To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, Skills Centre staff shine a light on some remarkable women, past and present, from around the world. 

Dame Professor Sarah Gilbert

Marketing, Communications & Web Manager Kerry Vevers:

British vaccinologist and Bath honorary graduate Dame Professor Sarah Gilbert will surely go down as one of the 21st century's most remarkable women for her role in developing the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. More than 2.5 billion doses of the vaccine were distributed worldwide, and it is credited with saving over a million lives. The vaccine was the light at the end of a very dark tunnel and gave us all a lifeline out of the pandemic.   

For me, she's an inspirational figure as she's also a mother of triplets and a fantastic role model for a new generation of women in science. 

Rina Sawayamaリナ サワヤマ

Japanese Teaching Fellow Satoko Suzui:

Rina Sawayama (リナ サワヤマ), born in 1990, is an award-winning Japanese singer-songwriter, actress and model based in the UK. Born in Japan, raised in the UK, and a graduate of the University of Cambridge, one of her songs - ‘Chosen Family’, with Elton John - was played as the final song of the Tokyo 2020 closing ceremony. She communicates her authenticity and identity through her music and fashion.   

Sawayama also tackles discrimination around racism, the LGBTQ+ community, and stereotypes of Asian women. Her courageous stand on such matters has led to changes around entry requirements for music awards including The Brits.   

I admire her strength to speak out about injustice and how she has made positive changes on the global stage. 

حنان عشراوي Hanan Ashrawi 

Arabic Teaching fellow Khalil Estaytieh:

حنان عشراوي Hanan Ashrawi (born 1946) is a Palestinian politician, legislator, activist, and scholar who served as a member of the Leadership Committee and as an official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process. 

Ashrawi was elected to the Council, making history as the first woman to hold a seat in the highest executive body in Palestine. She is the author of several books, articles, poems and short stories on Palestinian politics, culture, and literature. 

I admire Ashrawi because she is a great woman who stood for human rights and justice, and she fought corruption within the Palestinian Authority. 

Samantha Cristoforetti

Italian Teaching Fellow Carmela Esposito-Faraone:

Samantha Cristoforetti, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy, is Italy’s first female astronaut, and the first European woman to command the International Space Station. A former Italian Air Force  pilot and engineer, she holds the record for the longest uninterrupted spaceflight by a European astronaut.  

Despite her very demanding career, Samantha is also a mother of two. She enjoys reading, learning new languages, and is a UNICEF ambassador. She is truly inspirational for girls aspiring to become scientists and astronauts and a role model for all young girls. Samantha even has a Barbie doll lookalike!   

Almudena Grandes

Spanish Teaching Fellow Asun Solano-Torres:

Almudena Grandes was a Spanish writer (1960-2021) who was known for her bestselling novels, translated into multiple languages and frequently adapted to films, among them 'The Ages of Lulu' and 'The Frozen Heart'. She was also a regular columnist of the newspaper ‘El País’ and one of the most influential intellectual voices in politics.  

I greatly respect her legacy not only as a great storyteller of our times but also as a committed social activist determined to put right the falsified history of the Spanish Civil War. Madrid’s most famous train station, Atocha, now has a second name: Almudena Grandes. 

屠呦呦 Tú yōuyōu

Chinese Teaching Fellow Ying Gao:

Chinese scientist 屠呦呦 Tú yōuyōu has made significant contributions to the field of medicine with her research and discovery of the antimalarial drug artemisinin, which earned her the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015.  

Tu's work has helped to combat one of the world's deadliest diseases and saved countless lives. Her dedication to finding a cure for malaria has inspired many scientists and researchers.  

Tu Youyou is a shining example of the incredible contributions women can make in the field of science. Her perseverance and passion for science also make her an admirable role model for those who aspire to make a difference in the world of medicine. 

Elke Kahr

German Teaching Fellow Moira Govan:

In 2021, Austrian communist politician Elke Kahr, the Mayor of Graz, Austria's second largest city,  overturned a conservative majority, replacing the leader of the People’s Party – Siegfried Nagl - who had served as mayor for 18 years.  

Since the beginning of her political career as Councillor in 2005, Vice Mayor and now Mayor, she has walked the talk when it comes to wealth redistribution, giving away about three-quarters of her post-tax salary, amounting to more than one million euros.  

Her humble background has undoubtedly shaped her career. Her biological father was Iranian but she was adopted at the age of three by a family in a working class district. I admire her for her sheer drive and chutzpah.

Simone de Beauvoir

French Teaching Fellow Anne-Catherine Mechler:

In 1929, Virginia Woolf wrote 'A Room of One’s Own', arguing that it was high time women had the same opportunities as men. Twenty years later, Simone de Beauvoir wrote 'The Second Sex', which forever changed the way people saw the place of women in society. Simone de Beauvoir showed that the historical oppression of women was not the natural state of things, but that it was societally constructed. She was a public intellectual in a world dominated by men.

Her impact goes beyond the place of women in France; her work fuelled modern feminism and was crucial in the fight for equality. It’s impossible to talk about French culture today without talking about the impact of Simone de Beauvoir.

Which women from around the world do you admire and why? Tell us in the comments!

Posted in: foreign languages, intercultural competence


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