International Women’s Day focus on 8 inspirational women: ‘You can’t let prejudice get in your way’

International Women’s Day focus on 8 inspirational women: ‘You can’t let prejudice get in your way’

SINGAPORE - From making headways in Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to breaking traditional gender norms, many women in Singapore and around the world have overcome adversities to achieve their dreams, once thought to be out of reach.

Others bravely stood up for what they felt was right, despite facing backlash and danger.

The Straits Times highlights stories of eight inspirational women ahead of International Women’s Day on Wednesday.

1. Mocked for ‘luxury brand’ comment, now a model

Zoe Gabriel models for home-grown fashion label Charles & Keith in its campaign for International Women’s Day. PHOTO: CHARLES_KEITH/TWITTER

Once ridiculed by netizens for considering Charles & Keith a luxury brand, 17-year-old Zoe Gabriel is now a model for the home-grown fashion label.

Joining the brand in its campaign for International Women’s Day, Zoe said in an Instagram post: “Women are like flowers: Our time and needs to grow may not always align, but that is okay.

“We are like fields of poppy and lakes of lotus – diverse and bold in our differences, beautiful in our own ways.”

In a TikTok video that went viral in January, the teenager thanked her father for gifting her “my first luxury bag” – a black tote bag that cost $79.90.

After being mocked by netizens, Zoe responded to the negative comments in another video explaining that her family “did not have a lot” growing up.

With tears in her eyes, she said: “To you, an $80 bag may not be a luxury. To me and my family, it is a lot.”

2. First female Singaporean to play in a European league

Danelle Tan in her club's kit after making her debut on Sunday. PHOTO: COURTESY OF DANELLE TAN

Danelle Tan, 18, became the first Singaporean woman to play in a European football league in February when she came on as a half-time substitute for London Bees in their 2-1 defeat by Plymouth Argyle.

She moved to London for her studies in 2022, and registered with the Bees after impressing them in a trial. She will play for them till the season ends in May.

Tan is the first Singaporean to be accepted into a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I football programme in the United States, where she will be joining College of William and Mary on a part athletic scholarship in 2024.

She is also the youngest player to score for the Singapore women’s team after converting a penalty in a 2-1 loss to Timor Leste at the 2019 Asean Football Federation Women’s Championship. The then 14-year-old was making her senior competitive debut.


3. Single mum teaches special needs kids to swim

Ms Aine Wong uses persistence, humour and firmness when managing her young charges. PHOTO: ST FILE

Ms Aine Wong, 45, vowed to become a swim coach for special needs kids after seeing how her two dyslexic sons were treated in their swimming lessons.

“The swim coaches scolded them, but they were not naughty. A lot of people don’t understand dyslexic kids. If the teachers are not strong enough to capture their attention, they will not learn,” said the single mum, whose sons are 10 and 12.

“I asked myself, ‘Why can’t I teach my kids instead?’”

It took Ms Wong a year to obtain her coaching certificate from the internationally recognised Austswim organisation.

In January 2022, she started a side hustle as a swim coach. Ms Wong said she charges below the market rate for her classes as many of the families are not well off.

“I know I need the money, but these are special needs kids. Where can they go?” she said.


4. Researcher wins prestigious award for advancements in medicine

Professor Jackie Yi-Ru Ying was selected to receive the King Faisal Prize in science.  PHOTO: KING FAISAL PRIZE

A Singapore-based nanotechnology scientist, Professor Jackie Yi-Ru Ying, in January received one of the most prestigious international awards for her contributions to medicine and science.

Prof Ying, one of two female scientists to receive the award, is a senior fellow and director of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s NanoBio Lab.

The Saudi Arabia-based King Faisal Foundation said Prof Ying was selected for the King Faisal Prize for her work on the synthesis of various advanced nanomaterials and systems, and their applications in energy conversion and biomedicine. 

Her inventions have been used to solve challenges in medicine, chemistry and energy.

She has more than 200 primary patents and patent applications under her belt. Forty-two of them have been licensed to multinational and start-up companies for applications such as nanomedicine, drug delivery, and cell and tissue engineering.


