6-25-20 Mary Jackson: Nasa to name HQ after first black female engineer
Nasa is to name its headquarters in Washington DC after its first black female engineer, Mary Jackson. Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine said Jackson had helped to break down barriers for African Americans and women in engineering and technology. The story of Mary Jackson was told in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. Born in Hampton, Virginia, she died in 2005. Last year, Nasa renamed the street outside its headquarters as Hidden Figures Way. "Hidden no more, we will continue to recognise the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made Nasa's successful history of exploration possible," Mr Bridenstine said in a statement. "Mary W Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped Nasa succeed in getting American astronauts into space," Mr Bridenstine added. "Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology. The move comes at a time of introspection across the US about historical injustices suffered by African Americans. The recent death in police custody of George Floyd triggered protests around the world and renewed demands for an end to institutional racism. Nasa began recruiting some college-educated African American women in the 1940s as "human computers", but they experienced both racial and gender discrimination at work. Mary Jackson was recruited in 1951 by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics which was succeeded by Nasa in 1958. She worked under Dorothy Vaughan - whose story was also told in Hidden Figures - in the segregated West Area Computing Unit at Langley, Virginia.
6-19-20 Malala Yousafzai completes Oxford University exams
Human rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai has expressed her "joy and gratitude" after finishing her final exams at Oxford University. The 22-year-old, who survived a shot to the head by Taliban soldiers, studied politics, philosophy, and economics. Tweeting earlier, she said: "I don't know what's ahead. For now, it will be Netflix, reading and sleep." Ms Yousafzai was attacked for saying girls should be allowed to stay in education. She was shot in the head, neck and shoulder while travelling home from school after writing an anonymous diary about life under the extremists. After recovering from her near-fatal injuries, she and her family relocated to Birmingham. In 2014, she became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, at the age of 17. Three years later she accepted a place to study at Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford. Ms Yousafzai tweeted two pictures as she announced the news that she completed her degree. In one, she is celebrating with her family in front of a graduation cake. The other was taken after a "trashing", a tradition at the university where students are covered with food and confetti after completing their exams.
6-14-20 Kathy Sullivan: The woman who's made history in sea and space
Making headlines is never something that has motivated Kathy Sullivan. Already in the history books as the first US woman to complete a spacewalk in 1984, the 68-year-old found herself in the news again this week after becoming the first woman to travel almost seven miles (11km) to reach the lowest known point in the ocean. The two missions, total opposites in the minds of some, represent two extremes of a lifelong passion for Dr Sullivan: to understand the world around her as much as possible. "I was always a pretty adventurous and curious child with interests wider and more varied than the stereotype of a little girl," Sullivan told the BBC in a phone interview from the Pacific Ocean. She was born in New Jersey in 1951 and spent her childhood in California. Her father was an aerospace engineer who, along with her mother, would always encourage their two children to think freely and join in with discussions. "They really fed our curiosity on anything we were curious about or interested in," she says. "They were our best allies to explore that interest further and see where it might take us: it might die out in a couple of days, it might be something that became our best hobby or it might turn into the central focus of our career." By the time they were five or six, it was already clear her brother wanted to grow up to fly aeroplanes. Sullivan, meanwhile, became fascinated by maps and learning more about the interesting places on them. "Both of our careers have basically been remarkably wonderful fulfilments of those early dreams," she reflects. As a little girl, Sullivan was already devouring every newspaper, magazine and television report she could find on the subject of exploration. It was a time when Jacques Cousteau was making pioneering undersea discoveries and the Mercury Seven were propelling the image of astronauts into America's mind. "I saw these people - they happened to all be men, that didn't bother me... I saw there are people in the world that have continually inquisitive, adventurous lives: they're going to places no-one's been and they have this store of knowledge and they're learning more." "My way of thinking about it never crystallised into: I want that job, I want that title or that label," she explains about her ambitions as a teenager. "But what I knew really clearly was what I wanted my life to be like, I wanted it to have that mixture of inquiry and adventure and competency."
