marie claire’s annual Women of the Year Awards, presented by Kérastase, celebrate awesome women who have inspired, agitated, championed for change, blazed trails and made our hearts soar. Their tireless work, outrageous talents and passionate convictions have left an indelible mark. Meet our incredible winners.
THE CHAMPIONS: THE MATILDAS
There’s something about Mary – and Sam and Hayley. Caitlin, Steph and Cortnee. Ellie, Mackenzie and the rest of the team. Just ask anyone in Australia who fell hard for the Matildas during the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
These were the names that we screamed at stadiums and at TV screens and roared in pubs across the country, along with the biggest rallying cry of them all: “Go the Tillies!” Even those who don’t usually follow women’s football – or any sport – couldn’t help but get caught up in the green-and-gold fever as the national team stormed into the quarter-final against France. In a heart-stopping penalty shootout, the Matildas defeated France 7-6 in the longest shootout in World Cup history.
“I get goosebumps just thinking about it,” Mary Fowler tells marie claire on the set of her cover shoot. “When I think about it now, it feels like a dream. That moment was such an adrenaline rush.”
While Australia ultimately finished a very respectable fourth (the best result by any Australian football team in a World Cup) their impact on the nation was epic. Not only did they smash attendance records and TV audience figures, they also shifted the dial on outdated attitudes about women’s sport.
Representing her team for marie claire’s Women of the Year Awards, Fowler reflects on what they achieved: “It’s hard to put into words the legacy we’ve left behind. I think it’s really special that we can get recognised as a team for the work we did and the journey we’ve had together.”
In addition to smashing it on the pitch, the Tillies also brought a renewed focus on sport’s gender pay gap and highlighted the unique power of the female game to bring together a nation.
“It’s amazing already to see the growth there’s been,” says Fowler. I’ve come in at the perfect time when there’s so much opportunity. My hope for the future, for a lot of young girls starting out now, is for them to have as much opportunity as I’ve had, or even more. That’s what we’ve all worked towards and what so many female footballers before me have worked so hard for.”
THE VOICE OF NOW: CHANEL CONTOS (tied)
Chanel Contos has a motto: be ruthless with systems and kind with people. It’s an approach that has served her well.
Since sparking an important conversation about rape culture in private-school circles following a 2021 Instagram post, Contos has put pressure on the powers above.
With the backing of more than 6800 testimonies on her platform Teach Us Consent and 45,000 signatures on her petition, Contos has put consent education at the top of the agenda.
This year – after education ministers in 2022 unanimously agreed – consent education was rolled out in every school, in every year, across the country. It was an almighty win but Contos isn’t done. The war isn’t won.
In April, Contos was appointed chair of the Youth Advisory Committee at the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, a role that will see her amplify the voices of young people in the gender-equality space.
In July last year, Contos spearheaded a campaign to make stealthing a crime nationally. And in September this year, she published her debut book, Consent Laid Bare.
Contos is the voice of her generation, but don’t misconstrue her activism as an act of bravery. “I get told I’m brave a lot,” she says. “And I don’t think of myself as brave in any way, shape or form.
Unfortunately, the cultural context of Australia has made it so that speaking up about actions like sexual violence is a brave act. And that is a testament to how much we need to change this culture.”
THE VOICE OF NOW: MARIA THATTIL
The impact of truth-telling is not one that is lost on Maria Thattil. Standing on stage to deliver a TED Talk earlier this year in front of a crowd of nearly 2000 people, Thattil first comprehended the weight of her words.
“I was telling these honest stories about how I would use skin-bleaching creams on my skin before makeup when I was a kid when it dawned on me that stories like mine are going to touch people’s lives for generations to come. That was the moment that I felt like
I was meant to do this.”
As a queer female child of immigrants, Thattil has run the gauntlet of racism, sexism, financial hardship, intergenerational trauma,
homophobia and mental health struggles. And she’s come out the other side as a fierce advocate for inclusion and equality.
These are just some of the big-issue topics Thattil covers in her book, Unbounded: Manifesting a Life Without Limits. The empowering read shares Thattil’s story of being crowned Miss Universe Australia in 2020 and representing the country at the international competition in 2021 as only the third woman of colour to do so.
