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In 2016, 20-year-old Lucy Dawson was sectioned for an apparent mental breakdown. Even though she had all the classic symptoms of encephalitis, she was misdiagnosed and left in a psychiatric ward until it was almost too late.
But medical negligence in women’s health is nothing new. Read Lucy’s story and the history behind it.
Female Patient

For centuries, doctors diagnosed women with “hysteria” – a condition characterised by emotional excess. In Western medicine hysteria was considered both a common and chronic disorder among women. Some of its symptoms included sexual desire, irritability, depression, and anxiety. In extreme cases, women diagnosed with “hysteria” were forced into insane asylum’s or underwent horrific and irreversible surgical procedures such as lobotomy or hysterectomy without consent.

The notion that women are somehow pre-disposed to negative behavioural conditions goes back to Ancient Greece, when the womb was thought to wander around the body and cause trouble wherever it went. This theory was rejected with the advancement of modern medicine, but the connotations persisted in Western popular thought for centuries. Today, researchers of medical history point to evidence that hysteria was simply a way to pathologize “everything that men found mysterious or unmanageable in women”.

Female Doctor

They were mutilated or molested – clitorises cut off when sexual pleasure was deemed to be the cause, or ‘medically stimulated’ into orgasm when sexual pleasure was deemed to be the cure.

Supposed ‘cures’ usually involved punishment intended to turn a difficult woman into a docile one. They were mutilated or molested – clitorises cut off when sexual pleasure was deemed to be the cause, or ‘medically stimulated’ into orgasm when sexual pleasure was deemed to be the cure. Hysterectomies and oophorectomies were unnecessarily performed – often without the patient’s consent – with the intent to sterilise reproductivity and neutralise hormonal fluctuations. Not to mention the dreaded ‘resting cure’ which inspired a short story so psychologically tormented that it convinced the pioneer physician to abandon it as a form of treatment altogether.

While hysteria is no longer recognised as a medical disorder, women are far more likely than men to be told their symptoms are psychosomatic or the result of a mental illness. The implications of this can be devastating.

Lucy’s Story

Lucy
Lucy Dawson photographed in 2021 by Christopher Thomond for The Guardian

In 2016, 20-year-old Lucy Dawson was sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983 for an apparent mental breakdown. Even though she presented with all the classic symptoms of encephalitis, including confusion, personality change, hallucinations, and headaches, she was misdiagnosed and left in a psychiatric ward for three-and-a-half months.

During her time there, Lucy was given electroconvulsive therapy in a last-ditch effort to reset her brain, causing a seizure which made her fall out of bed onto an exposed radiator pipe.

Lucy recalls, “It was the end of November, so the pipe was as hot as it was ever going to be, and I lay on it half dead and having just had ECT, until an old lady screamed for help.”

Anti-psychotic medication had turned her from manic to catatonic, so she was unable to move or call for help on her own. When nurses finally discovered her, it was too late. She suffered third degree burns and was inexplicably paralysed in her left leg. Staff members falsely attributed this injury to one of many violent ‘breakdowns’ when friends and family started to ask questions.

Disabled Model
Lucy Dawson Photographed in 2021 at Cleethorpes Beach

In January 2017, Lucy was finally seen by a neurologist and tested for brain injuries. It was only then that she was diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a type of autoimmune disease where the body attacks otherwise healthy receptors in the brain. Lucy explains, “They call it friendly fire because your immune system identifies antibodies and healthy cells in the brain as being bad and attacks them.” This time, doctors explained that her paralysis was just another symptom of her disease.

Anti-psychotic medication had turned her from manic to catatonic; when nurses discovered her it was too late.

But Lucy was still not satisfied. She decided to hire a lawyer after being discharged from hospital and saw several specialists for her leg – none of whom could offer a real explanation. One day, a locum noticed the position of the scar the burn had left and checked it against a diagram for the sciatic nerve. It suddenly became very clear: the radiator had burned right through it. The damage was irreversible.

Since then, the hospital has apologised and launched a “robust internal investigation” to improve their standard of care for future patients. But Lucy insists nothing could ever make up for the physical and emotional trauma she endured at their hands.

Lucy
Lucy Dawson photographed in 2021 by Christopher Thomond for The Guardian

Lucy is now a British ambassador for disabled modelling and works to increase representation in the industry. She says that her success as a lingerie model “came out of nowhere. Because I’ve got quite a curvy figure, brands were interested and that became my niche.” She goes on to say that helping other disabled women to reclaim their sexuality “makes me feel what I do is worthwhile.”