6-10-20 How Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton films can 'inspire' young women
Becoming, the Netflix documentary about Michelle Obama, was one of the streaming site's Top 10 films when it was released a few weeks ago. Now another American First Lady, Hillary Clinton, has her own docuseries - Hillary. The four-hour show, consisting of interviews given by Clinton to documentary maker Nanette Burstein, explores all of Hillary Rodham Clinton's life, from her activism in the 1960s, her marriage to ex-US President Bill Clinton, the Monica Lewinsky scandal and her unsuccessful attempt to become US President in 2016. Hillary puts forward the theory that the next generation of female leaders were galvanised by her election loss into standing for, and voting in, the Congress elections of 2018; with a record-breaking 103 women, including activists such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, elected or re-elected to the House of Representatives. "I know what I mean to many women, I hear it almost every day, someone will say it to me," Clinton told BBC News. "It's a heavy responsibility." "I've tried to make my own decisions in keeping with who I am and what I stand for, but we still need role models, guides along the trail, 'if someone can do it then I can do it' - that sort of mentality. I'm very aware of it." Becoming documents former first lady Michelle Obama's recent international book tour, as well as her meeting young African American women to encourage them in their ambitions. According to the film's director, Nadia Hallgren, she had "never seen anything like that energy before." "What women seem to identify with," Hallgren adds, "was just her stories of being told you can't do something or being constantly underestimated throughout life. This idea that if you're a woman, if you're not male, if you're not white, if you don't tick all these boxes, that you don't belong at that table. "I think that there is a huge need and hunger worldwide for stories like hers. Hearing Mrs Obama talk about obstacles that she encountered throughout her life, and being able to reflect on the now, taught me so much about my own life and obstacles that I've encountered." Nanette Burstein, the director of Hillary, agrees that the visibility of the former first ladies is important, "particularly for the young".
5-15-20 Women leaders eschew 'macho-man' politics in COVID-19 response
New Zealand, Taiwan, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Norway all have notably low rates of fatalities and Germany stands out in central Europe for its low death rate. The seven countries have something else in common: All are led by women. The day Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern imposed a strict nationwide lockdown in March, no one in New Zealand had died from the coronavirus. Compare that to the United Kingdon: 335 people had already died by the time Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the British public to stay home. Like many world leaders, Ardern held daily press conferences where she appealed to New Zealanders to unite in their battle against the virus. "We are all in this together," she told them. Ardern streamed Facebook live videos from her sofa at home, apologizing for her casual attire. Now, New Zealand is "halfway down Everest," Ardern said last week as she announced measures to ease New Zealand's lockdown. Her "go hard and go early" strategy combined with a warm empathetic manner worked. New Zealand recorded zero new cases of the coronavirus in a series of days last week and Ardern's popularity rating is at an all-time high. But Zoe Marks, a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School says there's nothing inherently female about this style of leadership. "The fireside chat approach originated with Franklin Roosevelt in the United States. The problem is not that only women can pull it off, it's that men are afraid to really let their guard down and be relatable," Marks said. Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has not been afraid to show a more human side either. Frederiksen posted a video of herself and her partner doing the dishes and singing along during a weekly TV lockdown singalong show. Like New Zealand, Denmark moved quickly to close its borders, then its schools and businesses. Other Nordic countries led by women did likewise, and have seen relatively low death rates from COVID-19. Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, by contrast, took a gamble and shunned the idea of a lockdown, instead trusting the public to maintain social distancing themselves. It remains to be seen if his strategy pays off but currently Sweden's death toll is by far the highest in Scandinavia. Suze Wilson, who teaches leadership at Massey University in New Zealand, says the evidence is mixed on whether men and women govern differently. Some research shows female leaders can be more participative in their approach, she says. "Research shows women are more willing to listen to advice and include different perspectives and try to weigh them up when making decisions," Wilson said.