Since then, she has continued to break down barriers, take up space and use her voice for good. This year, she has released a podcast, The Maria Thattil Show, as well as making her acting debut in the reboot of Mother and Son.
Whether it’s a room of 2000 or 20, Thattil knows that true power comes simply from walking through the door. “I would like to see a lot more equality in the rooms where decisions that affect us are being made,” she says. “I want women to not be afraid of taking up space, but empowered to create space.”
THE RISING STAR: RUVA NGWENYA
Stepping into the shoes of your idols is no easy feat. So when Ruva Ngwenya landed the part of the late queen of rock’n’roll in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, she decided she wasn’t just going to step onto the stage, she would glide.
Captivating audiences with an explosive performance night after night, Ngwenya has done more than tell a story, she’s carried a legacy.
“After Tina passed, it was very emotional. Telling her story felt very scary and quite daunting. We decided to continue to perform in her honour because we knew that is what she wanted. This is the legacy that Tina put in place.”
After catapulting onto the musical theatre scene with her professional debut in The Lion King, it wasn’t long before a string of successes followed, including We Will Rock You, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Ragtime and Moulin Rouge! The Musical.
Ngwenya has solidified her spot as one of musical theatre’s most sought-after performers. From theatre to the football field, Ngwenya proved she was every bit as iconic as her on-stage persona after singing to 81,000 people at this year’s NRL grand final, delivering a performance just as electric as Turner’s had been three decades earlier at the 1993 grand final.
A proven triple threat with a strong presence and future in the Australian entertainment industry, the star is also breaking down barriers for performers of diverse backgrounds and showcasing a new and fresh take on what it means to entertain.
“I would love to see my industry normalise diversity not just on stage but in all departments of the crew behind the scenes as well,” says Ngwenya. “We need to break down those barriers of what it means to be a beautiful human. I want to transcend race when I say that and talk about diversity in all its forms.”
THE ADVOCATE: HANNAH DIVINEY
Hannah Diviney spent her childhood holding out for a hero who looked like her. It wasn’t until two decades later that the 24-year-old, who lives with cerebral palsy, would finally come face-to-face with her long-awaited hero.
“I’ve spent so many years asking for representation and it turned out to be me. I was looking for the face I’ve always had,” says the powerhouse disability advocate, actor and author of I’ll Let Myself In.
Since calling out American superstar Lizzo for using an ableist slur in her song in 2022, Diviney has ignited a global campaign calling for a disabled Disney princess, and also become the first woman with a disability to film a sex scene for Australian TV, in the comedy Latecomers.
When she isn’t breaking down doors and smashing ceilings for the betterment of womankind, Diviney is driving her media company, Missing Perspectives, as editor-in-chief, speaking at international panels organised by Hillary Clinton and sitting on the youth committee of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership (led by her friend and fellow Young Women of the Year winner, Chanel Contos).
“The actual day-to-day work can at times feel like you’re pushing a boulder up a hill,” she says. “To know that it is actually making a difference and that people are paying attention and taking notice really inspires
THE POWERHOUSE: MEGAN DAVIS
One of five children raised in housing commission by her single mother, Professor Megan Davis – whose mother is white and whose father is Indigenous – has grown up wanting to give a voice to the voiceless.
It drove her to become an international human rights lawyer, to sit on the UN council, to help create 2017’s Uluru Statement From The Heart and to push to establish a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution in this year’s referendum.
Davis tells marie claire, “I am proud of the 6 million Australians who voted Yes. I am proud of the 6 million Australians who accepted the invitation of our old people to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
I am proud that for the first time since 1788 we now know that 6 million Australians support First Nations aspirations for rights and justice. It’s a profound bond that was forged on the 14th October, 2023, even if it was in defeat.”
And in the face of defeat, the proud Cobble Cobble and South Sea Islander woman still looks towards the future with hope.
“Our work continues as the Uluru Dialogue. We intend to engage and galvanise the support of 6 million Australians and plan for the future. Many First Nations people are saying reconciliation is dead as a framework that never equipped Australians with an understanding of structural inequality. A conversation needs to be had with Aussies about what the appropriate lens is moving forward together as Aussies.”
