THE general consensus is that international awareness days are performative and over time have become hijacked by multi-national organisations looking to piggyback onto minority struggles to make a quick buck.

But actually, I’ve always deviated from this opinion. While I’ve no time for the monetisation of genuine struggle, I have always quite liked to mark days like International Women’s Day.

Even if some of it is massively performative, even if a week later the topic of conversation changes and no-one talks about it until the next one rolls around, I’m of the view that for that moment in time – no matter how brief – people are talking about it. They’re being educated, they’re in tune with the issue at hand, and it would be a wasted opportunity to ignore it or write it off, rather than harness it for the greater good.

So, this International Women’s Day, I wanted to put the spotlight on some of the autistic women and non-binary creators, changemakers and visionaries who are making waves across the world.

READ MORE: ‘Frustration’ on lack of Scottish autism commissioner

Contending with a diagnostic rate of one woman to every four men, gender bias in healthcare and the highest unemployment rate of all disabled people – autistic women and non-binary people often go under the radar. Ignored, under-diagnosed and undervalued for their contribution to the world. For as long as I have a platform, I will work to change that.

I would be doing myself a disservice if number one on this list wasn’t Instagram’s Neurodivergent Lou. Lou has built a platform of 271,000 followers by creating digestible information on autism. She posts regularly about the various, and often surprising, ways that autism manifests in real life – from an autistic perspective.

Had it not been for Lou’s posts on autism in women back in 2020, I would not have known that I was autistic. She presented autism to me in a way that I was finally able to identify with, unlike the research and diagnostic criteria that was built around the experience of young, white boys and that kept my diagnosis out of reach. She works every day to break down the educational barriers that reinforce the stigma around autism, and provides a safe space for autistic people to learn about themselves in a way that is scarcely available.

Another autistic woman who’s made a huge impact on the autistic community is autistic best-selling author and screenwriter Holly Smale. Holly was diagnosed with autism at 39, which should give you some indication of how difficult it is to be diagnosed as a woman.

Her iconic Geek Girl book series follows the trials and tribulations of Harriet Manners, a young autistic girl, as she reluctantly embarks on a modelling career. The first book in the series went on to win the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and the series has sold more than three million copies.

With the fictional character of Harriet Manners, Holly introduced a new autistic character to the realm of fiction. We are so used to autistic characters being male and hyper-intelligent or into maths that autistic girls are unable to see themselves reflected anywhere in the fictional world. Harriet opens the door for the de-stigmatisation of autism, and spotlights autistic traits beautifully in a way that normalises them. Geek Girl is being adapted by Netflix and will hit our screens later in the year.

Moving back to the world of influencers, we have Ellie Middleton. Ellie was diagnosed just a couple of years ago, and has used the time since to massively influence the mainstream perception of autism. She founded the hugely successful Unmasked online community “for busy brains”, which seeks to provide a safe space for neurodivergent people to connect, learn and share coping strategies.

Last year Ellie published her debut book by the same name, which was coined as the ultimate guide to autism and neurodivergence, which has gone on to be a best-seller. Ellie has put a face and a personality on an often forgotten and ignored presentation of autism and has facilitated the networking of neurodivergent people right across the UK. In April, Unmasked will be hosting the first-ever “Festival of Autistic Joy” in Manchester.

I wouldn’t be staying true to my political roots without mentioning Lorna Slater. Lorna was the first ever (known) autistic person elected to the Scottish Parliament and has gone on to become a Scottish Government minister.

It cannot be understated how valuable this representation is for autistic women and girls across the country, who now have the privilege of seeing themselves reflected in a sitting member of the national parliament and government.

Since her election, Lorna has frequently demonstrated how she tailors the expectation of being a parliamentarian to her needs as an autistic person, and though this might feel meaningless to anyone who isn’t autistic, being able to see that this is a possibility not only opens the door for autistic people in politics, but invites them in.

I could write about the achievements of autistic people and everything they offer to the world all day, but in the interest of writing a column and not a book, I am going to end with Charli Clement.

Charli is a non-binary autistic and chronically ill creator. Their debut book All Tangled Up In Autism And Chronic Illness seamlessly unpacks the lived experience of being autistic and competing with multiple disabilities. On TikTok, Charli’s series on getting a degree as a disabled person shines a light on the unique challenges disabled people face in this space and has educated thousands.

While women and girls are so chronically under-diagnosed, trans and non-binary people as well as people of colour suffer the same fate. Anyone who isn’t a white, cis male and doesn’t fit the hand-crafted stereotype is likely to be missed and it is not an understatement to say that the representation brought by people like Charli is life changing.

International awareness days might not be well-liked or celebrated, but this is why they matter. They allow for the all-important platforming to take place, for under-represented people to be front and centre of the conversation. They allow for the direction to resources and whether tokenistic and hijacked or not – get the conversation going.

Women are wonderful. Truly, I don’t feel that there is a more special experience than when women unite, celebrate each other and make space for each other to thrive.

Which is why March 8 every year is such a joy. It’s about showing the world what it means to be a woman, how that can look different for every one of us, and how we each offer something different to the world.

We are deserving of an equal footing, and whether we like it or not, International Women’s Day does inspire global conversation.

So instead of tearing it down, or writing it off, or allowing it to be ruined by miserable giant corporations – maybe we should engage and harness the opportunity.