In the five years that have passed, Lucy has encountered countless women with stories just like hers from all over the world. Australia is no exception.

Click here to follow Lucy on Instagram

A Bigger Issue

One in three women has had their health concerns dismissed by their general practitioner according to the latest figures from the Australia Talks National Survey 2021. It found that women were twice as likely to feel dismissed as men.

For instance, endometriosis affects one in nine women in Australia, but it usually takes six-and-a-half years to get a diagnosis.

“We literally know less about every aspect of female biology compared to male biology” – Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, director of the US Office of Research on Women’s health.

Research shows that health care providers prescribe less pain medication to women than men after surgery. In general, women report more severe levels of pain, more frequent incidences of pain, and pain of longer duration than men, but are nonetheless treated for pain less aggressively.

“It’s a huge issue in medicine,” says Dr. Tia Powell, a bioethicist and a professor of epidemiology and psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Medical professionals may hold implicit biases that affect the way that women are treated, she said. “Medical schools and professional guidelines are starting to address this problem, but there is still much to be done.”

Karen Magraith, a GP and president-elect of the Australasian Menopause Society, said the gender gap extended beyond reproductive health issues.

Female Patient at Hospital

“We have evidence heart disease in women is not recognised as early, not treated as effectively and women receive less evidence-based treatments than men do. I think that’s a good example of where women’s health is not as effectively treated as men’s health,” she said.

One of the main reasons for this is that women have been historically underrepresented in clinical trials for new drugs, treatments, and devices in Australia and across the world. And in the few instances where women have been included, the influence of sex and gender is often ignored. As a result, women are more likely to be withheld effective treatment and exposed to harmful side effects – including a higher incidence of adverse reactions when new (and insufficiently researched) drugs hit the market.

The result? “We literally know less about every aspect of female biology compared to male biology,” says Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, director of the US Office of Research on Women’s health.

Lonely Woman

It would seem that women are just too hard to study. For decades, women were excluded from clinical drug trials based on the unsubstantiated belief that fluctuations in hormones associated with the menstrual cycle would make results more difficult to analyse. When thalidomide was found to cause serious birth defects in the 1970s, women of childbearing age in the US were banned from participating in clinical research studies in order to ‘protect’ their reproductive capabilities. Even though this ban was lifted in 1993, and the inclusion of women was mandated in government-funded research, drug companies were not required to comply.

A 2008 report found that Australian Human Rights and Ethics Committees (HRECs) failed to enquire about the numbers of male and female participants in clinical trials. The same report showed that opinions were also divided on whether research cost and convenience justified excluding women from research.

As it currently stands, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has no policy comparable to those in the US or Canada requiring researchers to test on both men and women.

But organisations like the George Institute are calling for policy reform in order to standardise the way sex and gender is collected in clinical trials in Australia. Their demands include gender specific reporting in academic journals and a more equitable balance of female and male patients in clinical trials.

Patient Diagnosis

In response to such demands, a spokesperson for the Department of Health pointed to the $535 million package set aside for female health as part of the 2021-2022 national budget. It serves to improve cervical and breast cancer screening programmes, provide Medicare subsidies for testing of IVF embryos for genetic faults, increase support for the mental wellbeing of new and expectant parents, and boost women’s health initiatives including the Periods, Pain and Endometriosis Program (PEPP-Talk) developed by the Pelvic Pain Foundation of Australia.

However, this package amounts to less than $46 for every woman over the age of 15. More can be done to help.

What You Can Do

Standard consultations at the GP last just 15 minutes. Here’s how to make sure your health concerns are heard.

Come Prepared

Plan what you intend to talk about before you arrive for your appointment. Write down any concerns and questions so you don’t forget. Be specific.

Tell Your Story

According to Leana Wen, MD, author of When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests, “doctors end up asking about symptoms rather than the story. But studies have shown that over 80% of diagnoses can be made just by listening… By that, they mean listening to the story, the open-ended story of what happened, rather than asking a list of yes-no questions”

Be sure to mention:

  • When the symptoms started
  • Whether any life event/action coincided with the onset of symptoms
  • Whether the symptoms have appeared before
  • Describe how it feels
  • Whether the pain has increased/decreased
  • How often you feel the pain

Take Someone with You

If you are dealing with a particularly complex issue, have a condition that makes it difficult to discuss alone, or are particularly vulnerable, it might be appropriate to bring a patient advocate or a loved one along to an appointment.

