We were blown away by your responses to our National Women’s Day post about the most inspirational women in your lives. Some of your posts brought tears to our eyes, like Unathi Mamane, whose aunt ‘is the most special woman and pillar of strength. She has a heart of gold and works selflessly to help others. She gave me high self-esteem by spending time with me, talking and listening to me and praising the little things l did. My aunt is the best.’ Three cheers for Unathi’s aunt. And winner Gloria Strydom, whose post read: ‘I admire all women; we are all strong and do so much for everybody else.’ And she’s right, there are so many ways to be inspired by the people we meet on our journey that it can be difficult to choose just one or two.

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So we wondered… what is an inspirational woman? We asked around and came up with these top 10 habits that inspirational women have in common, and how you can be one.

Role models: from parents to pop divas

What a gift it is to have someone comment on how you inspired them! In this age, when pop princesses and fashion icons have millions of fans, it’s hard to remember that true inspiration comes not only from external accomplishments, but from the soul of the person inside. Alicia Keys, for example, is not only a singer, songwriter and musician; she’s also an active campaigner in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and co-founded the Keep a Child Alive organisation.
Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie’s life is pretty full. But between her acting career and caring for her six children, this passionate humanitarian campaigns for the safety of refugees, supports the international Doctors Without Borders organisation and works to eradicate poverty. She is a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In Kenya, the late Wangari Maathai started a movement to fight deforestation by encouraging women to plant trees in their local areas. Her ‘Green Belt Movement’ spread to other African countries and helped plant more than thirty million trees. Maathai was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for using her tree-planting programme to encourage democracy, women’s rights and international solidarity.

In Cape Town, 28-year-old Irma Titus from the Cape Flats has survived kidney disease and four kidney transplants. Not one to laze about, she has made it part of her life’s ambition to make life for the physically disadvantaged easier by starting Zeal4Life, an organisation that rallies support for young working class people living with chronic illness.

These women are truly inspiring. They have used their own unique gifts to show they care enough to make a real difference. But you don’t have to be Mother Theresa, Thuli Madonsela, Princess Diana, Alicia Keys or Miriam Makeba to be an inspiration to others. We investigated the characteristics and habits of the women who inspire us, whether they’re part of our families, among our friends or in the public eye.

These, we think, are the top 10 habits and characteristics of inspirational women. We hope you agree…

  1. They try to be the best version of themselves. They know that people watch what they do more than listen to what they say. They act in a way we’d like to imitate.
  2. They care are about other people. Inspirational people show a genuine interest in others. They ask questions and really listen to the answers. They show that there is strength in empathy.
  3. They show support and empathise when others are having a tough time. By showing real support and encouragement when someone is in crisis, inspirational people help them to see the best in themselves and in the situation, and how to move forward.
  4. They never give up. Blog writer and COO of Inspired Apps Michelle Hutchinson is inspired by people who don’t give up and never stop believing in themselves. One of her most inspiring women is author JK Rowling, the divorced single mother on welfare who wrote and ‘sold “a few” books about a wizard, maybe you heard of them, and became the first novelist billionaire’. When you’re completely down and out, there’s nowhere to go but up. And that’s a good lesson for us all.
  5. They share their experiences with others. Every experience in our lives teaches us something and we gain a little wisdom that is unique to us. If it’s relevant, we can share what we’ve learned with someone going through a similar experience. That message may really help.
  6. They show their vulnerability. People who have experienced acute trauma in their lives often go on to inspire others by speaking in public. South Africa’s own Natalie du Toit, who became an amputee after a scooter accident, went on to become a Paralympic and Commonwealth Games gold medalist. She is now a popular motivational public speaker, inspiring young people around the world to reach for their dreams. ‘There’s really no line between able-bodied and disabled swimming,; she says. ‘I treat both of them the same. They’re your opponents and you’ve got to race the way you train. It is important to swim your own race and not someone else’s.’
  7. They learn to communicate effectively. They watch what they say, and learn to interpret when their advice or comments are unwelcome.
  8. They never stop observing. No-one knows everything. We should be humble and always be open to learning from other people.
  9. They help others to be proud of their strengths. The world is filled with people who are insecure, have no confidence and stumble at life’s hurdles. Helping them to acknowledge their strengths and watching as they use failures as springboards to new opportunities is uplifting.
  10. Finally, a word for moms. Make sure that your daughters feel confident and secure as they growso that they can go out into the world with pride in their abilities, a determination to break down barriers and the ability to pave the way for the women of the future.



Acknowledgements & Photo credits

Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.


  1. Angier, M. Top 10 ways to inspire others to be their best. Success Networks International. http://www.appleseeds.org/10-inspire_Angier.htm
  2. Hutchinson, M. What makes an inspiring woman? https://mhutchess.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/what-makes-an-inspirational-woman/

Photo credits
Collage compiled from:

  1. Photo of Mother Teresa © 1986 Túrelio (via Wikimedia-Commons), 1986 / , via Wikimedia Commons
  2. Photo of Alicia Keys by Keith HInkle (Alecia Keys) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
  3. Image of family walking on the beach courtesy of gpalmisanoadm / Pixabay.com
  4. Photo of Wangari Maathai by Fredrick Onyango from Nairobi, Kenya [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons