Celebrating International Women’s Day

Ahead of International Women’s Day 2021 staff from Central Library highlight inspiring women who have touched their lives. 

Did you know? International Women’s Day is in its 44th year since being recognised by the United Nations in 1977, but it had its infancy in New York as far back as 1909. 

Although International Women’s Day is now a globally recognised event, countries across the world vary in their approach to it. Some nations mark it as an opportunity to celebrate traditional femininity and womanhood, while others use it as a focal day of political protest against issues ranging from reproductive rights, femicide and domestic violence. This year’s campaign theme is #ChooseToChallenge, which highlights the brave and often fatal struggle for equality across the developing world. But it’s also a call to action, aimed at people living in more peaceful countries such as Scotland, to take a stand against discrimination in all its forms.

Staff at Central Library have chosen a selection of creative people from across the world whom they admire and whose work fits the theme of Challenge. As you will see, our chosen writers, artists and adventurers all had to push against the status quo in order to express themselves creatively, and each of them were trailblazers in their own way. We feel they deserve to be championed!  

Please read on…

Douglas from the Music Library says:
Born in the Barnton area of Edinburgh, Thea Musgrave had a Boarding School education away from the city but returned to Edinburgh University to study Medicine, later changing to Music. After a long career in Music and now in her 93rd year, Thea Musgrave is still working and composing. 

In an interview for the BBC in 2018 Thea Musgrave was asked about being a woman composer. She responded by saying,  “Yes, I am a woman, and I am a composer. But rarely at the same time”. Asked in the same interview if she had any advice for young composers, she said “Don’t do it, unless you have to. And if you do, enjoy every minute of it.” 
Listen on Naxos Music Library

Florence Price (1887 – 1953) was a composer, musician, organist, pianist and teacher. In 1932 her 1st Symphony won the Rodman Wanamaker competition and was performed in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, making her the first African-American woman to have a work performed by a major symphony orchestra. Unfortunately, Florence Price’s works are still little known and rarely performed or recorded.
Listen on Naxos Music Library

Gregg from Central Lending says: 
Gerda Rohorylle, known as Gerda Taro, was a photojournalist who came to prominence through her coverage of the Spanish Civil War. Her early black and white photographs had a distinctive square format, though in later work she favoured a more rectangular style. Her work is noted for being bold and direct. Lisa Hostetler, of the International Center of Photography in New York, has described the strengths of Taro’s work as “Their graphic simplicity and emotional power”, and her “effective portrayals of individuals at war”. Taro was killed aged 26 while working at the frontline in July 1937. She was later buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Her tomb was designed by the artist Alberto Giacometti, who gave her the epitaph, “So nobody will forget your unconditional struggle for a better world”. The Art and Design Library has a monograph of her war photography. See the International Center of Photography’s online exhibition of Taro’s work.

Belal from Blackhall Library says:
Zaha Hadid was a leading British-Iraqi architect, artist and designer, and was the first female recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Prize (2004), challenging the largely male architectural establishment. The Complete Zaha Hadid, part of the Art & Design Library’s physical collection, presents the complete monograph of Hadid’s works, from her early, unbuilt projects and ideas from her student years, to her very latest projects around the world, including the Aquatics Centre for the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Guangzhou Opera House in China, and the Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum in Michigan, USA. The book also features her furniture, product design and exhibitions.
Visit Zaha Hadid Architects website to find out more about her work.

Jeanette from the Art & Design Library says:
Jo-Anne McArthur is a multi-award-winning photographer whose groundbreaking work documents our complicated relationship with animals, in particular those we eat, wear, experiment on and confine in zoos and aquaria. Her books, including ‘We Animals’, call into question the ethics of how we treat the other sentient beings with whom we share this planet. In 2003, she founded We Animals Media, an online resource bringing “visibility to hidden animals worldwide through compelling photography and film”, with an archive of 10,000+ images which anyone can use for free to advocate on behalf of animals.

McArthur was the subject of the 2013 critically acclaimed documentary ‘The Ghosts in Our Machine’ which explored the question of whether non-human animals were property to be owned and used, or sentient beings deserving of rights. Her work is often done undercover and exposes the reality of animals’ lives we were never meant to see, resulting in images ranging from beautiful and haunting to utterly shocking and brutal, yet always urging us not to turn away but to pay attention, take action and make change. Find out more on Jo-Anne McArthur’s website.

Ania from Central Lending says:
I have always been a great fan of an amazing woman, Wanda Rutkiewicz, a Polish mountain climber who successfully climbed K2 without supplemental oxygen. Rutkiewicz also reached the peak of Mount Everest, becoming the third woman to reach the peak, and the first Pole.

Front cover of Edge of the Map

In the 1980s when Rutkiewicz started her ‘adventures’ it was a huge undertaking. It was nothing like commercialised expeditions of today. Also, in her time it was strictly a male bastion. She became widely recognised as a face of the emancipation of women in mountain climbing and went on to advocate for women’s climbing. She published books and produced documentaries on the subject. However, underneath all her great achievements, her life was also filled with many tragic events, loneliness, anxiety, rejection, and depression. Rutkiewicz was last seen alive in October 1994 while climbing Kangchenjunga. Her body has still not been found. Read more about her life via Wikipedia.
There are several ebooks on women climbers available to borrow on Overdrive/Libby app. Read ‘High Infatuation’ by Steph Davis or ‘Edge of the Map’ by Johanna Garton.

David from Morningside Library says:
Nan Shepherd was born in West Cults, near Aberdeen in 1893 and died there in 1981. During her long life she spent hundreds of days and thousands of miles, travelling on foot, exploring the Cairngorm mountain range, which lies between West Cults and Aviemore, in North East Scotland.

Front cover of The Living Mountain

In The Living Mountain, Nan writes poetically and spirituality about the effect that walking into the mountain has on her senses. She writes about the Mountain range as a living whole entity, made up of many component elements. However it is how these essential elements make her feel alive and feel connected to the mountain that shapes Nan’s poetic and evocative writing. She sees the mountain range as something to walk into, and to both lose yourself in and find yourself in, at the same time. Writing in the 1940s about the thoughts, feelings and emotions that a mountain range could heighten within yourself, was very much the opposite of the male dominated mountain literature of the time of reaching and dominating the peaks, which Nan so aptly describes as a trivial diversion. Nan literally was a free spirit who challenged conventional wisdom, and you can feel her spirit set free in this slender masterpiece. 
Borrow The Living Mountain ebook via Overdrive/Libby app.

Doris from Central Lending writes:
As a teenager growing up in a sleepy North of England village during the 1980s, I craved glamour and excitement. To me, Annie Leibovitz and her photographs embodied those qualities. 

I first came across the American photographer when her images of Anjelica Huston and David Bowie were published in the mid 1980s. Her iconic cover of a heavily pregnant Demi Moore for Vanity Fair magazine caused a huge stir in 1991. Although celebrated, Annie Leibovitz’s photography has sometimes been dismissed as superficial and overly commercial.  Whatever your opinion, undeniably, as one of the few female celebrity photographers, Annie Leibovitz is a trailblazer. Tying in with this year’s International Women’s Day theme ‘Choose to Challenge’ , she certainly challenged the norm and brought provocative portraits of celebrities to an eager public. 

Annie Leibovitz cites both Richard Avedon and Henri-Cartier Bresson as influences to her work, in titles such as ‘Women’, which forms part of the Art & Design Library’s physical collection.
See a retrospective of her early work on the Hauser and Wirth gallery website.

Front cover of Flights

Joanna from Art & Design Library chooses:
Olga Tokarczuk, Polish writer, activist, and public intellectual who has been described in Poland as one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful authors of her generation. In 2018, she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel ‘Flights’, translated by Jennifer Croft. In 2019, she was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize of Literature.
Borrow ‘Flights’ as a ebook.

Zoe from Central Lending says:
I have chosen Svetlana Alexievich, who is a historian, journalist and activist from Belarus. She is celebrated for painstakingly gathering ordinary people’s stories and perspectives of war and disaster, such as Chernobyl, and for exposing the propaganda, deceit and the magnitude of suffering behind the official accounts of these events. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. She has been threatened, persecuted and even arrested a number of times following publication of her books, and was forced into exile for ten years in 2000. She continues to be politically active, lately during the 2020 Belarusian protests. 

Edinburgh Libraries have a number of Alexievich’s paperback titles including ‘The Unwomanly Face of War’. Read more about her life and work on Svetlana Alexievich’s website.

And lastly, I would like to celebrate the work of Nawal El Saadawi, who is a pioneering Egyptian writer and activist. She has bravely challenged Islamic codes and doctrines especially concerning the traditional status and treatment of women and girls, paying particular attention to issues such as child marriage and FGM. She has received death threats, been imprisoned, and has had to flee Egypt to escape persecution. El Saadawi has inspired an entire generation of young activists and feminists across the world  – such as Egyptian writer Mona El Tahawy – and she continues to be an advocate and campaigner for human rights, still speaking out against racism, religious fundamentalism, capitalism and imperialism, at the current age of 89.
El Saadawi’s autobiography is on the shelves at Central Library. Read an interview with her on The Guardian website.

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