Request a Female Doctor

Studies show that female doctors tend to listen more and their patients — both male and female — tend to do better.

Be Direct

If you still feel like you’re being dismissed, tell your doctor how you feel. Express concern that you are not being properly heard. A good physician should be able to listen and take your problems seriously.

More than one in five Australians are resorting to using rags, socks and other unsuitable alternatives for their period because they can’t afford sanitary products. 

A fourteen-year-old girl wanders into an empty laundromat looking for socks that have been left behind, forgotten and discarded. She collects whatever she can find, reaching inside the large silver washing machines that smell like old detergent and cotton. Imagine your daughter stealing socks from a laundromat to use for her period. This is the reality for young girls living under the poverty line in Australia.

Rochelle Courtenay, founder of Share the Dignity a non-for-profit national period poverty charity, is teary eyed as she recounts a tragic but sadly common story. “Somebody else’s socks in your underpants to deal with your period,” Courtenay says, “I would never wish that for anybody. So that’s what I do what I do.”

Photo by The Economist

“No one likes to talk about poverty because it’s a dirty secret,” Courtenay says, “and no one likes to talk about periods because it’s something that doesn’t really happen, right?” When you mix the two together you are creating an almost untouchable subject. Alarm bells ring when a young girl is telling you she is safer on the streets than in her home. Forced to use unsanitary alternatives for her period that are potentially dangerous for her health. Women in poverty are expected to deal with it when toilet paper is free but essential period products aren’t.

The Period Pride Report: Bloody Big Survey by Share the Dignity found that “close to half of the 125,000 respondents said they had missed at least one day of school because of their period.” It also reported that around 50% of participants “also admitted to wearing a pad or tampon for more than four hours because they didn’t have enough products to get by.”

Period Pride Report: Bloody Big Survey by Share the Dignity

A report in 2020 found that over 3.24 million Australians are currently living below the poverty line. This leads to period poverty where Australians cannot afford period products on top of other essentials. Dr Ruth Knight from The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies based at QUT Business said in an interview with Women’s Agenda that “period poverty is a real issue that is under-researched.” Saying that “we have anecdotal evidence of teachers personally donating products but there is a lack of data about the level of need.”

“Period poverty is a real issue that is under-researched.”

Over the past 5 years there have been a handful of positive changes. New Zealand has made period products free for all school students across the country, ahead of Australia. While Scotland has become the first country in the world to provide free period products for anyone who needs them, not just school or university students. This is a milestone that needs to happen all around the world, as period poverty doesn’t just stop once females finish school.

At the start of 2021 South Australia announced that free period products will be available in every public school over the next 3 years. With the state government spending $450,000 to provide students in year 5 and above with products. Victoria also has free products for school students and New South Wales has followed suit saying they will provide free products in public schools. Courtenay points out that roughly 200,000 products only supply 50,000 females over 4 months and to only have $450,000 for all schools in one state is not enough.

Rochelle Courtenay from Share the Dignity photo by The Border Mail

Share the Dignity started with a single Facebook page; it now has nearly 60,000 followers on Instagram, a partnership with Woolworths and nearly 250,000 followers on Facebook. Without social media, charities like this would not exist and there would not be a space for these conversations to happen. Courtenay maintains that no one in the government wants to talk about homelessness or domestic violence because it’s not positive. “All of the things that are relative to women are things that we don’t want to discuss,” she says.

When we think about period poverty we often naively associate it with homeless people. But in reality, people living in poverty could be your colleague or classmate sitting right next to you; poverty doesn’t always look like what you think. The issue with period poverty is the lack of data, as governments and politicians alike use data to make changes; without data they won’t fix the problem. Share the Dignity is trying to change this, with their national period pride survey aiming to collect data that can be presented to the government.

Period Pride Report: Bloody Big Survey by Share the Dignity

Let’s Talk, Period. is an audio podcast hosted by Isabella Gosling that’s dedicated to opening up the conversation around female health and anyone who menstruates. Isabella says “periods are the only blood that doesn’t come from violence or injury. It’s a natural occurrence… yet it’s seen as dirty.” Breaking down the stigma through social media and the podcast, a digital platform that can be accessed anywhere around the world, is a great step that starts to abolish the notion of shame.