4-16-20 Give Harriet Quimby her due
The pioneering aviatrix whose greatest feat was overshadowed by the sinking of the Titanic. ate at night on April 14, 1912, as the Titanic blazed toward its frigid destiny somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean, Harriet Quimby was sleeping. The weather off the coast of England had been terrible all week, stormy and overcast. Not good flying weather. And Quimby — who'd been called a "lady bird," "airship queen," aviatrix, newspaper woman, and nicknamed "Dresden China" on account of her fair skin — had one more title she wanted to add to the list. Pioneer. In the early morning hours two days later, on April 16, as every newspaper in the world set their type to announce the "greatest marine horror in history," Quimby stepped into a Blériot XI, a machine her contemporaries still described with that extra syllable, aeroplane. It was cloudy in Dover, but 23 narrow miles of water beckoned and the winds seemed alright. She took off, her goal known only to two female friends and a handful of male ones in order to prevent anyone from beating her to it. When she next touched land an hour and nine minutes later, she was in a fishing village in France, beaming amid a crowd of surprised fishermen, now the first woman to have done what only a handful of men at the time had managed: fly across the English channel. In April 1912, Quimby was already renowned for being the first woman in America to have received her pilot's license, and like Amelia Earhart — that far more famous aviatrix who would follow in her footsteps — she would go on to die dramatically and tragically, doing what she loved. But Quimby has never received the level of recognition she deserves in the American pantheon, despite her extraordinary life. There is no flashy biopic about her spectacular adventures, no airport named in her honor. Literature on her is limited, apart from a smattering of children's books; talk of a potential biography, announced in 2015, has since gone quiet.
4-15-20 The woman who discovered the first coronavirus
The woman who discovered the first human coronavirus was the daughter of a Scottish bus driver, who left school at 16. June Almeida went on to become a pioneer of virus imaging, whose work has come roaring back into focus during the present pandemic. Covid-19 is a new illness but it is caused by a coronavirus of the type first identified by Dr Almeida in 1964 at her laboratory in St Thomas's Hospital in London. The virologist was born June Hart in 1930 and grew up in a tenement near Alexandra Park in the north east of Glasgow. She left school with little formal education but got a job as a laboratory technician in histopathology at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Later she moved to London to further her career and in 1954 married Enriques Almeida, a Venezuelan artist. The couple and their young daughter moved to Toronto in Canada and, according to medical writer George Winter, it was at the Ontario Cancer Institute that Dr Almeida developed her outstanding skills with an electron microscope. She pioneered a method which better visualised viruses by using antibodies to aggregate them. Mr Winter told Drivetime on BBC Radio Scotland her talents were recognised in the UK and she was lured back in 1964 to work at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School in London, the same hospital that treated Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he was suffering from the Covid-19 virus. On her return, she began to collaborate with Dr David Tyrrell, who was running research at the common cold unit in Salisbury in Wiltshire. Mr Winter says Dr Tyrrell had been studying nasal washings from volunteers and his team had found that they were able to grow quite a few common cold-associated viruses but not all of them. One sample in particular, which became known as B814, was from the nasal washings of a pupil at a boarding school in Surrey in 1960. They found that they were able to transmit common cold symptoms to volunteers but they were unable to grow it in routine cell culture. However, volunteer studies demonstrated its growth in organ cultures and Dr Tyrrell wondered if it could be seen by an electron microscope. They sent samples to June Almeida who saw the virus particles in the specimens, which she described as like influenza viruses but not exactly the same. She identified what became known as the first human coronavirus.
3-1-20 Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin revealed stars’ composition and broke gender barriers
‘What Stars Are Made Of’ celebrates the life of a pioneering astronomer. It was 1924, and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was on the verge of a breakthrough. Faint rainbows of starlight, recorded on photographic glass, held secrets to how the universe was put together. If only she could read the starlight’s story. As with every other challenge in her life, Payne-Gaposchkin would not stop. She once went without sleep for 72 hours, struggling to understand what the stars were telling her. “It was an impatience with the ordinary — with sleep, meals, even friendships and family — that had driven her as far back as she could remember,” journalist Donovan Moore writes in his book celebrating the life of Payne-Gaposchkin (who added “Gaposchkin” to her name upon marriage in 1934). After her death in 1979, other scientists would go on to remember her as “the most eminent woman astronomer of all time.” During a time when science was largely a men’s club, she had figured out the chemical makeup of the stars. In What Stars Are Made Of, Moore takes readers on a meticulously researched tour of Payne-Gaposchkin’s remarkable life, drawn from family interviews, contemporary accounts and Payne-Gaposchkin’s own writings. It’s a riveting tale of a woman who knocked down every wall put before her to get the answers she desired about the cosmos. Growing up in England, her love of science started before she could read. But English society in the early 1900s didn’t know what to do with such a determined girl. Days before her 17th birthday, she was told to leave school after administrators found they couldn’t meet her insatiable need to learn math and science. During physics lectures at the University of Cambridge, she, like all women, had to sit at the front, forced to parade past male students stomping in time with her steps.
