Monday, January 12, 2015

Nobel Women

Written by Raakhee Suryaprakash

May Britt-Moser
There are and have been many noble women but there are only 47 Nobel Women. I refer to the women who have won the Nobel prizes instituted by the inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel, and (in the case of the Economics prize, in his memory) the Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden's central bank). The prizes have been awarded annually since 1901 (1968 in the case of the Nobel Prize for Economics). Only one of these 47 women has won the prize twice and that’s Madame Curie who was also the first woman to win the prize. A truly unique woman with a unique family (fun fact: the Curies have won the most Nobel prizes as a family!), she shared the 1903 Physics Nobel with two others for “their joint researches on the radiation phenomena” and in 1911 won the Chemistry Nobel prize for discovering the elements radium and polonium.

In my opinion the women who have intermittently won the Nobel prizes are far more interesting that the organisations and men who win regularly!!! Consider this, of the 567 Nobel prizes awarded to 860 individuals and 22 organisations only 47 were women! That in itself makes the women with the Nobel medals and prize purses a very unique group of ladies.

Take for example Bertha von Suttner the first lady to win the Peace Prize. More than her impressive titles Baroness Bertha Sophie Felicita von Suttner, née Countess Kinsky von Chinic und Tettau, this unique lady and her pacifist efforts were said to have inspired Alfred Nobel to institute the Peace Prize. Yet as is the case with this controversy ridden prize, it took 4 years for the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee to get it right in 1905 and award the prize to her. This interesting woman truly knew the meaning of love and peace and as is the characteristic of most Nobel Prize winner was stubborn and determined about her goals. She was forced to take up the post of secretary-housekeeper in Alfred Nobel’s Parisian home by her fiancé’s family but eloped to Vienna just two weeks later.  She was a pioneering woman journalist whose career began as she lived on love and in poverty in Tbilisi, Georgia, even as she corresponded with the great minds of the time including Alfred Nobel. Getting involved with peace movement at its inception, Baroness von Suttner’s continued influence on strategic thinkers since cannot be quantified.

If one Nobel Woman is so influential, a group of them are just awesome. Take the case of the Nobel Women’s Initiative that’s founded by Nobel Prize winners Mairead Maguire, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman, and Wangari Maathai. Together they raise awareness and work to solve the problems of human security. As one founding member put it in her TED talk, “if each of us who cares about the different things we care about got up off our butts and volunteered as much time as we could, we would change this world, we would save this world. And we can't wait for the other guy. We have to do it ourselves.” Jody Williams is spot on in her assessment and the initiative works hard for a more secure world.

Malala Yousafzai
As the women who precede them the two 2014 women Nobel laureates also carry the heavy mantle with panache as well as the characteristic brilliance, determination, and perseverance.  Norwegian May-Britt Moser shared a third of the 2014 Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering the brain’s positioning system and she attended the Swedish ceremony in a gown with stylized neurons (brain cells) in honour of her prize-winning discovery. I thought her the most memorable laureate in the hall! And the youngest laureate ever 17-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai plain blew me away with her lecture! A survivor of terrorism and violence, Malala speaks with great humour and greater determination.  Living in a world rampant with misogyny Malala’s speech as well as her win were both a beacon of hope. Malala emphasised that she gave voice to the plight of the 66 million girls who are deprived of education around the world. She stood in solidarity with the missing Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram for daring to continue their education. And that the award was not just for her but the “forgotten children who want education … frightened children who want peace … voiceless children who want change.” Sharing the stage with fellow laureate 60-year-old Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarti I still found myself focusing on Malala deeply impressed as I was with her confidence and eloquence.

As we struggle to make our life count in spite of its ephemerality the achievements of these pioneering women act as guiding lights. Their work continues to make the world a better place irrespective of whether they are alive! I hope in the years to come a lot more women win the Nobel prizes and bridge the gender gap in this prestigious coterie.
Table of First Women

Marie Skłodowska-Curie
Poland and France
The first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the Physics Nobel of 1903, and the Chemistry Nobel of 1911 as well as being ONLY woman to date to win two Nobel Prizes.
Bertha von Suttner
the first to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905 as Honorary President of Permanent International Peace Bureau, Bern, Switzerland; & Author of Lay Down Your Arms
Selma Lagerlöf
The first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1909: "in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings"
Gerty Theresa Cori
United States
the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1947, sharing the prize for “discovery of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen”
Elinor Ostrom
United States
the first woman to be awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel  2009: "for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons"
Source: Wikipedia.