Nobel Wonder Women

Between 1901 and 1960, 45 men were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 25 of them had a moustache. In the same period of time, three women were awarded the prize. None of them had a moustache, and only one of them received the prize on her own. The two others had to share the prize with a man.

Adeline Cuvelier
Oct 4, 2016 · 3 min read
Jane Addams (second from the left) at the 1915 Women’s Peace Conference in the Hague. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

There is one thing you should know about me: I love nerdy statistics. These past years, I’ve collected all kind of numbers about the Nobel Peace Prize, and these numbers speak for themselves.

Of all five Nobel prizes, the Nobel Peace Prize actually scores best when it comes to gender. Only two women have received the Nobel Prize in physics, four women have received the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

As many women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize between 1901 and 1991, as between 1991 and 2014. This shift reflects not only changes in society, with women gaining political and economic access, but also the emphasis on the role of women in peacebuilding processes.

As the announcement of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize is coming up this Friday, I’ve been thinking about something that went unnoticed — and shouldn’t have. Last year, for the first time in 15 years, the Nobel Peace Prize was announced by a woman. Kaci Kullmann Five has been a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee since 2003 and was chosen as its new chair in March 2015. The last time a woman was chair of this Committee was in 1990.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, Anne L’Huillier, French physicist, chairs the Nobel Committee for Physics. Sara Snogerup Linse, Swedish chemist, chairs the Nobel Committee for Chemistry. Juleen Zierath, Swedish American biologist, chaired the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine from 2013 to 2015. The position is now assumed by Anna Wedell, Swedish Professor of Medical Genetics. Last year, Sara Danius, Swedish scholar of literature and aesthetics, was appointed permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy. She is the first woman to assume that position.

Left: Kaci Kullmann Five — Center: Anne L’Huillier, Sara Snogerup Linse, Juleen Zierath — Right: Sara Danius (Photos: Johannes Granseth / Nobel Peace Center ; Nobel Prize ; Helena-Paulin-Strömberg / Svenska Akademien)

At a time when our screens are constantly saturated with either human rights violations or pictures of cute cats, we do need to be reminded of the progress taking place away from the media scrutiny.

The number of women in parliaments has doubled since 1995. More and more girls attend school in comparison to 2000. And the gap between girls and boys in schools has nearly leveled out. Two years ago, a young Pakistani was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At 17, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel laureate.

The fact that all five Nobel committees are chaired by women, might look like an anecdote. But for me, it’s a simple reminder of a bigger trend: things are heading in the right direction. There’s progress to be celebrated. Or as Hans Rosling puts it: «The world is getting better. But the world is not yet good enough.»

“I raise up my voice — not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard… we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” ―Malala Yousafzai

Nobel Peace Center

The museum about the Nobel Peace Prize.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store