THE CREATIVES: MADE UP STORIES (tied)
Nine Perfect Strangers. Pieces of Her. The Undoing. The Dry. Luckiest Girl Alive. Anatomy of a Scandal. These are just a few of the critically acclaimed and award-winning shows that production company Made Up Stories has developed since it began in 2017.
Australian producers Bruna Papandrea and Jodi Matterson set up the company with the aim of championing women on and off the screen. “There’s still this idea that female-driven movies are only for women, and it just is not true,” says Papandrea. “Women drive box office, women drive viewing habits and women drive consumer habits.”
This year, Made Up Stories brought to life the novel The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, starring Sigourney Weaver. The renowned Hollywood actor told marie claire, “I’m very proud to be an executive producer [on The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart], because Made Up Stories does very powerful women-driven stories.”
Later this year the production company will release Strife, starring Asher Keddie. And with offices in Sydney and Los Angeles, plus a newly opened HQ in London, there doesn’t seem to be any sign that Made Up Stories – or Papandrea and Matterson – will slow down any time soon.
THE CREATIVES: AMY MANFORD (tied)
Amy Manford is creating a strong case for manifestation. “Last year I had the words ‘Disney’ and the ‘The Sydney Opera House’ written on my manifestation board, but I never thought I would be performing in Disney’s 100th anniversary show, let alone producing the shows at the Opera House,” says the Australian-American soprano. “I really do believe if you put yourself out there and are passionate and brave, you can achieve anything you want.”
When her dreams were put on pause during the pandemic lockdown, Manford knew she’d have to create her own luck. From her kitchen bench, the singer, alongside Genevieve McCarthy, dreamt up MM Creative Productions.
In 2023, their vision came to life as the first female-founded organisation to secure the rights to the Disney in Concert brand globally, MM Creative worked in tandem with Disney Concerts to curate a never before-seen program that Manford co-produced, cast, performed in and toured around the country.
The performer, who is best known for her captivating portrayal of Christine Daaé in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera in London’s West End, Greece and last year in Australia, also toured the world with Andrea Bocelli and performed alongside the renowned Italian tenor.
And what does a peek at Manford’s 2024 manifestation board look like? “I am hoping to work on recording music and finding a new sound,” she explains. “If there was a soundtrack to my life this year, it would be ‘Into the Unknown’ from Frozen, because everything that has happened this year has been a dream that I never thought was achievable.
Now, suddenly, I’ve thrown myself into it and I’m not only doing it but it’s working and it’s amazing.”
Jess Hill might have spent the past year spotlighting consent culture and gendered violence, but behind the scenes the investigative journalist’s own light was dimmed.
“I’ve spent most of the past 12 months enduring treatment for brain cancer,” she says. “It was a deeply internal process that made me feel like I was disappearing. Coming out the other side of treatment and being recognised by marie claire is so uplifting.”
Four years ago, Hill’s first book, See What You Made Me Do, sparked a national conversation around coercive control and domestic abuse, and led to the acclaimed SBS TV series of the same name.
Since the release of her book, Hill has spoken at almost 300 public events about coercive control, and regularly conducts training and education for schools, workplaces and local councils.
In 2023, while undergoing cancer treatment, Hill released the groundbreaking documentary series Asking For It, which explored the epidemic of sexual violence in Australia. “I was determined to keep advocating and educating throughout my treatment,” she says. “[I’m most proud] of my capacity to keep showing up, despite feeling the need to go to ground.”
Not many people could be dubbed an icon at the young age of 30, but the Matildas’ captain, Sam Kerr, is not your average
The talented forward, who plays for Chelsea in the UK as well as leading the Australian women’s team, has been one of the driving forces that brought the Tillies not only to where they are today in terms of football, but also into the collective hearts of the nation during the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“We obviously went into the World Cup not wanting to come fourth – we would have loved to have gone further,” Kerr tells marie claire. “But what we created off the pitch was even bigger. We’ve just had a chance to come back to Australia and play the Olympic qualifiers in Perth, and to see sell-out crowds in my home town was epic.”
