Every March, Women’s History Month is celebrated to commemorate the accomplishments of women across the years. Women are consistently omitted from history and overlooked in our education system in favour of more prominent male figures of their time. From innovation in science and technology, to trailblazing political change, women’s accomplishments across the years are endless – a month is definitely not long enough. In an attempt to bring to the fore some women whose contributions to culture and society are definitely worth sharing – here are five women everyone should know about.
Zhou Xiaoxuan is a screenwriter and leading activist, especially renowned as the face of China’s MeToo movement. In 2018, the feminist advocate sued a high-profile presenter at the state-owned broadcaster CCTV for groping her during an internship. The court ruled “insufficient evidence” and the case was dismissed. China’s #MeToo movement has faced continual censorship and it is still rare for women in China to report harassment due to the law placing a heavy burden on the claimant alongside increased targeting of feminist activists and groups. Despite these obstacles, Xiaoxuan continues to support women who have been sexually harassed and work towards tackling feminist issues in China.
Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman who developed cervical cancer. The cells taken from Henrietta’s cervix were used without her knowledge or permission. Scientists used the cells to develop an immortal cell line which, to this day, is the oldest and most commonly used cell line used for tissue culture in scientific research. The immortal cell line named “HeLa” is responsible for many of the biomedical breakthroughs of the past half century. It was first used to study the growth and spread of the poliomyelitis virus and was instrumental in the breakthrough polio vaccine. Henrietta Lacks’ contribution still goes largely unrecognised. Furthermore, the Lacks family were brought in for further tests in the 1980s without explanation of their purpose. Public policy needs to change the systematic mistreatment people of colour face within medical care which continues to this day, as well as increased awareness of Henrietta’s contribution to the world of modern medicine.
Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Halima Aden is a humanitarian and former world-renowned model, notably the first hijab-wearing model to feature on the cover of Vogue magazine. In 2017, when signed with IMG, one of the world’s most prestigious modelling agencies, she insisted on a clause in the contract stating that she would never be asked to remove her hijab during a shoot. She stated that if they didn’t agree to her condition she was “ready to walk away”. Aden worked hard to use her influence to create positive change around her. Last year, following her leave from UNICEF, the former model finished executive-producing a film, based on a true story of refugees embarking on a perilous journey to safety. In a BBC interview with the designer Tommy Hilfiger, she stated, “Don’t change yourself, change the game.”
Documentary: I Am You
Ona Carbonell is a Spanish Olympic swimmer and mother of two. In possession of more than 30 major medals, in 2019, she became FINA’s most decorated female athlete. She campaigns to normalise motherhood alongside being an elite athlete, raising her voice against obstacles she encounters as she attempts to balance these ventures such as not being able to breastfeed her son at the Tokyo Olympics. In continuing to pursue her career alongside a family, and documenting her experiences, Carbonell told an interviewer in FemaleFirst she stated that in making her documentary, “although it was a big challenge… I saw the opportunity to… give a lot of visibility to the problem of work-life balance that exists in sport today.”
Documentary: Ona Carbonell: Starting Over
Sirisha Bandla is an aeronautical engineer who was one of the six passengers of the historic Unity 22 mission. Bandla hopes that by breaking through a male-dominated field, she can inspire other women and girls to pursue their aspirations by providing a relatable role model in a currently male-dominated field. Now Vice-President of Government Affairs and Research Operations for Virgin Galactic, the engineer is also using her skills for both space-based research and utilising her findings to maintain food security in areas hit harder by climate change. In an interview with Vogue, Bandla stated that “for women to see themselves in me…is powerful.”
Image Credits: cover photo provided by Eden Kersse, used with permission.
Photo 1: ‘Xianzi (2022)’ by Integrity is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Photo 2: ‘An Immortal: Henrietta Lacks by Bluesy Daye’ is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Photo 3: ‘Halima Aden’ by seynab.hussein licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Photo 4: ‘Ona Carbonell (ESP)’ by GuillemMedina licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Photo 5: ‘Sirisha Bandla’ by TEDXManhattanBeach licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.