International Women’s Day: 11 Asian Female Role Models Who’ve Impacted The World Around Them

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Every 8thof March is remembered as International Women’s Day. It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, scientific and political achievements of women. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”. Through the celebrating of International Women’s Day, the United Nations hope to bring together people of every gender, age, ethnicity, race, religion and country to create a gender-equal world.

Remembering Asian Female Role Models on International Women’s Day

On a similar note, we remember Asian female role models that have inspired many and dared break barriers, while introducing changes in various ways. Females in Asia in particular have long faced a culture of male chauvinism as well as traditional expectations of female roles. To break glass ceilings and make achievements in fields dominated by men are feats we ought to celebrate.

Dr Chien-Shiung Wu – “First Lady of Physics”

Dr Chien-Shiung Wu – “First Lady of Physics”
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The late Dr Chien-Shiung Wu is known as the “First Lady of Physics” who conducted groundbreaking experiments that disproved the Law of Conservation of Parity in the 1950s. While her male counterparks won the Nobel Prize for the discovery, she did not. This did not hinder her, she pushed on and became the first female president of the American Physical Society, while winning multiple awards. Her book, Beta Decay, remains nuclear physicists’ go-to reference on the subject.

Tu You You – Discovered Cure for Malaria

Tu You You – Discovered Cure for Malaria
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Another brilliant scientist on our list is Tu You You. She is a Chinese pharmaceutical chemist and malariologist. She is the first Chinese scientist to have received a 2015 Nobel prize for discovering a compound – artemisinin that effectively treats malaria. This was a breakthrough in 20thcentury tropical medicine and she saved millions of lives because of the discovery. Despite having no doctorate, medical degree or training abroad, her perseverance of turning to traditional Chinese medical texts from the Zhou, Qing and Han dynasties got her a successful cure for malaria which killed many in Asia, Africa and America.

Junko Tabei – First Woman to Summit Everest & Ascend all Seven Summits

Many would never have thought Junko Tabei would be the first woman to summit Everest. She was considered a frail and weak child but she loved climbing. Junko founded the Ladies Climbing Club after graduating from university which was the first club of its kind in Japan. Before she passed away in November 2019, she had accomplished much as a mountaineer and reached the highest peak in 56 countries.

Vandana Shiva – Environmentalist Who Transformed Indian Agriculture

Vandana Shiva – Environmentalist Who Transformed Indian Agriculture
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Vandana Shiva stays true to her cause of defending biodiversity as an environmentalist. She founded Navdanya in 1991, a research institute that protects the diversity and integrity of native seeds while promoting fair trade practices. She is behind a large number of seed banks across the continent and campaigns against genetically modified foods. In 1993, Shiva received the Right Livelihood Award for her activism on behalf of ecology and women. She continues to work tirelessly for her commitment to social justice.

Nguy Thi Khanh – Championing Sustainable Energy Solutions

Nguy Thi Khanh – Championing Sustainable Energy Solutions
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As a Vietnamese growing up in the shadow of a coal mine, Nguy Thi Khanh has resolved to help vulnerable communities of climate change. She received the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize for her work on renewable energy in Vietnam. Her heart has always been in making lives better. She started with working with indigenous communities, focusing on local development and women empowerment before advocating for sustainable energy development and climate action.

Malala Yousafzai – Activist for Education for Females

Malala Yousafzai – Activist for Education for Females
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The youngest Nobel Prize laureate is possibly no stranger to most. Malala who was shot by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt for advocating education of women and children survived the attack and is now seen as a shining beacon for equal rights. At age 11, Malala wrote an anonymous diary for BBC about life under the Taliban in Pakistan. Soldiers did not like what she wrote or said in interviews and targeted her for her outspokenness and “wayward” views. After miraculously surviving the attack at age 15, Malala settled in Birmingham UK and has started the Malala education fund  to help girls worldwide get an education.

Female Role Models from Singapore

Our tiny nation also boasts of many role models and we take this opportunity to honour these ladies on International Women’s Day.

Han Sai Por – Singapore’s Only Dedicated Stone Sculptor

Han Sai Por – Singapore’s Only Dedicated Stone Sculptor
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Han Sai Por is renowned for her nature-inspired sculptures which can be found at National Museum, Changi Airport and even Japan, UK and USA. Despite her humble background, she became a full-time teacher and never stopped the pursuit of art, studying part-time at NAFA then saving enough to enrol in UK’s East Ham College of Art. She returned to be a pioneer art educator in the new Art Elective programme and taught many students in various institutions art. She remains passionate to art-making and has held countless exhibitions of her sculptures.

Jean Loo – Enabler of the Differently Abled

Jean Loo – Enabler of the Differently Abled
Image: Superhero Me

Founder of Superhero Me, Jean Loo promotes inclusivity through art. Art is used to enable social interaction between typical children and those with special needs; building creative confidence in children. A firm believer of inclusion, Jean wants to include children who may be less privileged or differently-abled through advocacy, outreach and inclusive programmes. She has won the WKWSCI (Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information) Impact Award and continues to encourage the strengthening of the social fabric through embracing diversity.

Amanda Chong – Poet & Literacy Advocate for the Less Privileged

Amanda Chong – Poet & Literacy Advocate for the Less Privileged
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Amanda Chong puts her brilliance into great work despite the little time she has. As a distinguished lawyer and poet, she runs a non-profit – ReadAble for the less privileged. While her poems have been engraved on the Marina Bay Helix Bridge and included in the Cambridge International Syllabus, her ability to share her talents (and words) doesn’t stop there. She works with children and women from low-income neighbourhoods on their literacy skills. Her vision for Singapore is to be a nation that listens to the stories of all its people and build an inclusive narrative that welcomes everyone as equals to the table.

Kuik Shiao Yin – Facilitator of Conversations & Positive Changes

While most know her as a Nominated Member of Parliament who dared to speak, Kuik Shiao Yin heads a group of social businesses known as The Thought Collective which seeks to build up the social and emotional capital of Singapore. Her oratory skills help to facilitate many conversations especially amongst the youths and less privileged. She sits on the board and committees of SCAPE*, OnePeople.sg, SG Cares amongst others to help develop talent, nurture cross-cultural harmony, strengthening national identity and building a compassionate culture.

Ann Elizabeth Wee – “Founding Mother of Social Work”

Ann Elizabeth Wee – “Founding Mother of Social Work” - International Women's Day
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Ann Elizabeth Wee’s recent passing was mourned by many who saw her as an inspiration to social workers and women everywhere. While she was from the UK, she left to join her husband in Singapore. She spent six decades in social work starting at the Social Welfare Department. She helmed the University of Malaya’s Department of Social Work and played an important role to upgrade its diploma course to a full-fledged Honours degree programme. She served as a champion of the underprivileged, an inspiration and mentor to many in social work.

READ: Interview with Jean Loo, Superhero Me – Inclusivity Through Arts