Oct 17, 2012 at 07:45 PM

Lessons From The Women Of Nobel Prize Past

Forbes Woman – Earlier this month, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the European Union (EU) for its contributions to the advancement of peace and reconciliation in Europe. Prizes were also awarded to intelligent and esteemed professionals in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and economic sciences.

However, there was one group of people missing from this year’s honorees: women. In fact, only 43 women have ever been awarded a Nobel Prize, out of 862 people and organizations total.

I’m not the only person to notice this. A recent article in NPR highlighted the many reasons why it’s often difficult for women to break into the Nobel prize world. The article highlights the lack of women’s rights as having an impact on what women could become involved in professionally, such as the sciences.

However, there are noteworthy women who have won a Noble Prize and lessons to learn from each.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman (Nobel Peace Prize, 2011)

All three of these women won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for their struggle for the safety of women and women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work. Sirleaf and Gbowee are both natives of Liberia. Sirleaf is Africa’s first democratically elected female president. Karman has been active in women’s rights in Yemen.

The lesson: Taking a stance for women’s right is still important today. We should not be afraid to stand up for our rights, even in a contemporary society.


Marie Curie (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1903; Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1911)

Curie is the only woman to win a Nobel Prize twice. In 1903, she won the Nobel Prize in Physics in recognition of her joint research on radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel. In 1911, she received a second Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in recognition her discovery of the elements radium and polonium.

The lesson: Although she had many discoveries and successes, Curie never stopped working hard in her field. Success is not measured in quantity, but in the quality you wish to achieve in your career.


Mother Teresa (Nobel Peace Prize, 1979)

Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her selfless work with the poor as the leader of Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. Her human rights efforts are known worldwide, even after her death. The Missionaries of Charity still function today in a number of poor countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, undertaking relief work in the wake of natural catastrophes.

The lesson: Kindness won’t go unnoticed.

Although these women span across geography and time, the lessons are the same for us all today. I have only listed a few notable women. If you’re interested in reading more about other female Nobel Prize winners, you can view the full list here. Although this year’s winners were all men, and certainly deserving, hopefully the trend will change in the coming years.


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