A Catholic saint, a women’s rights activist and a champion of education for girls. They are only three of 17 women to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in its 126-year history.
Half the world is made up of women, so the obvious question arises: why have so few people been given the committee’s most prestigious prize and, broadly speaking, underrepresented in Nobel prizes in general?
In addressing the criticism, in 2017, the Nobel committee acknowledged its poor track record.
“We are disappointed to see the larger perspective that more women have not been honoured,” said Goran Hansen, deputy chairman of the Nobel Foundation’s board of directors.
“Part of this is that we go back in time to identify discoveries,” he said. “We have to wait until they are verified and validated, before awarding us. Then there was an even bigger bias towards women. If you go back 20 or 30 years there were very few women scientists.”
But he acknowledged other problems, including the ones people considered for the rewards. From 2018, he said, they will take steps to correct the imbalance.
“I expect that in five years or 10 years, we will see a very different situation,” he said.
The first woman to receive the prize was Austrian writer Bertha von Suttner, a leading figure in a nascent pacifist movement in Europe. She was recognized in 1905, two years after Marie Curie became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics.
It would be another 26 years before another woman was chosen for the award: American Jane Addams, regarded as the founder of modern social work and an advocate for the concerns of children and mothers. He shared the 1931 prize with Nicholas Murray Butler, who was then head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Other women to receive the honor include Mother Teresa in 1979; Iran’s legal reformer Shirin Ebadi in 2003; Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Mathai in 2004 and education activist Malala Yousafzai in 2014.
In 2011, three women shared the award: former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist; and Yemeni journalist Tawakkol Karman, who became the face of the “Arab Spring” uprising in her country.