Celebrating Women's History Month: Commemorating Women
Mahamaya Mishra | Mar 08, 2021
"We need women who are so strong they can be gentle, so educated they can be humble, so fierce they can be compassionate, so passionate they can be rational, and so disciplined they can be free." -Kavita Ramdas
Throughout the years, history has seen some fiercely intelligent, powerful, and inspirational women who not only have defined the worlds of science, mathematics, and literature, shaped the society, became saviours of the environment but also have pioneered movements for women’s rights and gender equality. During Women’s History Month in March, the legacies of these prominent women are honoured. Let us commemorate these women who worked tirelessly for the greater good and while doing so, created history in their own right.
In 1959, an Indian girl, aged nineteen swam across the English Channel, covering around 33 kilometres of water in just fourteen hours and twenty minutes. She was the first Indian and Asian woman to swim across the English Channel and the first female sportsperson to be awarded Padma Shri.
“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.”
Marie Sklodowska Curie is perhaps the most inspirational female scientist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity that led to the discovery of polonium and radium and the development of X-ray. Marie and Pierre Curie decided not to patent radium or any of its medical applications, even though, the patents could have funded their research and provided money for their family. During World War I, Marie Curie invented a mobile X-ray unit, called a “Little Curie,” and trained 150 women to operate it which, it is said, helped save millions of lives. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first and the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields. She was the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris in 1906.
She is a social activist from the state of Odisha. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2001 by the Government of India for her contribution to spreading literacy among the underprivileged tribal people of Odisha. Being born into a poor tribal family, exactly a month before India attained Independence in the remote and impoverished Serenda region in Orissa, Tulasi learned to read and write by herself. Over three decades ago she established a school under a tree. To raise money, she sold puffed rice. Over the years the school has educated over 20,000 boys and girls. Her organisation, called Adivasi Vikas Samithi runs the school in Serenda and has 16 outreach centres in the villages of the Keonjarh district and helps in making primary education accessible to the underprivileged. ‘Tulasi Appa’ is a film portraying her remarkable life.
“I believe that entrepreneurship is about being able to face failure, manage failure and succeed after failing.”
India's second richest woman, as ranked by Forbes in 2020, with an estimated net worth of $4.6 billion is a self-made billionaire entrepreneur, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. She is the chairperson and managing director of Biocon Limited, a biopharmaceutical company based in Bangalore, India, and the former chairperson of the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. Starting with her business in her garage, Kiran went on to build an empire. Though she had never been to any business school yet is recognized as a global leader in the field of biopharmaceuticals. She was awarded the Othmer Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to the progress of science and chemistry in 2014, listed in the Financial Times’ top 50 women in business, named among TIME magazine's 100 most influential people in the world, and termed EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020.
Also popularly known as ‘Queen of Melody’, ‘Voice of the Nation’, ‘Voice of the Millennium’, Lata Mangeshkar is an Indian playback singer and music director, known all over the world for her melodious voice. She is one of the best-known and most revered playback singers in India. She has recorded songs in over a thousand Hindi films and has sung songs in over thirty-six regional Indian languages and foreign languages in a career that spans around six decades.
"My idea of a good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company."
She is an English novelist of the eighteenth century who started writing her classic novels, such as 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Sense and Sensibility', in her teens, which interpret, critique, and comment upon the British landed gentry. Jane Austen defined an entire literary genre with her shrewd social observations which often explored the dependence of women on marriage in the pursuit of favourable social standing and economic security. She had to publish her works anonymously and only after her death was she revealed as the real author by her brother Henry. Her witty style of storytelling and skilfulness of characterisation continues to amuse readers even today.
"Each person must live their life as a model for others."
Rosa Parks was on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, when the bus driver asked her to stand up and give her seat to a white man. Parks, a black seamstress, refused and thus got arrested. In doing so she sparked an entire civil rights movement in America. The United States Congress called her ‘the first lady of civil rights’ and ‘the mother of the freedom movement’. When she died at the age of 92, she became the first woman in the nation’s history to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
“I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls.”
Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, ran a girls’ school in the village in which they lived, however when the Taliban moved in, they ordered the school to be shut down. Not one to be deterred, Yousafzai not only continued to pursue her education but also spoke about the right to education. In 2012, aged fifteen she was confronted by a gunman on her school bus who shot in the head. Malala survived. Presently, aged twenty-three, she and her family live in the United Kingdom and Malala has founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit whose aim is to give girls everywhere a chance at the future they deserve. In 2014, aged 17, Malala became the youngest person to win the Nobel Prize.
“If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
Possibly the most widely loved and even worshipped saint, Mother Teresa devoted her entire life to humanitarian work. She founded the Missionary of Charities organization, and cared for thousands of the destitute and dying in the slums of Calcutta. She also worked tirelessly to eradicate poverty and improve lives around the world. Her awards and recognitions include the Nobel Peace Prize and the Bharat Ratna. Many documentaries, books, and films portray her glorious life.
Jijabai Shahaji Bhosale
Almost every Indian is aware of stories about Rajmata Jijabai, the mother of Shivaji, the founder of the Maratha Empire. Herself a fierce warrior and administrator, it is believed that it was her upbringing that moulded Shivaji into the great emperor he became. Jijamata fostered Shivaji with faith, courage, and valour. She remarkably symbolizes the prowess and importance of a mother.
“A country's greatness lies in the undying ideals of love and sacrifice that inspire the mothers of the race.”
Also known as the ‘The Nightingale of India’ Sarojini Naidu is a former president of the Indian National Congress and the first woman to be appointed an Indian state governor. An active participant in the Indian freedom struggle, she shaped the Women's Indian Association in 1917. She is also a renowned poet, also remembered for her books, including The Broken Wing and The Gift of India.
Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician and the world’s first computer programmer. After the death of Lovelace at the age of thirty-six, it took nearly a century for people to appreciate her notes on Babbage’s Analytical Engine, which became recognised as the first description for computer and software, ever. She was also a visionary who predicted that computers could do more than just crunch numbers.
“And one day she discovered that she was fierce and strong and full of fire and that not even she could hold herself back because her passion burnt brighter than her fears." -Mark Anthony
The list of women who, undeterred by all social, political, and economical obstacles stood up and shone, and thus forged a more gender-balanced world, is endless. May the lives of these illustrious women bring light to the lives of women who still live in darkness and give them the strength to rise. This Women’s History Month let us appreciate every woman and show womankind love and respect.