5. Blazing new trails for Singapore’s nascent space industry

Ms Lynette Tan co-founded SSTL in 2007 at a time when the space industry was unheard of in Singapore. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Ms Lynette Tan, 43, is chief executive of Singapore Space and Technology Ltd (SSTL). She co-founded the company in 2007 after seeing an opportunity to connect the space industry in the region, advocate and accelerate the adoption of space technologies, support and promote innovations, as well as scout for talents.

“Space is not just up there, it’s also down here,” said Ms Tan, described by Fortune magazine as one of several women driving some of the world’s most innovative space start-ups.

Ms Tan – who has a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Stanford University – spent more than six years with the Economic Development Board and was its first female centre director for India.

She spent another six years handling mergers and acquisitions as well as opening new markets for British pharmaceutical and biotechnology giant GlaxoSmithKline.

In a male-dominated industry, Ms Tan admitted she has had to work harder and prove she has the smarts and the chops to be heard.

“But you cannot let (prejudice or discrimination) get in your way. And you have to do something so that it does not spill over to the next generation,” she said.


6. Japanese female ex-soldier declares war on sexual abuse

Ms Rina Gonoi is a former member of Japan's Ground Self-Defence Force who was sexually assaulted by colleagues. PHOTO: AFP

After she suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her fellow soldiers, 23-year-old Rina Gonoi was determined to go public with her story and declare war against her tormentors.

The former Ground Self-Defense Force (SDF) member said she had suffered routine sexual harassment from her colleagues in Japan’s military who would comment on the size of her breasts, hug her suddenly from behind in the hallway, or press their crotches against her.

In one instance, her breasts were groped by male servicemen, who also forced her to touch their private parts. In another, they pushed her onto a bed and then threw themselves on her, spread her legs and caressed her body.

Japan’s Defence Ministry apologised to her after a probe confirmed the sexual assaults. Her story has inspired dozens more people to report sexual and other abuse in the military, but she has had to bear the brunt of public backlash.

Ms Gonoi, who was named one of Financial Times’ 25 most influential women of 2022, said she feared that if she did not come forward to the media, the SDF would not have taken any disciplinary action against the perpetrators.

“Worse, they would think that they can get away with it and continue to repeat the same behaviour towards other female SDF personnel, with facts being covered up.”


7. Iraqi entrepreneur battles gender roles to fulfill dream

Ms Alaa Adel, an Iraqi fashion designer at her "Iraqcouture" studio in the capital Baghdad, on Jan 11, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

Ms Alaa Adel, 33, counts herself among a limited number of female entrepreneurs in a country where most women do not work outside the home.

The graduate of the University of Baghdad, who specialised in fashion and design, wanted to create her own fashion house, but prejudices posed a challenge to fulfilling her dream.

“We have a social tradition that prevents many women from working,” she said. Even for those who do, “it is not always that easy”, she added.

Against all odds, she created her brand, Alaa Adel, in 2022, after getting training from a programme for female entrepreneurs by an Iraqi foundation.

Even then, Ms Adel said she had to deal with sexism from some fabric suppliers who were reluctant to do business with a woman, and a lack of public childcare facilities in a country where tradition says children should be taken care of at home.

Ms Adel’s family members are helping to look after her two boys, aged nine and four, while she is at work.


8. Ukrainian manager joins military without hesitation after Russian attack

A female Ukrainian soldier carries flowers as she walks to take part in the funeral service of a lieutenant colonel, on Feb 27. PHOTO: AFP

On the day that Russia launched its attack on her country, Ms Svitlana Taranova enlisted in the Ukrainian army in the southern city of Mykolaiv, her birthplace.

“It was the only possible decision, not a sacrifice,” said the former construction firm manager in her 50s.

Ms Taranova, who is in the infantry, often found herself in close combat with Russian troops.

“In the beginning, I was terrified of the cluster bombs, my heart missed a beat every time one went off,” she said.

But then the fear gave way to grim determination. “I no longer feel I need to hide. All I want is revenge,” she said.

Cue. (2023, March 7). International Women's Day focus on 8 inspirational women: 'you can't let prejudice get in your way'. The Straits Times. Retrieved March 7, 2023, from

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