Stories of successful women always inspire and empower others to follow suit. The year gone by was replete with such stories of inspiring women achieving milestones in their respective fields like sports, business, activism, defence and so on.
Here’s a list of some incredible women who made themselves and the country proud in 2021:
After meeting with an accident at the age of 11, Avani was trapped in a wheelchair as her lower body was paralysed. When everyone thought her life came to a standstill, Avani chose to start over. This 19-year-old girl from Jaipur became the first woman to win a gold medal in the Paralympics. In the category of R-2 women’s 10m Air Rifle, she set a new record in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. Training since 2015, this has been her first major international medal.
By quitting a 20-year-long career in investment banking and starting a beauty startup from scratch at the age of 50, Falguni Nayar became one of the most successful women of the year. Founder of Nykaa, she is now India’s biggest self-made female billionaire as shares of the firm surged to a whopping 89 per cent in the last quarter of 2021. She owns half of the company worth $6.5 billion. She left the managing director position of the Kotak Mahindra Group in 2012 to start Nykaa which gives Indians a unique mix of affordable, rare and luxury brands as well as cruelty-free products.
Harnaaz Sandhu is not only the girl who brought the Miss Universe crown to India after a long gap of 21 years but also someone who came over years of body shaming due to her thin figure. Hailing from Chandigarh, Harnaaz also advocates for normalising mental health issues. Her life with beauty pageants began when she was 17 and she participated in a national pageant representing her city. She went on to participate in Femina Miss India in 2019 and was crowned Femina Miss India Punjab the same year.
Winner of the silver medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the Women’s 49 kg weightlifting category, Mirabai Chanu is the power lady of India. She made her debut at the 2016 Rio Olympics and became the second Indian in 22 years to grab gold at the World Weightlifting Championships after Karnam Malleswari. Mirabai was just 11 when she won her first-ever competitive gold medal. Born into a traditional family of Manipur, her strength was recognised by the family when she was made to collect firewood from a nearby hill.
Ever since her victory in the 2013 Malaysian Open Grand Prix, PV Sindhu’s name has been synonymous with badminton in India. In 2019, she became the first Indian to win a gold medal in the Badminton World Championships. Sindhu is the first Indian sportswoman to win two consecutive medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Born in Hyderabad into a sports family, this 26-year-old is now ranked world No 7 in the women’s singles.
A professor at the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata, Neena Gupta is the third woman and fourth Indian to receive the prestigious 2021 DST-ICTP-IMU Ramanujan Prize for young mathematicians from developing countries. Her remarkable work in affine algebraic geometry and commutative algebra brought her this honour. Born and brought up in Kolkata, she earned a Masters and PhD in mathematics from the Indian Statistical Institute. Her unending interest in the subject is an inspiration for anyone who wishes to pursue it.
A Chief Conservation Scientist at the Centre for Wildlife Studies, Krithi Karanth is the first Indian and Asian woman to win the 2021 WILD Innovator Award. It is given by a foundation called Wild Elements that advocates disrupting the status quo and identifying solutions to global sustainability and conservation. A leading conservation scientist in India, Krithi has great expertise in the field of wildlife conservation. This Mangaluru native was also a recipient of the 2019 Women of Discovery Award by WINGS Worldquest, an organisation that supports women scientists and recognises them for their extraordinary work in their respective fields.
Also known as the encyclopedia of the forest, Tulasi Gowda was honoured by awarding Padma Shri for her contributions and efforts to protect forest cover. This 72-year-old hailing from the Halakki Vokkalu tribal community of Karnataka has planted over 30,000 saplings and has the unique ability to recognise a plant just by a touch. She never attended school and was married off at the age of 12. This day labourer is an asset to the Karnataka forest department as well as to the whole world.
An athlete who started her career without having a proper shoe, Shaili Singh won the World No 1 title in Under-18 Youth Long Jump in 2021. She was born in Jhansi as the daughter of a single mother. The long-jump pit was a bed of roses for this girl who overcame several hardships in life. She was trained at Anju Bobby George Sports Foundation in Bengaluru. Shaili is now one of the top 20 rankers across the world in the list of U-18 long jumpers.
One of the first female fighter pilots of India, Bhawana Kanth became the first woman fighter pilot to take part in the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) tableau at the Republic Day parade of 2021. Along with Avani Chaturvedi and Mohana Singh, she was inducted into the IAF as the first women fighter pilot in 2016. Born in Bihar, she is a graduate in Medical Electronics from BMS College of Engineering, Bangalore. She was commissioned into the IAF’s fighter stream in June 2016.
The latest global chief executive officer (CEO) of the French luxury house Chanel, Leena Nair was also the first female and youngest-ever Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) of Unilever. This Maharashtra native started her career in management when there were only two per cent women employees in her company. She was also featured among Fortune India’s Most Powerful Women of 2021. Before pursuing management, she studied electronics engineering at Walchand College of Engineering.
The first deputy managing director (FDMD) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Gita Gopinath is all set to succeed the current FDMD Geoffrey Okamoto. Mysore native Gita is a technocrat and author of several books. This 50-year-old completed her PhD from Princeton University in 2001 and was also the first woman to serve as the IMF’s chief economist. The promotion is followed by her exceptional work during the pandemic.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)