2-28-20 Teen girl beats boys to 'make history' as state champion
Girls-only wrestling is not recognised in North Carolina. As is the case in many states across the US, there are not enough girls wrestling in secondary schools for a division to be formed. So when Heaven Fitch set her sights on becoming a wrestling champion, it was always going to mean facing a field made up of mostly boys. On 22 February, she became the first girl to win a North Carolina High School Wrestling State Championship. Heaven follows in the footsteps of Michaela Hutchison, who became the first girl to ever win a state-wide secondary school title in 2006. In an Instagram post about the victory, Heaven proudly said: "I did it again, I made history." But when she spoke to the BBC, the 16-year-old struggled to show anything other than modesty when discussing her success. "I'm just like any other person," she said, before clarifying, "outside of wrestling". "Last year I was the first girl to reach second place in North Carolina, but I never expected to win it. Just to place last year was crazy in itself - all I wanted was to place higher. "I'm proud of how far I've come." If her words leave you in any doubt of her talents, you need only speak to Chris Waddell, who has been her coach for the past two years. "There hasn't been anyone like her in North Carolina," he told the BBC. "I've never coached anyone like her. "Heaven's an exceptional wrestler and she's making history. It's an outstanding achievement - she's just that good." In the days since her victory, a video of Heaven's win has been viewed more than 250,000 times on social media, and she has made headlines across the country for "making history". It will perhaps not surprise you to learn that the teenager was down-to-earth when reflecting on the amount of press coverage her success has received. "It's been really surreal," she said. "I didn't expect it to go this far, it's become this big thing."
2-10-20 Remarkable journey from refugee to Rhodes scholar
Growing up as an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, bloodshed was never far from Summia Tora's life. From her home - a single bedroom in a house shared by four families - she could hear the sound of drones landing not far from Peshawar, in northwest Pakistan, where her family had fled in the 1990s to escape the Taliban's rise. "I was just living in this violence, but it was a given, so I couldn't do anything about it," Summia says. Sometimes there were bombings once or twice a week. "At some point, people stopped talking about it. It would happen, and everyone would move on." But life there was a privilege compared to Afghanistan, she tells the BBC. At least she got to go to school. On a visit to Kabul in 2002, just after the US invasion, a girl not much older described only being able to attend school by pretending to be a boy. Summia was six, but she remembers it clearly. She vowed then that she would to take learning seriously. It would be hard to dispute that she has. In October, Summia, now 22, will become the first Rhodes Scholar to hail from Afghanistan, one of 102 students to earn a place in the 2020 class of the world's oldest postgraduate scholarship. Now finishing her last term at Earlham College, a liberal arts university in the US state of Indiana, her outlook is bright and she laughs with ease, the fluent torrent of her words belying the traumas of the journey that has taken her from refugee to Rhodes Scholar. To be called an educated Afghan woman is in itself a rarity. Female literacy in Afghanistan today stands at 17%, according to Unesco. Though figures in neighbouring Pakistan are still poor - around 45% of women can read - access to schooling is possible. In contrast, in her home country "even the people who could afford to go to school were not able to go… because there weren't any", Summia says. So it was her unlikely fortune to grow up in Pakistan, she says - an irony given the region's privations and dangers. Thousands of US drone operations have flown over Northwest Pakistan since 2004, as part of the so-called war on terror. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province containing Peshawar, has been a major theatre for the decades-long Pakistani fight against insurgency.
