8 March 2019, marked the completion of a remarkable super centenary (110 years!) of one of the most iconic movements for women’s suffrage and rights. It was in February 1909, that the Socialist Party of America conducted the first ever Women’s Day and in 1910, that the International Socialist Women’s Conference announced the decision to make Women’s Day an annual event that celebrates womanhood.
To celebrate the completion of 101 years of Women’s Day celebrations, the United Nations declared 2011 as the year that celebrates this important cause with the theme – “Equal Access to Education, Training, and Science and Technology: Pathway to Decent Work for Women”. Today, we highlight five such women who gave us cause to advance further rise to the next level when it came to the field of education!
1. Savitribai Phule
Widely considered to be the first Indian woman teacher, Savitribai was a social reformer, educationist and staunch supporter of women’s rights as well as fought against the scourge of untouchability. She was ably supported by Fatima Sheik – the first Muslim woman teacher in India as they set up the country first training institute for women academicians to become teachers, in Pune in the early 1800s. The duo of Savitribai and Fatima taught so well that in just two years they were able to establish 3 schools in Pune which saw attendance from 150 girl students. A budding poet, Savitribai also penned a poem, “Go Get Education” exhorting women and the oppressed communities to break free from the chains of rigid traditional society through education. In 2014, the University of Pune was renamed to Savitribai Phule Pune University in her honour.
2. Hellen Keller
Struck blind and deaf due to an unknown illness at the tender age of just 19 months, Hellen persevered through her special needs to become the first Bachelor of Arts graduate degree in the world. Noted American author, political activist and a source of inspiration for people globally, she travelled extensively and was a lecturer too. Inspired by her meeting with Alexander Graham Bell (the inventor of the telephone) & Mark Twain (celebrated writer) she went on to become the first blind and deaf woman to Graduate Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe University earning a Bachelor of Arts degree and then later on becoming an advocate for people with special needs. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest civilian honours in America.
3. Malala Yousafzai
The young crusader for women’s education who was brutally shot in the face by Taliban, Malala is the youngest recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. Born in 1997 in Swat district of Pakistan, Malala found support with her father’s educational background as a school owner. She started blogging for the BBC in 2009 documenting her life and about women’s rights and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize as well. To silence her for the activism against suppression of children’s rights and advocacy of education for all, the pro-militant Taliban attempted to assassinate Malala when she was returning home from school in 2012. The attempt on her life prompted over 2million signatures from people for Right to Education petition globally, leading to the ratification of the first Right to Education Bill in Pakistan’s parliament.
4. Maria Montessori
Noted Italian physicist and an educationist, Maria Montessori initiated a new chain of schools and pedagogy that laid focus on scientific temperament during the initial phases of children when development is most critical. Her idea of developing children’s natural interests to form ideas in education, leading to improvement in the child’s development led her to test her teaching methods. Her philosophy is now widely implemented in Montessori schools where children are encouraged to move freely through customized instructions and physical exercises, accompanied by a special focus on training the senses as well as enhancing literacy skills including reading & writing. She arrived in India during the Second World War and her work in India led to the development of Education for Peace program which earned her two Nobel Peace Prize nominations.
5. Michelle Obama
Former First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama has always been a staunch advocate of education encouraging children to pursue future studies. Wife of former US President Barrack Obama, Michelle is a lawyer, community activist and also was part of the Chicago city administration. Alumni of the prestigious Princeton University as well as Harvard University, she left her career in corporate law to pursue public service. Even after leaving the White House, Michelle has been highly sought after for her words that continue to inspire young minds. With the Let Girls Learn campaign initiated in 2015, Michelle Obama has helped change the perception of women’s education, their roles and values in all spheres of life to change for the better.
We celebrate the timeless essence and efforts of all these talented yet humble women with the dreams of making education the stepping ladder for success and help every aspiring student reach the next level of their dreams.