram poet” Rupi Kaur, whose powerful poetry and revolutionary publishing technique has inspired a new generation of girls and young women to love poetry and love themselves. She writes short, sharp, sweet poetry with an empowering message and illustrations. Here are some of our favourites:

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) on

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A post shared by rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) on

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A post shared by rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) on

If this post has made you hungry for more poetry, why not check out our explainer vid about another feminist icon  and inspirational female poet, the truly extraordinary HD- Hilda Doolittle, check it out here!
By Rose Nugee

Remembering Maya Angelou – the most moving tributes to the poet on what would have been her 90th birthday


'I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. - Maya Angelou, with picture of the feminist and civil rights activist, author of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, inspirational quote
The tributes pouring out for Maya Angelou on what would have been her 90th birthday suggests she made a lot of people feel inspired!

Maya Angelou (4th of April 1928 -28th of May 2014) was an all round Phenomenal Womanor as we say – a Virago Woman.Born on this day in 1928, Maya Angelou was anAmerican author, poet, historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer, stage and screen producer, director, performer, singer, and civil rights activist. She is best known for her poetry including the empowering Still I Rise and her non fiction book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), the story of her early life. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings recalls a young African American woman’s discovery of her self-confidence, and was the first non-fiction book by an African American woman to make the best-sellers list.

Read more about her life here.

Today, Google is commemorating the life and poetry of Maya Angelou with a doodle, shared on their homepage and their twitter.

They aren’t the only ones thinking of the inspirational female poet today. Here’s how twitter is celebrating Maya Angelou on what would be her 90th birthday:

Singer Alicia Keys posted a tweet recognising the work Angelou did to break the glass ceiling


Angelou is still inspiring women to be the best they can be!

By Rose Nugee

Spotlight on: Doreen Lawrence


Here at Virago, we’ve celebrated at length the achievements of historical female figures, but today we wanted to talk about women who deserve recognition for the work they have done and continue to do.

Doreen Lawrence now known as Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon OBE,  is a anti-racism campaigner and Labour peer.

She managed to turn the most tragic situation to ever happen to her into a tool to carve out a public platform and space for herself to promote change and racial equality.

After the murder of her son Stephen in 1993, aged only 18 in one the biggest race hate crimes to shake the U.K, Doreen and her then husband Neville Lawrence both claimed the Metropolitan Police investigation was not being conducted professionally citing racism and incompetence as the main flaws. It wasn’t until 1999 after years of campaigning, backing from the community, politicians and the media, a judicial inquiry was launched  by Jack Straw the then Home Secretary.

Chaired by Sir William McPherson, the inquiry was to investigate the circumstances of Stephen’s death and handling of the case. It went international when the court ruled that the Metropolitan Police was “institutionally racist” and ruled this was one of the many reasons police failed to solve the case.

In the aftermath of the inquiry, Ms Lawrence continued to campaign for justice for her son and to ensure the arrest of her son’s killers, but also for other victims of racist crime. She worked tirelessly to ensure there were reforms to the police service. In 2003 she was awarded an OBE (this is the highest honour for civilians from the common wealth) for services to the community. She founded the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust to promote a positive community legacy for her son.  In January 2012, 18 years after his death, Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty for the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

She has since been appointed to sit on panels within the Home Office, the Police Service. In April 20014 she was named Britains’ most powerful women in the BBC Women’s hour power list 2014.

At 65 she has earned her space in British history for her fearlessness for taking on the Met Police and shes just as outspoken today as she  ever was. It was only in January of this year Doreen said that MP’s would care more if the victims of London’s soaring knife crime were white, she was quoted in Guardian article as saying

 “I’m tired of reading about it in the paper. I’m tired of seeing families talking about their sons. I’m really, really tired of it,” Lawrence told the Press Association. “I think the government needs to get a grip. It comes under the race issue again – look who’s dying. If that was the amount of kids who were in the white community that were dying, do you think that something would have been done?” -Doreen Lawrence

Doreen Lawrence represents and signifies everything we believe Virago here at Virago and we’ve made her an honorary Virago women.

It is obvious that she will be more than qualify for a blue plaque.

Who was Agatha Christie? Kensington and Chelsea history

Before J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, there was Agatha Christie and her leading man; the ever-charming Hercules Poirot!

Now, if you’re into crime fiction like I am, Agatha Christie is hands-down one of the greatest human beings that ever lived!

Dame Agatha Christie (1890-1976) was a pioneer in British Literature. She is well-known for writing over 60 mystery novels and 16 short stories starring her leading characters French Detective Hercules Poirot and the witty Miss Marple.

Last year, her book “Murder on the Orient Express” was turned into a Hollywood blockbuster with an all-star cast. She is still regarded as the best-selling mystery author of ALL time and her books remain a staple for crime-fiction lovers everywhere!

Ever wondered what her favourite book was? Watch the video below to hear from the lady herself.

Dame Agatha Christie is commemorated with a blue plaque in Chelsea – if you’re looking for things to do in the area, why not check it out for yourself! The plaque’s address is

58 Sheffield Terrace, Holland Park, London W8 7NA,

By Folayemi Olorunselu

“If things aren’t going very well… then we’re not at the end yet”- Waithera Sebatindira is a Virago Woman

Photograph of Waithera Sebatindira the first black woman to ever have held the position of CUSU (Cambridge university students union) women’s Officer. She looks directly and the camera and smiles

Waithera Sebatindira – activist, student, first black woman to become Cambridge Student Union’s women’s officer.

Waithera made history when she became the first woman of colour to have ever held the role of Women’s Officer at Cambridge University’s students’ union in 2016.

10420173_299166523626826_7567189947063491757_nAs Women’s Officer, she campaigned on feminist and anti-racist issues on campus and lobbied for women and non-binary students on university committees.

Nominated by Rose Nugee:
” I nominated Waithera for a Virago blue plaque because I think she embodies what Virago is about. I am constantly inspired by her determination to make the world a better place, and by the passion and sheer competency with which she sets about achieving that goal.”

In the two videos below Waithera talks about the difficulties she’s faced personally and how she overcame them.  She also shares her advice for young women and  what her life motto is.

“The biggest difficulty that I’ve ever faced relates to my mental health. During the year that I was the student unions women’s officer, I was also experiencing some relatively severe anxiety and depression…”

Click the video below to hear how she got through it, and to find out what advice she’d give to young women struggling themselves.

Here is Waithera’s life’s motto:

Waithera is currently enrolled in the MPhil in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies at Cambridge.

Article by Rose Nugee

“Never look back!” – Penny Akinde is a Virago Woman!

Penny Akinde says that her strength comes from within!

“Coming from a broken home, you never really know how much it effects you until you reach a certain stage in your life!”

“You start seeing that you don’t value love the way you should and that’s because my dad broke my heart first before any man got the chance to.”

“It took my husband years to break down the wall I built as a defence mechanism, in order to protect myself.”

“But that wall came down, eventually!”

“Becoming a mother is an indescribable feeling! He is my perfect mini-me!”


Hear her story and the advice she has for us all!

By Abigail Opiah