Five Malaysian school students jumping for joy at their exam results

As today is International Women's Day, we are celebrating some of those women who are either in education and adovcating education as a human right. Some of them you may be familiar with, but others may be an interesting and novel read. 

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell speaking at InspireFest

Bell Burnell speaking at InspireFest. Image Credit: William Murphy/flickr

Bell Burnell is the first to have discovered radio pulsars, a type of neutron star, while she was doing her PhD in 1967, whose image was made famous by Joy Division’s 1979 Unknown Pleasures album cover. She was famously overlooked in the 1974 Nobel Prize for Physics which went to her supervisor, even though her supervisor had previously dismissed her findings, insisting that they were probably due to interference and man made. This led to outrage amongst prominent astronomers at the time, while Bell Burnell has admitted that she had to be persistent in reporting the anomaly in the face of skepticism from her supervisor. 

She has since been President of the Royal Astronomical Society and President of the Institute of Physics, and in February 2013 she was named as one of the 100 most powerful women in the UK by Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4. In February, 2014, she was made President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the first woman to hold the title.

Her appointment of Professor of Physics at the Open University between 1991-2001 doubled the number of female professors of physics in the UK,  and she currently campaigns to improve the status and number of women in professional and academic posts in the fields of physics and astronomy.  In 2014, she was named as one of Silicon Republic’s 100 Top Women in STEM.

Professor Mary Beard

Professor Mary Beard wheeling a bicycle while filming in Rome

Mary Beard filming in Rome. Image Credit: Tristan Ferne/Wikicommons

Beard is a professor of Classics at Cambridge, and her popular books, blogs, and tv programmes have led to her being described as 'Britain's best-known classicist'.

Although we at Eluceo love her sleek grey locks, her anti-establishment looks have gained her criticism, with the writer AA Gill commenting in 2012 that she should be ‘kept away from the cameras altogether’ while she received vile abuse online after appearing on BBC1’s Question Time in 2013. None of the abuse had anything to do with her ability to be a knowledgeable and passionate presenter, and making classical culture and thought accessible, and was mainly aggressive and sexual in nature, and included a photo of her face superimposed onto a picture of female genitalia.

Beard’s brush with the establishment started when she rejected to attend King’s College, Cambridge because she discovered that it did not offer scholarships to women. She instead attended the all-girls Newnham College, one of the few remaining women-only higher education institutions in the UK, finding that some men in the university held dismissive attitudes toward the academic potential of women, and this strengthened her determination to succeed. It was here that she also developed her feminist views which she continues with her today. 

Professor Uta Frith

Professor Uta Frith at the Royal Society Women in Science panel discussion 2013

Uta Frith in the Royal Society Women in Science panel discussion 2013. Image Credit: Katie Chan/Wikicommons

Frith is a developmental psychologist who works at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL. Her groundbreaking work on autism has revolutionized our understanding of the condition, overturning the traditional, long-held belief that the causes of autism are social & emotional, and discovering instead that it is the result of physical differences in the brain.

Frith was born in Germany, but came in the UK in the early 1960s for a two-week course in English. Half a century later she is still here, with a wealth of fellowships and awards to her name, as well as currently holding an honorary DBE. 

As well as research, she has also advocated for the advancement of women in science, in part by developing a support network called Science and Shopping where people can share ideas and information aimed at promoting the careers of women in science. She also co-founded the UCL Women network, a grassroots networking and social organisation for academic staff (postdocs and above) in STEM at UCL.

Malala Yousafzai

Photograph of Nobel Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai in a patterned headscarf

Image Credit: UK Department for International Development/Flickr

If you didn’t already know(?!) Malala is a Pakistani A-level student who lives in Birmingham. Her endless advocacy of female education led to her become the youngest ever Nobel Laureate when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. 

Having grown up in Swat Valley, a Taliban-held area of Pakistan, as a girl she was banned from attending school. However she continued to go to school, along with her friends, and in early 2009, when she was 11-12, Malala wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban occupation, their attempts to take control of the valley, and her views on promoting education for girls in the Swat Valley. With this blog, a documentary and other interviews she started to make a name for herself. 

Due to her and her friends’ defiance of the ban on girls education, in 2012 on her way back from school with her friends on the bus, a Talibani gunman boarded the bus and shot her in the face. She was taken to hospital in Birmingham where she has lived since with her parents, and continues to promote access to education, including speaking at the UN.

Her not-for-profit Malala Fund supports educational projects including a School for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon near the Syrian border. 


Girls are continuing to out perform boys in the UK at all levels of education, with 57.3% of students who were female studying at university in 2013/14. In the same year, the GCSE A*-C rate was 73.1% compared 64.3% for boys. Keep up the good work!