Only 18 women have won the Nobel Prize in its 120 years

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With half the world made up of women, the obvious question arises: Why have so few been granted the committee’s most prestigious prize and, more broadly, been generally underrepresented across the Nobel Prizes?

Addressing the criticism, the Nobel committee in 2017 acknowledged its poor track record.

“We are disappointed looking at the larger perspective that more women have not been awarded,” said Göran Hansson, vice-chair of the board of directors of the Nobel Foundation.

“Part of it is that we go back in time to identify discoveries,” he said. “We have to wait until they have been verified and validated before we can award the prize. There was an even larger bias against women then. There were far fewer women scientists if you go back 20 or 30 years.”

But he acknowledged other problems, including the way people are considered for prizes. Starting in 2018, he said, the committee would take steps to address the imbalance.

“I hope that in five years or 10 years, we will see a very different situation,” he said.

A total of 109 individuals have received the Nobel Peace Prize, which has also been awarded to organisations. The first woman to receive the prize was Bertha von Suttner, an Austrian writer who was a leading figure in a nascent pacifist movement in Europe. She was recognised in 1905, two years after Marie Curie became the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize, in physics.

It would be 26 years before another woman was selected for the award: American Jane Addams, regarded as the founder of modern social work and an advocate for the concerns of children and mothers. She shared the 1931 prize with Nicholas Murray Butler, then the head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Other women to receive the honour include Mother Teresa in 1979; legal reformer Shirin Ebadi of Iran in 2003; Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai in 2004; and in 2014 education activist Malala Yousufzai, the youngest recipient of the award.

In 2011, three women shared the award: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, a peace activist from Liberia; and Tawakkol Karman, a journalist from Yemen who became the face of the “Arab Spring” uprising in her country.

OTHERS HONOURED

Here are the other female laureates, listed chronologically:

1946 — Emily Greene Balch, American economist, sociologist, pacifist and educator.

1976 — Betty Williams and Mearead Corrigan, founders of a Northern Ireland peace movement.

1982 — Alva Myrdal, Swedish diplomat and disarmament advocate.

1991 — Aung San Suu Kyi, pro-democracy activist in Myanmar.

1992 — Rigoberta Menchú Tum, leading advocate of Mayan rights and culture.

1997 — Jody Williams, American disarmament activist who campaigned to abolish land mines.

2018 — Nadia Murad, Yazidi activist from northern Iraq who escaped enslavement by the Islamic State and led campaign against sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Rick Gladstone contributed reporting

© 2021 The New York Times Company


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