2-6-20 Seven female scientists you may not have heard of - but should know about
Not a single woman's name features in the national curriculum for science, an education charity says - prompting calls for the government to act over a "lack of visible role models for girls". Teach First has launched the STEMinism camapign, calling to close gender gaps in science and maths careers. It says no female scientists were mentioned in the GCSE science curriculum, while just two - DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin and paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey - were referred to in three double science GCSE specifications from the major exam boards. In comparison, more than 40 male scientists or their discoveries were mentioned. Meanwhile, a separate poll conducted by the charity revealed half of people are unable to name a single female scientist, alive or dead. But it is not just Britain's men who have made pioneering scientific discoveries. Here are some of the overlooked British women whose research changed the world.
- Mary Somerville: Somerville was named the 19th Century's "queen of science" after her death. Her popular books linked up and explained different areas of scientific study, and her detailed work on the solar system was influential in the discovery of Neptune.
- Mary Anning: A self-taught pioneer, Anning discovered Jurassic remains in her hometown of Lyme Regis. She came across her first find - an ancient reptile later named an Ichthyosaurus - at the age of 12.
- Ada Lovelace: Ada Lovelace was a leading 19th century mathematician credited with creating early computer programs.She worked with her friend Charles Babbage, an inventor and mechanical engineer, on his proposals for an "Analytical Engine".
- Elizabeth Garrett Anderson: Garrett Anderson was the first woman to qualify in the UK as a doctor - but it wasn't easy to get there. In her mid-20s, she enrolled as a nurse at the Middlesex Hospital in London.
- Elsie Widdowson: Widdowson devoted her life to improving people's diets in Britain and overseas. In 1940, when food was being rationed during World War Two, she published a book called The Chemical Composition of Foods that contained details of the nutritional values of many foods.
- Dorothy Hodgkin: Hodgkin was born in Cairo to a British couple who were working in the north African country during a period when it was under British control. But she herself largely spent her childhood in Norfolk and was educated at a state school in Beccles, Suffolk, where she fought to be allowed to study chemistry along with the boys.
- Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell is credited with one of the most important discoveries of the last century: the discovery of radio pulsars. Pulsars are the by-products of supernova explosions that make all life possible.
1-27-20 The Fighter and the Pimp: Fighting for Congo's most vulnerable girls in Kinshasa
In the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital city, wrestling has helped an extraordinary woman to escape the violent streets on which she grew up. As a fighter, Shaki is an inspiration for dozens of street children, and her home has become a refuge for girls trying to escape the thugs, rapists, and pimps of Kinshasa’s slums. BBC Africa Eye follows Shaki as she steps into the wrestling ring, fights to give her daughter a chance in life, and takes on other women who have very different ideas about how to raise teenage girls.
1-15-20 Liang Jun: China's first female tractor driver, and national icon, dies
A woman who became China's first female tractor driver, and eventually a national icon, has died at the age of 90. In 1948, Liang Jun became the only female in China to take up the job, when she enrolled in a training class for tractor drivers. More than a decade later, an image of her proudly driving a tractor was featured on China's one-yuan banknote. "No-one could drive as well as me," she had said in an earlier interview. "I have no regrets in this life." Liang Jun was born in 1930 to a poor family in China's remote Heilongjiang province. She spent most of her early years helping out at a farm as well as studying in a rural school. In 1948, when a local school opened up a course to train tractor drivers, she seized her chance. According to local media, there were 70 students in the class - with Liang Jun being the only woman. She eventually completed her training and became the country's first female tractor driver. A year later, communist leader Mao Zedong announced the creation of the People's Republic of China. In previous eras in China, nobles, poets and military leaders were the ones to admire. But when the communists took power in 1949, a new kind of hero was born - the model worker, a concept already in use in the Soviet Union. The Chinese state promoted poor, hard-working individuals whose dedication to building a socialist country was held up for others to follow. Liang Jun was one of the first, and one of the best known, model workers. Her smiling face as she drives her tractor on the one yuan banknote was supposed to inspire others to similar heights of achievement. It was not just class barriers she broke down either. Liang Jun became a symbol for all Chinese women, and the possibilities that now opened up for them. She herself made full use of those opportunities. She became an engineer and a politician; a long journey from an impoverished childhood.