Some months ago I accepted my invitation to the Women of the Year lunch, held this week, with some coyness. Was my ego that big that I wanted to pay generously to have lunch with some of the great and the good? Was it really appropriate to take most of the day “off” for such a frolic? I’m really not a lady who lunches. I convinced myself that it was worthwhile – try most things once….

How glad I am that I went. It was truly inspirational, and enormous fun. First the fun. Sandi Toksvig was the compere – wonderfully, wonderfully funny as she introduced the various award winners. I wish I could do that… We all met at numbered tables for drinks and then adjourned to our different tables of eight for lunch. My neighbours included Dorothy Ghanekar, young person’s independent domestic violence advocate for the Her Centre in Greenwich and Pauline Woods, coordinator of ‘Born too soon’ a support group for the Neonatal Group at Kingston Hospital. These women were hugely worth celebrating for what they are quietly getting on and doing, contributing enormously to the well being of our society. The atmosphere was celebratory, and full of laughter.

By the time it came to the presentations we were all on top form. First the Women of the Year DFS Enterprise Award went to Jack Monroe of austerity recipe blog fame. ITV’s Lorraine Inspirational Woman of the Year was Joanne Thompson who, after her baby died at a nursery, has dedicated herself to improving paediatric first aid training across the country. Then the Women of the Year Good Housekeeping Outstanding Young Campaigner of the Year was Fahma Mohamed, aged 17, successfully campaigning and warning girls of the dreadful practice of female genital mutilation (FGM is everybody’s business, regardless of race, gender or religion, she says – I was delighted that we have already invited the Bare Truth Theatre Company to Fitzwilliam in November to put on Little Stitches).

The Barclays Women of the Year award went to Diana Nammi. An Iranian Kurd, she came to England and sought asylum after 12 years fighting for human rights in Iran. She was provided with an interpreter, a woman who had lived in England for 11 years and spoke fluent English. Later Diana learnt that her interpreter has been taken back to Kurdistan and murdered by her husband and his brothers who suspected her of flirting with a colleague. The police in England refused to investigate. And so in 2002 she founded the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) to provide advice, advocacy and counselling for women in this country affected by “honour-based” domestic violence. The Prudential Lifetime Achievement award went to Christina Noble for decades of work with street children in Vietnam and Mongolia. And finally there was Beatrice Mtetwa, who got the woman of the year council award. She is the most extraordinarily brave human rights lawyer from Zimbabwe. These really are ordinary women doing quite extraordinary things. i.e. extraordinary women. The room was full of women doing extraordinary things. I came home determined to do better!

And yes – it was a great occasion to network. I did meet some great women I know and admire (but just missed the mother of the recent Fitz graduand, who emailed me soon afterwards….). All in all, an amazing event. Three cheers for the organisers, Baroness Helena Kennedy and her ‘celebrated figures in national life’. The great and the good were there, after all, but largely unobtrusively hosting an inspirational event.

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

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