This month we celebrate Nobel Prize Winners Day (10th December) and we wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the female Nobel Prize winners. The amazing women that broke through that glass ceiling and accomplished great things, including winning a Nobel Prize. We won’t have space to talk about every inspirational woman who has won this prestigious award so we’ve chosen a handful from different categories to talk about their work and why we think they’re so outstanding.
“Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it” – Marie Curie
We had to start with the woman who started it all, Marie Curie. Marie was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in 1903 in Physics for her work alongside her husband Pierre Curie in the recognition and research on the radiation phenomena. In 1903, she also passed her doctorate thesis in Physics and later became one of the first women to academically teach. After she unfortunately lost her husband in a tragic accident, she went on to succeed him as a Professor at Sorbonne and carried on his lectures where he left off. Marie additionally is the only woman who has won the Nobel Prize twice, in 1911 she won her second Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her advancement in the science discipline after her discovery of the elements radium and polonium. What makes Marie even more inspirational is her capacity to continue to give back. During WWI Marie worked on developing a small X-ray units which could be used closer to the battlefront to diagnose injuries. As the war developed Marie and her daughter used this machine close to the frontline, x-raying wounded men to locate fractures, bullets and shrapnel. Today, Marie Curie lends her name to a major UK charity for individuals living with any terminal illness and their families.
In 2007 the Nobel Prize in Literature went to Doris Lessing. Doris was a British novelist, poet, playwright, librettist, biographer and short story writer, who a Swedish academic described as “that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny.” She was a woman of strong-beliefs, she was uncompromising and morally driven, what’s not to admire? Her defining fiction was divided into three distinct phases; the communist phase, where she wrote radically about social issues; psychological phase; sufi phase, where she wrote science fiction. Many people consider her work during her communist phase to be laced with feminist themes, although Lessing did not like being pidgeon-holed as a feminist author. Her work questioned social issues, equality and division in society, and she was committed to her morality and her message.
The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 was split between three inspirational women for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”. The first of these three women is Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the current president of Liberia and the first female head of state ever to be democratically elected in Africa. Her award came after her work to promote peace, recognition and social and economic development in Liberia. Controversially her prize has come under much scrutiny and was not unanimously welcomed, due to her presidency being plagued by some genuine questions of her leadership through claims of corruption, nepotism and her lack of input to address poverty in Liberia.
The second of these winners goes to fellow Liberian Leymah Gwobee. As a social worker Leymah has worked to help those who have suffered psychological trauma during the civil war in Liberia, including child soldiers. In addition, she was instrumental to ending the civil war through leadership of the women’s peace movement. Today she is the Head of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa and the Founder and President of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa. Her foundation offers girls, women and youth in West Africa with opportunities in education and leadership, pushing for a greater inclusion of women as leaders and agents of change in Africa.
The final winner of the prize went to Tawakkol Karman for her involvement and critical actions in demonstrations against the Yemeni regime. She has worked to promote the struggle of democracy and human rights under this regime in Yemen, working at an international level, including at the UN. Known as “The Mother of the Revolution”, she has gone on to co-found the group Women Journalists Without Chains, in order to promote freedom of expression and democratic rights. Tawakkol is the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman and the second Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate at the time.
These women are nothing but inspirational and their work should sincerely be celebrated this week during Nobel Prize Winners Day. They have and continue to break through glass ceilings in what is still a male dominated award. So why don’t you take time to go research other female winners, such as Malala Yousafzai who we haven’t even mentioned here but is featured in our image. Discover what these women have achieved and what they’ve used their platform for since their win.