social & justice

Indian Women Who Made Their Mark In 2021 With Important Trailblazing Achievements

Karthika S Nair | Jan 01 2022
Image credits: Twitter

Indian women have always been on top of their games in various fields. They have made their mark around the world. The year 2021 also saw women making their own niches. Priyanka Chopra starred in 'Matrix Resurrections', one of the most popular franchises in the world. Women made it big in the Olympics. Several researchers won various awards in the field of STEM. 

Looking back at last year, here are some of the important achievements by women. 

Read: Women-Led Stories That Made An Impact On-Screen In 2021 

Women who broke glass ceilings in Olympics and Paralympics 

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Saikhom Mirabai Chanu kickstarted the Indian Olympics medal tally by winning a silver medal in the weightlifting category. Lovlina Borgohain won a Bronze medal at the 2020 Summer Olympics in the women's welterweight event. PV Sindhu won Bronze in badminton and made the nation proud with her second Olympic victory. She had won a Silver medal in the 2016 Olympics. 

Aditi Ashok earned fourth place in golfing. The Indian women's hockey team made the nation proud by beating reigning champions Australia to earn a place in the semi-finals. They lost but earned fourth place which was a great achievement for a team projected by the media as an underdog.

In the Paralympics, Rajasthan-based Avani Lekhara won the Gold medal in the para shooting event. She became the first Indian woman to achieve the feat. 

Women play the lead role in big companies 

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Indian origin British national Leena Nair has been promoted to the CEO position of Chanel. This move was part of the French luxury fashion house's attempt to diversify its top position. Nair will be joining the company at the end of January and will be based in London. Chanel said that she will play a crucial role in the company's further success. 

India-based businesswoman Amrapali Gan replaced Tim Stokely as the new CEO of adult content sharing platform 'OnlyFans.' 

Harnaaz Sandhu wins Miss Universe 

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2021 has become a proud year for Indians after Harnaaz Sandhu won the Miss Universe title. She is the third Indian woman to win the top title after the likes of Sushmita Sen and Lara Dutta. 

Harnaaz expressed her desire to become an actress and do strong female roles that break gender stereotypes. 

Making big achievements in STEM 

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Women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field have been making it big. Annie Sinha Roy is the Project Senior Resident Engineer at Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation and the only woman tunnel engineer in India. She was nominated for ETPrime Women Leadership Awards 2021 this year. 

Indian mathematician Dr Neena Gupta won the Ramanujan Prize 2021 for her commendable contribution to affine algebraic geometry and commutative algebra.

Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has featured four faculty members from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee among top women achievers in STEM. Four women include Dr Davinder Kaur Walia, Dr Debrupa Lahiri, Dr Pranita P Sarangi, and Dr Kusum Deep. 

IIT Professor Dr. Bushra Ateeq guided Anukriti Singh’s doctoral thesis, which was titled, “Investigation of Mechanisms involved in AGTR1 Positive Cancer: Implications in Therapy.” The Life of Science also featured her in its 2020-21 Indian Women-In-Science calendar.

Priya Ramani wins defamation case 

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Journalist Priya Ramani was acquitted in the defamation case filed by former union MJ Akbar. She was one of the women who publicly accused him of sexual harassment in the #MeToo movement which broke out in 2018. Senior advocate Rebecca John was appearing for Ramani in the case.

Celebrity weddings break patriarchal traditions 

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Celebrities can serve as a voice for change if they are able to raise it effectively as millions follow and look up to them. Several women were seen breaking stereotypes this year. Dia Mirza married her beau Vaibhav Rekhi. The ceremony saw a woman priest officiating it. The couple also chose to exclude sexist customs like kanyadaan and bidaai. 

Yami Gautam and Aditya Dhar's wedding became viral for the simplicity they chose over designer labels. Yami wore traditional jewelry, her mother’s saree, and the dupatta was the one her maternal grandmother had kept for her.

In the marriage between Niyati Joshi and Yashovardhan Mishra, Joshi was praised for embracing her grey hair. Women are often age-shamed and the fact that the bride embraced her appearance meant a lot. 