“Periods are the only blood that doesn’t come from violence or injury. It’s a natural occurrence… yet it’s seen as dirty.”

Gosling says that the team decided to create an audio podcast instead of video content because you can just pop your headphones in, and no one will know what you’re listening to. “If you don’t want people to know what you’re listening to… there’s nothing on your screen,” she says. “It’s just a really great way to create conversations (without) that notion of shame or judgement.”

Social media creates an online community for period poverty, where the conversation happens on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Here users are quick to point out that the government is acknowledging period poverty by awarding Young Australian of the Year to Isabell Marshall, who co-founded a not-for-profit sanitary products company. But they are still yet to take on the responsibility of constantly collecting the relevant data to make political changes.

One Twitter user responded to the announcement that period products are now free in schools across New Zealand by saying, “Meanwhile here in Australia, we have a federal government who gives out an Australian of the Year award to young women for running a similar program rather than actually taking responsibility for helping women/reducing period poverty themselves… #auspol” Which suggests that the Australian government knows period poverty exists but are choosing to put it on the back bench.

Period Pride Report: Bloody Big Survey by Share the Dignity

Period poverty and domestic violence often collide, as many women fleeing domestic violence don’t think to grab their period products when they are escaping from a situation. In Australia one woman dies every week as a result of domestic violence and their names go unheard.

“A woman dies every freaking week by someone that once said they loved her… we have continued to not do something about it from the government perspective and yet a man gets killed by a shark, once or twice a year… It will be in the media for 3 freaking days, everyone will be talking about it… they’ll be putting alerts on every shark that’s out there.”

Courtenay said “a woman dies every freaking week by someone that once said they loved her… we have continued to not do something about it from the government perspective and yet a man gets killed by a shark, once or twice a year, it is complete up-brawl. It will be in the media for 3 freaking days, everyone will be talking about it… they’ll be putting alerts on every shark that’s out there.” How can so much time and coverage go into one man being killed by a shark every once in a while, yet we can’t even protect women in their own homes.

In Australia period poverty is slowly turning heads and being recognised as an issue. But there is so much more that needs to be done; we need data, we need funding and the government needs to do more. Having free period products in schools is great, but what about university students and those that aren’t students living under the poverty line.

If you or anyone you know needs more information on domestic violence call 1800-RESPECT or Lifeline 13 11 14

How can you help?                                                                                                                                                                                                      There are many ways to support period poverty in schools and beyond, here are some foundations where you can donate your time or resources.

Endometriosis sufferer, Nevena Rosic, shares her experience battling the debilitating condition that affects so many Australian women. Recognising the signs of this disease is paramount in treatment, writes Alyssa Batticciotto.

I need to have a child by 30, and even then, I will struggle to carry the child to term,” says Nevena Rosic.

In 2014, 19-year-old Nevena experienced an appendix rupture, internal bleeding, infection and cysts on her ovaries before a colonoscopy identified the root of the problem – stage four endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a condition that many Australian women aren’t familiar with. However, for one in ten women it is a crippling disease that can exponentially impact their relationships, capacity and ability to work and study, and mental and physical health.

The disruptions to daily routine, and the pain itself, can create fear for those who suffer. “Sometimes I can’t do every day living,” says Nevena.

Not only can this condition inflict harm and chronic pain, it is a progressive disease which can worsen over time. The key is to detect symptoms early and use necessary treatment to help manage the condition. However, for those who have never heard of endometriosis before, this can be a confusing and scary time in their lives.

“One day you can be fine and then all of a sudden I’ll have cramps, double vision and nausea,” she says.

Endometriosis is a condition in which cells similar to those that line the uterus – the endometrium – grow in locations outside the uterus.

One of the most fearful things about this condition is that there are no known triggers.

 Signs/Symptoms

There is no specific formula in identifying endometriosis but there are some key signs to look for. Early detection is imperative in reducing the risk of further complications so seeing your doctor when experiencing any of the symptoms is highly important.

The symptoms of endometriosis include:

  • Painful periods
  • Pain during sex
  • Pelvic or ovulation pain
  • Pain in the lower back and thighs
  • Bowel symptoms – pain using your bowel
  • Bladder symptoms – pain when passing urine
  • Reduced fertility
  • Nausea and lethargy
  • Premenstrual symptoms

“When the time of the month comes, I’m bedridden,” says Nevana.

