Breaking through barriers

HYDERABAD, TELANGANA, 18-06-2016: Mohana Singh, Avani Chaturvedi and Bhavan Kanth, the first of three women fighter pilots in the country, after the Combined Graduation Parade in Air Force Academy in Dundigal near Hyderabad on June 18, 2016. Photo: K.V.S. Giri   | Photo Credit: K.V.S. GIRI

Over many centuries and generations, women have always had to fight to make sure they had the same rights as men. Even today, women in many parts of the world are still fighting for their rights. Here are just a few firsts that women from various fields have achieved — a reminder that they can do anything they put their minds to.

Reach for the skies

French woman Élisabeth Thible is credited as the first woman on record to fly in an untethered hot air balloon in 1784. Since then, there have been many firsts for women in aviation. Amelia Earhart from the U.S. was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928.

In India, Sarla Thakral was the first woman to earn a pilot’s license and fly an aircraft in 1936; however, Durba Banerjee was the first woman commercial pilot, flying for Indian Airlines from 1956.

In Russia, however, they had bigger goals. Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963.

Harita Kaur Deol was the first woman pilot to fly solo in the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 1994; while Gunjan Saxena, a helicopter pilot, was the first woman IAF officer to go to war in India in 1999. In more recent years, Bhawana Kanth, Mohana Singh, and Avani Chaturvedi were the first female fighter pilots to be inducted into the IAF in 2016.

Breaking through barriers

Sporting glory

Though the first modern Olympics was held in 1896, women were allowed to participate only from 1900. That year, tennis player Charlotte Cooper, from the U.K., became the first woman to win an individual Olympic gold medal. Gymnast Larisa Latynina, from the Soviet Union, holds the record of the woman with the most Olympic medals: 18 between 1956 and 1964. While an Indian sportswoman is yet to bring a gold medal home, the first to win a medal was Karnam Malleswari, who won a bronze for weightlifting in 2000.

In other sporting accomplishments, Mithali Raj was the first woman cricketer to play in more than 200 ODI matches as well as the first to complete 20 years in international cricket. In 1953, Maureen Connolly became the first woman to win all four tennis Grand Slams in a calendar year.

Breaking through barriers

Tackling Everest

Mount Everest is Earth’s highest mountain above sea level, and trekking to the top is what many mountaineers aim for in their careers. In 1975, Japanese mountaineer, Junko Tabei was the first woman to not only climb Mount Everest but also ascend the Seven Summits (climbing the highest peak on every continent). Bachendri Pal, was the first Indian woman to climb Everest in 1984 and, in 2013, Arunima Sinha was the world’s first female amputee to scale the mountain.

Breaking through barriers

Winning big

Awards are handed to people for their achievements in various fields. The Nobel Prize is rewarded to those who have made a significant contributions for the benefit of humankind. Marie Curie was the first and only woman to win a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 and then for Chemistry in 1911. Wangari Maathai was the first African woman and first environmental activist to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Academy Awards are one of the prestigious awards of the film industry. Bhanu Athaiya was the first Indian to win an Academy Award for Best Costume design for the film Gandhi in 1983, while the first woman to win an award for Best Director was Katherine Bigelow in 2010 for her film, The Hurt Locker. In literature, the first Indian woman to win the Booker Prize was Arundhati Roy for her book, The God of Small Things.

Breaking through barriers

Being in charge

Being a leader of a nation is never easy and, for the longest time, only men led countries. Over the years, many countries have seen women leaders, but who were the pioneers? Vigdís Finnbogadóttir from Iceland was the world’s first female democratically-elected President in 1980, whereas the first elected female Prime Minister was Sirimavo Bandaranaike, from Sri Lanka in 1960. Of course, Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto have to also be mentioned for being the first and only female Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan respectively. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first elected female head of state in Africa in 2006, being the 24th President of Liberia.

Photos: Reuters, Sandeep Saxena, K.V.S. Giri, AP, AFP

Photos: Reuters, Sandeep Saxena, K.V.S. Giri, AP, AFP   | Photo Credit: Faisal Al Nasser

In other firsts

Here are a few more fascinating firsts, some dating back to over a century and some from more recent years:

Annie Cohen Kopchovsky aka Annie Londonderry, a Latvian who migrated to the U.S., was the first woman to bicycle ‘around the world’ from 1894 to 1895.

Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer and one of the first to recognise the full potential of computers. She is considered to be first female computer programmer.

In a male-dominated line, Shila Dawre became the first woman autorickshaw driver in India in 1988.

In 2014, Roshni Sharma became the first Indian woman to make a solo motorbike trip from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.

In 2018, in Saudi Arabia, for the first time women were allowed to legally drive in the country and to enter sports stadiums unaccompanied.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 9:21:36 AM |

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