Katrina Kaif and Vicky Kaushal's ultra-secret wedding saw the actress's sister breaking traditions. Her sisters held the ‘Phoolon Ki Chaadar’, which is conventionally done by the bride’s brothers as a symbol of the love and protection she grew under. 

Alia Bhatt wins PETA person of the year 

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Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt, who has been a passionate animal rights advocate, has been named 2021 ‘Person of the Year’ by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India.

In 2021, 'Raazi' actress invested in Phool, the company behind Fleather, a vegan leather. She launched her vegan kidswear line, Ed-a-Mamma, which was awarded the 2021 PETA India fashion award. Sachin Bangera, PETA India director of celebrity and public relations, lauded her for inspiring the next generation to be kind to animals. 

Brigadier SV Sarasvati awarded National Florence Nightingale Award

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Brig. S.V. Saraswati, Deputy Director-General of Military Nursing Service (MNS), has been conferred with the National Florence Nightingale Award 2020. 

The National Florence Nightingale Award is the highest national distinction a nurse can achieve for her professionalism and service to the nation. 

In her career, Brig. Saraswati assisted in more than 3,000 lifesaving and emergency surgeries and trained residents, operation room nursing trainees and auxiliary staff.

KK Shailaja awarded CEU Open Society Prize

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Former Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja has been honoured with the prestigious Central European University (CEU) Open Society Prize in recognition of her commitment to public health services.

"As minister of public health in the Indian state of Kerala during the Covid-19 pandemic, KK Shailaja Teacher and the dedicated staff of the public health service demonstrated to the world that determined leadership, community-based public health and effective communication can save lives," said CEU's statement. 

During that year's legislative elections, KK Shailaja won her constituency with the highest margin ever. 

Journalist Megha Rajagopalan won Pulitzer Prize 2021

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Megha Rajagopalan, an Indian-origin journalist, won the Pulitzer Prize for her investigative reports that exposed a vast infrastructure of prisons and mass internment camps secretly built by China. Chinese administration has been detaining hundreds of thousands of Muslims in its restive Xinjiang region. She won the international reporting category for her 'Xinjiang' series.

Nykaa founder Falguni Nayar becomes wealthiest self-made billionaire

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Falguni Nayar, the founder of popular beauty product Nykaa, has been recognised as the wealthiest self-made billionaire in the country. 

She is also the second richest Indian woman with a net worth of 6.5 billion dollars. She built the company at the age of 50 and has 15 million registered users and services 1.5 million monthly orders.

Sirisha Bandla: second Indian-born woman to fly into space

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Aeronautical engineer Sirisha Bandla made history as the second Indian-born woman to go to space after Kalpana Chawla. She is also the third Indian-American woman to fly into space. Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu tweeted that Bandla’s achievement “will motivate many more young girls in India."

Bandla was part of the Galactic Unity 22 spacecraft which reached an altitude of about 88 kilometers over the New Mexico desert.

Apart from major achievements by women, the year also saw a few challenges and other news related to women. 

For the first time in decades, India's overall sex ratio saw more women when compared to men. National Family Health Survey (NFHS) reported that the country has 1020 females out of every 1000 males. Bharati Pravin Pawar, Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, lauded various schemes and programmes that spread awareness across India. 

The sex ratio remained a black mark for a long time in India because of rampant misogyny, discrimination against women, son preference, and cultural fundamentalism. In India, amniocentesis or sex detection during pregnancy is banned as it often leads to sex-selective abortions. 

Indian authorities have carried out raids in clinics that were running illegal abortions, notably in states like Punjab and Haryana. 

The Narendra Modi-led government recently increased the marital age of women from 18 to 21, to assure them college-level education. 

This has earned polarised responses. While many lauded the government for taking the progressive step for empowering women, others argued that it will further affect women's rights. 

Several women's rights organisations said that lack of awareness often led to child marriages across India and increasing marital age will criminalise most marriages.