It can be a genetic disease so females with family members affected should be wary of the symptoms associated, this is especially the case in families where mothers or sisters are affected.

Despite being relatively educated due to her own mum’s diagnosis, she thought there was “no point looking into it because [she’s] never going to have it”, despite the reg flag of family history. This does point to the larger issue around lack of education.

Dangers

This disease can affect the entirety of the woman’s reproductive system. As the cells in the uterus (and the damaged cells outside) respond to the oestrogen hormone and do not respond by exiting the body but rather can cause rigorous bleeding and fibrous scar tissue to form.

I was constantly in and out of hospital, the staff know me by now the second I turn up at emergency, says Nevena.

Infertility is an incredibly large danger that women with endometriosis can possibly suffer, especially if not treated quickly enough.

Ovarian cancer does occur at higher than expected rates in those with endometriosis and although rare, another type of cancer — endometriosis-associated adenocarcinoma — can develop later in life in those who have this condition.

As you can see, the dangers from this disease can have everlasting impact on those who suffer with it however it isn’t widely publicised as a debilitating condition.

Increased Risks

Some of the suspected risk factors for endometriosis include:

  • Menstrual cycle factors – including early age of first period (menarche), heavy or painful periods, short menstrual cycles (less than 27 days) and long periods (more than one week)
  • Allergies – such as food, eczema and hay fever
  • Obesity
  • Family history of endometriosis
  • Exposure to toxins – some research suggests that persistent environmental pollutants, such as dioxins, might contribute to the development of endometriosis

Preventative measures

Factors that may help reduce your risk of endometriosis include:

  • Aerobic exercise for five hours per week – studies show a 50 per cent reduction in the risk of recurrence
  • Childbearing – for some women, this reduces the risk that endometriosis will recur.
  • Hormones such as the contraceptive pill as it prevents ovulation and may suppress endometriosis

Diagnosis

Oftentimes your local GP will try a process of elimination to cure the pain of those suffering with endometriosis.

If no progress can be found, they will then move onto one of the following to help diagnose:

  • Blood tests
  • Laparoscopy – a surgical procedure performed under general anaesthetic, where a slender medical instrument like a small telescope with a camera attached is used to examine your pelvic organs.
  • Ultrasound
  • Colonoscopy – while you are sedated, a medical instrument with a camera attached is used to examine your bowel. This is done if it is thought the endometriosis could also be affecting your bowel.

Treatment

There are a few options to treat endometriosis, below are some of the options available:

  • In cases of mild endometriosis, simply monitoring your condition with your GP is sufficient enough
  • Hormone controlling pills including progestins, gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists and the oral contraceptive pill can help to diminish the growth and side effects of endometriosis
  • Serious surgery may be a considered option if symptoms become unbearable

Many women have found that the use of naturopathy can also have remarkable results with their symptoms. Some of these can include:

  • Herbal medicine
  • Traditional Chinese medicine
  • Nutritional therapies
  • Massage
  • Yoga

The only thing I can do when I feel pain is to lay in a dark room with a heat pack, says Nevena.

With little known information on the causes, the Australian government is now funding an investigation into the causes of endometriosis.

Despite this new funding, many women suffering from the disease believe that finding a cure is imperative, “even bulk billing some of the treatment would be incredibly helpful”, says Nevena.

Given the level of pain some women experience when trying to identify the root of their problems, it is incredibly important that girls and women are not only educated but provided with the necessary help.

During the past week when you’ve opened up your Facebook feed and scrolled through a chain of coronavirus articles, you may have stumbled across the phrase,
“Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.”

These were just a few of the moving words that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (also known as AOC), the first-term Democrat from New York, states in her speech on the floor of the House of Representatives last week. The speech came after Republican Ted Yoho, approached Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol, having just voted, and called her “disgusting,” “out of her mind,” and worse…

Too often, when American politicians find their way onto our newsfeeds, it is for the wrong reasons. However, AOC’s recent speech is trending for all the right reasons and here’s why –

  1. She is the youngest woman to ever be elected into American congress and is standing on the floor of the House of Representatives defending herself against a much older, male in power.