Kerr had an exceptional year, winning the UK Football Writers’ Association Women’s Footballer of the Year award for the second consecutive season. She was also Australia’s flag bearer at the King’s coronation. Despite the many personal wins, when marie claire asked what her proudest moment was, Kerr’s thoughts went straight to her team-mates and what they achieved together.
“Playing to packed stadiums around the country, in front of family and friends, while having the whole country support and get behind us was the highlight of 2023 for me,” says Kerr. “It was a surreal time and something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
And 2024 is shaping up to be just as epic, with the Paris Olympics in her sights. “We are already seeing changes with funding being announced, which means better facilities and more opportunities for young girls to play the sport,” says the tireless campaigner for better funding and pay. “I’ve also launched my own football schools, Sam Kerr Football, which will be starting early next year. SKF will hopefully inspire the next generation of kids and give young players the best chance to live out their potential on the pitch and to fall in love with the beautiful game.”
Kylie Minogue is 36 years into a music career that even she thought maybe brief, and that one of her harshest critics claimed she was handed on a platter.
In 2023, she again demonstrated that all these strategic reinventions and clever decisions to propel her career come from the one person who’s been there all along – Minogue herself.
In the past five years she’s become a wine mogul and a TikTok sensation. She moved back to Australia and became the first woman to score a UK No. 1 album in each of five consecutive decades. Her 16th album, Tension, has seen America re-enter the Kylie chat via an instant classic, “Padam Padam”.
Like 2001’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, “Padam” bolstered the faithful, silenced whatever haters remained and wooed new believers. Minogue tells marie claire, “I worked hard to do my best with the new album, but the response to the first single, ‘Padam Padam’ made the start of this era take off like a rocket!”
Ageism is one of the final frontiers in modern pop and the 55-year-old is tackling it by releasing pop so undeniable it transcends the usual industry gatekeepers, highlighting the issue in the process. And the professional showgirl is finally having her own Vegas moment, with a six-month residency that began in November.
“It’s been a doozy of a year with an extraordinary amount of work but I’m so happy and relieved that it has paid off and that people have responded with such enthusiasm and joy.”
Rebecca Vallance is on a high – a 10,000 metre high, to be exact. After solidifying her brand as an in-demand Australian fashion export, the creative director has taken her business to new heights, collaborating with Qantas on a bespoke matching pyjama and amenity kit.
Known for her distinctly cool and polished style, the designer started her self-titled label more than a decade ago, entering a highly competitive industry and succeeding through her determination, entrepreneurialism, and love of creating beautiful womenswear.
After launching her brand in luxury British department store Harvey Nichols, Vallance returned home to Australia in 2012 to release it locally, and her designs have since garnered a following with local and international A-listers including Chrissy Teigen, Joan Smalls and Sofia Vergara.
“I’m from Ballarat. I hope I’ve been a role model for kids from the country,” says Vallance. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or what your circumstances are in life, if you dream big and you work really hard, you can get there.”
And her hopes for the Australian fashion industry? “We have so many incredible Australian brands. We need to champion and get behind them from the very start by shopping for Australian labels.”
If talking trash was an Olympic sport, Lottie Dalziel would be bringing home the gold. Since founding her B-Corp, eco-friendly business Banish in 2018, Dalziel has made it her mission to empower others to be kinder to the planet, connecting with more than 100,000 Australians every day.
“It may seem small and insignificant, but I’m a really big believer in the collective action of multiple individuals making a really big difference,” says the current NSW Young Australian of the Year.
Through the Banish Recycling and Disposal (BRAD) program, which Dalziel also runs, 2 million blister packs have been diverted from landfill and recycled in the past five years.
As well as blister packs, the specialty program also saves from landfill hard-to-recycle household products such as coffee pods, plastic lids, razors, beauty bottles and those little sushi soy sauce fish – to the tune of thousands of kilograms. It’s an enormous but
much-needed undertaking. In a space where there’s a lot of noise and green-washing, Dalziel is doing the work. And that work is having a real and lasting impact.
“When I first started BRAD, I didn’t believe anybody would post me their hard-to-recycle items in the mail and now I receive thousands every month and we’ve been able to create this impact,” says Dalziel. “It’s so exciting that so many Australians believe in the collective actions of individuals making a really big difference.”