Category: asia

Martha Chen (b. 1956) is a social worker and scholar who
has devoted much of her career to the aid of the working poor in South Asia.
She has been a representative of Oxfam in India and Bangladesh for 15 years.

She currently teaches
Public Policy at Harvard University. Her academic work has focused on issues of
gender, poverty and employment, especially in India. She has received a number
of awards for her work, including the Padma Shri from the Indian government.

Marium Mukhtiar (1992-2015) was a fighter pilot from Pakistan. She was the first female
Pakistani pilot to die in the line of duty, when her aircraft crashed during a training
flight.

She graduated as a pilot in the Pakistan Air Force in 2014, one of six
women in the class. In addition to her job, she was an active charity worker
and supported a school for disadvantaged children.

Irene Khan (b. 1956) is a Bangladeshi lawyer. She was the
Secretary General of Amnesty International from 2001 to 2009.

She studied law at
Harvard and became an expert in human rights, working for the UNHCR for twenty
years. She also served as the Director-General of the International Development
Law Organization.

Fe Villanueva del Mundo (1911-2011) was the founder of the
first pediatric hospital in the Philippines. She gained international
recognition for her groundbreaking work in the field, during a career that
spanned more than eight decades.

She studied first in her hometown of Manila, then at Harvard Medical
School and Boston University School of Medicine. She returned to The Philippines
and was an International Red Cross Volunteer during World War II, after which
she established a private practice and taught at the Far Eastern University. She
was the first woman to be declared a National Scientist of the Philippines for
her pioneering work on infectious diseases and public health.

Begum Sufia Kamal (1911-1999) was a poet and political activist from Bangladesh. She
was a civil society leader in her country and part of the Bengali nationalist
movement.

Her literary career started in 1937 and
offered her national visibility. She promoted peace between Hindus and Muslims
in Bangladesh, and later focused on women’s rights, founding the Women’s Struggle
Group
in 1969. She received numerous international awards for her activism,
and was the first woman to have a state funeral in Bangladesh.

Yi
So-yeon
(b. 1978) is a Korean astronaut and
biotechnologist. She is the first person from her country to fly in space.

She obtained her doctorate in biotech
systems in 2008, and went on to become an Engineering Physics Professor at
Everett Community College. Her pioneering space mission took place in the same
year; she conducted eighteen different science experiments on her flight. She
also worked for the Korean Aerospace Research Institute.

Leyla
Mammadbeyova
(1922-2006) was a notable Azerbaijani scientist. She
was the first female forensic medical expert and the first female chief
pathologist in her country.

She was the director of the
pathological laboratory at the Research Institute for Clinical and Experimental
Medicine in Baku, a position she held for four decades. She was also the first
female professor of pathology in Azerbaijan.

Begum Rokeya (1880-1932) was an
author and social activist in British India, today Bangladesh. She is
considered a pioneer of women’s rights and female education on the Indian subcontinent.

She has written extensively, both fiction and
nonfiction, advocating for equal treatment of the genders and better
educational opportunities for women. In 1909 she founded the first school for
Bengali Muslim girls in Kolkata, and in 1916, the Muslim Women’s Association,
an organisation which fought for equal education and employment rights.

Ruth Pfau (1929-2017) was a
German nun and physician. She dedicated her life and career to fighting leprosy
in Pakistan.

She studied Medicine at the University of Mainz and later joined a Catholic
order. She travelled to Pakistan and spent most of her life there, helping
people affected by leprosy all across the country. Due to her efforts, Pakistan
became one of the first countries in Asia to keep the disease under control –
dropping from almost 20,000 thousand cases to just over 500 in 2016.

Begum
Khaleda Zia
(b. 1945) served as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh for two terms,
1991-1996 and again 2001-2006. She was the first female head of a democratic
government in her country, and the second in a Muslim-majority country.

During her time as Prime Minister, the GDP
of Bangladesh increased considerably, and the country opened to international
investment. Her government also worked to alleviate poverty and support female
education.