American politics is dominated by disreputable male characters. President Trump has been held accountable on multiple occasions for his abusive language and poor attitude towards women. He has built a Republican party that reflects these traits and AOC’s encounter with Yoho is a prime example.
For AOC to stand on the floor of the House of Representatives, as the youngest female in history to be elected into congress and tell her narrative of how Mr. Yoho approached her with his male colleague and called her, “disgusting,” “out of her mind,” “and “a f*cking b*tch,” is incredibly brave. To then follow this recount of events by defending herself, ignites a spark of empowerment in the hearts of all women.

 

  1. Her motive to speak out about the incident was to ensure young girls do not excuse or accept verbal abuse from men. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez states in her speech that Representative Yoho’s comments “were not deeply hurtful or piercing” to her. She explains that she has encountered this harassment in all areas throughout her life.

She was “going to pack it up and go home,” as it was just another day in her life as a woman. However, when she heard Yoho making excuses for his comments towards her, she decided to speak out.
“I could not allow my nieces, I could not allow the little girls I go home to, I could not allow victims of verbal abuse, and worse, to see that, to see that as an excuse, and to see our congress accept it as legitimate and accept it as an apology.”

Her motive for taking to the microphone was to stand with younger women, ensuring they do not tolerate or accept verbal attacks from men.

 

  1. She calls out all men for using their wives, daughters, and family as shields of protection for inexcusable abuse.

Perhaps the most inspiring words of AOC’s speech were, “Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.”

Mr. Yoho attempted to excuse his behaviour by saying that he has a wife and a daughter and therefore, is a decent and respectful person. However, AOC quickly invalidated his comment when she states that she, “is someone’s daughter too,” and no child, no women, no man, no person, should ever be spoken to with such disrespect.

 

  1. She acknowledges that this does not only happen to women in politics, but women in all professions, in multiple different areas of their lives, and it is not okay. 

Before being elected into congress, AOC majored in international relations, was an activist, and worked as a waitress and a bartender. She mentions her previous occupations in her speech and states that she has “ridden the subways and walked the streets of New York City and this kind of language is not new.”

She unites all women by acknowledging that in some way, shape, or form, we have all been in her position and experienced verbal abuse, and that is the problem. AOC acknowledging that there is an issue and using her position to vocalise it is encouraging.

 

  1. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t only defend herself but defends principle, and countless women, not only in America, but across the globe.  

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez closed her speech with, “Lastly, what I want to express to Mr. Yoho is gratitude.” Because he showed the world that any man, no matter their title, their position of power, if they have a daughter or if they have a wife, can still accost women without remorse. It happens everywhere, every single day, and by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calling him out in her speech, she defends, inspires, and empowers us all.

Women Scientists: Dr Katie Bouman photographed a black hole for the first time, but did you know that women have been blowing scientific minds for hundreds of years? Read about these six incredible women scientists with your daughter, and watch her eyes go wide with wonder. 

Every little kid has a dream of being something when they grow up: a footballer, a singer, a lawyer, a crazy scientist who turns a car into a time machine – the limit does not exist for the aspirations of children. Rarely if ever do our childhood dreams turn into realities, sometimes because we change our minds and even more often because we are told that those dreams are just not realistic. The same could be said for these incredible women scientists who pursued these dreams and didn’t give up!

For 29-year-old Harvard professor, Dr Katie Bouman, her dreams came true last month when the computer program that she and her team developed made it possible for the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – a network of eight connected telescopes around the world – to capture an image of a black hole for the very first time.

https://twitter.com/bendhalpern/status/1116071099584974849

Now, we take a look at six other remarkable ladies who not only rocked the world with their incredible discoveries, but prove that dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them. 

Margaret Hamilton

 

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin began their epic journey on 20 July 1969, their lives were in the hands of hundreds of NASA scientists, including Margaret Hamilton. A hardware-related problem on board the lunar module Eagle could have wrecked the day, but the software designed by Hamilton and her trusty team of engineers compensated for the fault and allowed the boys to safely land on the moon.

In 2016, she was awarded the Medal of Freedom by US President Barack Obama, who said, “Her example speaks of the… spirit of discovery that exists in every little girl and little boy who know that somehow to look beyond the heavens is to look deep within ourselves.”

Jane Goodall

Pictured above with her chimp teddy Mr H, the inspiring story of Jane Goodall started with a childhood dream to see the African wilderness. After working as a secretary, she saved enough money to travel to Kenya. During her expeditions to the Gombe Stream Reserve, she gradually gained the trust of the chimpanzees and made many surprising discoveries.

She discovered that chimps not only make and use tools, but they can form close relationships and experience a range of ‘human’ emotions like joy, despair, fear and love. Today, she is an avid conservationist, a United Nations Messenger of Peace and has even been knighted by the Queen.

Mary Anning

 

During the time of King George III while Jane Austen was writing her famous collection of novels, a young Mary Anning was digging about in the dirt on the now-named Jurassic Coast in England, looking for what she called ‘curiosities’. Later, she would discover that they were actually fossils of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.

Her many incredible finds, including full skeletons of an ichthyosaur, a plesiosaur and a pterodactyl (think of the flying dinosaurs in Jurassic Park) are now on display in the Natural History Museum in London. Oh, and she also pioneered the study of fossilised poo.

Grace Hopper

 

Rightfully known as ‘Amazing Grace’, this mathematician and computer programmer is remembered for her invaluable contribution to modern computing. Grace Hopper served in the US Naval Reserves during World War II and made it her life’s work to make computers accessible to the general public. She developed a programming language called COBOL, which was based on actual English words instead of numbers and was the first person ever to receive the Computer Science Man-of-the-Year Award.

Marie Curie

 

Would any list of distinguished scientists be complete without Marie Curie? She and her husband Pierre Curie made many notable scientific breakthroughs, including the discovery of two new chemical elements, namely polonium and radium.

After her husband’s death in 1906, she continued her work, eventually discovering a way to measure radioactivity. This earned her a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Three years later, she invented the Petits Curies, which were mobile X-ray units that were used to diagnose battle injuries during World War I.

Valentina Tereshkova

 

Valentina Tereshkova was not only the first woman to ever visit space, she also remains the youngest person to ever do so. She was selected for the mission because of her expertise in parachute jumping. In 1963, at the age of 26, she spent three days flying in space and orbited the Earth a whopping 48 times. On her return, Valentina Tereshkova was so well-liked and respected, she ended up on a Soviet stamp.

Feminism is a loaded word in today’s society yet it’s crucial to approach it as ‘gender equality’ to your kids before they hear it as anything else.

Below are 6 tips for raising little feminists who believe in the diverse representation of women and uniform rights for all.

1. Start a conversation

First of all, sit your kids down and open with the direct line, “Have you ever heard of feminism?” If they are young, chances are they haven’t and you can start with a clean canvas. But if they have, let them say what they think. Then direct them towards the ideals of gender equality, such as anybody’s right to voice an opinion regardless of sex or be open to the same job promotions if they are doing well at work. Ask, “But isn’t this a lot like what feminism aims to do?” And voilà. You have your starting point.

2. Give it a clear definition

Make sure your kids understand that feminism is not ‘man-hating’. It means the economic, social, political and personal equality between boys and girls. This means they will be paid the same for the identical job, possess the same opportunities to pursue different interests and share the same right for their bodies to be respected. It means freedom to discover and express personal identities without limitations like ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘ladies don’t do that’.

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3. Show real-life examples of sexism

An inevitable part of parenting is heightening your child’s awareness of our society and its many problems. Try starting small with fictitious examples such as, “If Bob picks two apples and Jane picks two apples, don’t you think they should be paid the same?” Or, “Bob likes playing with toy trucks. Jane likes it too. Do you think they should play together?” Then expand these to real-life examples your child has experienced or possibly will in the future

4. Be a role model

Use your own home to teach real gender equality – nothing impacts your child more than their personal environment. Share household chores between different sexes of the family, like having dad cook and mum do the dishes. Let everybody have a fair say during discussions, such as whereabouts the family’s next vacation should take place. Practice empathy during situations of conflict to highlight how everyone’s opinion is valid and valuable.

5. Defy stereotypes

Choosing your own clothes, hairstyle or the colour of your bedroom is a kind of empowerment crucial for self-confidence. Defy stereotypes by letting your son have longer hair or your daughter wear shorts. Promote positive body image and show them to respect how other children choose to express themselves by only saying stuff they would want to hear themselves and not touching others without permission.

6. Monitor their entertainment

Finally, be aware of possible sexist values embedded in everything your child is watching or reading. Do not underestimate this! In Thomas the Tank Engine, depictions of female trains often fall along the lines of, “Wise and older Edward always had good advice for Emily, who really is a very nice engine but who can be a bit bossy.” Instead, choose books and family movies that have a healthy depiction of both male and female heroes such as Disney favourites Frozen and Moana or TV show The Legend of Korra.