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32 Countries, 32 Women: Group D

A brave soldier, an innovative educationalist, a courageous activist and a vivacious musician - how's that for real women?

We continue our series on women who changed the world, showcasing Group D which has Costa Rica, Italy, England & Uruguay

We continue our quest to present one interesting woman from each of the FIFA World Cup countries, this time with the hugely talented Group D.  Click here to read the earlier posts in this series, and don’t forget to keep returning for more!

Costa Rica

With some of the most stunning landscapes to be found anywhere in the world, a high literary rate and proximity to America, the Ticos – as people from Costa Rica are called – embody the national philosophy of Pura Vida, or the pure life. But while you can possibly recall some of the country’s most famous landmarks, chances are you’ll struggle to name a famous Tico (except members of their football team, especially after their sensational victory over Uruguay).

Costa Rica has given the world many fine artists and athletes, but our favourite Tico woman is Francisca “Pancha” Carrasco, revered in the country as the first woman to fight with the military as early as 1856. And it wasn’t that Carrasco was a trained solider – she volunteered to join the army as a cook and medic when the country was invaded by American colonizer William Walker. Seeing how her compatriots were besieged by Walker’s men, Pancha filled her pockets with bullets, grabbed a rifle and joined her male colleagues on the frontline. This turned out to be a tremendous morale booster for her beleaguered countrymen, many of whom were retreating in the expectation of defeat. Ultimately, the Costa Rican army ended up winning what came to be known as the Battle of Rivas, also inflicting the first major blow to Walker’s marauders. 

Interestingly, Costa Rica became the first country in the world to officially abolish its army in 1949 – and it continues to exist as a prosperous and stable democracy in a region notorious for its volatility. But that hasn’t stopped the Ticos from celebrating the courage of military woman Pancha – a postage stamp was issued in her honour in 1984 and a Women’s Police Excellence Award instituted in her memory.

Pancha Carrasco

Image courtesy:  By Museo Histórico Cultural Juan Santamaría (pintura); Rodtico21 (foto y archivo) (Museo Histórico Cultural Juan Santamaría) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


You’ll run out of breath if asked to name famous Italians – from Dante to Columbus, Marco Polo, Galileo, Michalangelo, Da Vinci, ..the list is endless. But it’s a pity that you’d be hard pressed to recall many women, even though Italy has produced several renowned female mathematicians, physicists, scientists, writers and artists, from as early as the 11th century. One name that you are likely to recognize is that of Maria Montessori, founder of the world famous Montessori schools.

Montessori decided to pursue a career in medicine when it was not considered a suitable profession for women – and overcame severe resistance to complete her medical degree, with a specialization in paediatrics and psychiatry. She went on to spend many years working with children experiencing some form of mental disability, and was a pioneer in sensitising society to the unique needs of these children, as also in developing teaching aids for them. Around this time, she also started exploring means to apply her learnings to mentally “normal” children, and her efforts culminated in the establishment of the first Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in a low income district in Rome. It was here that Montessori developed and refined the principles that were to become a hallmark of her schools – an emphasis on independence and creativity and the freedom for natural psychological evolution of children.

Her ideas became such a rage that numerous countries set up Montessori schools – including India, where Montessori spent the last years of her life. Her philosophy and methods are used by many of the international schools that are so popular in India today, and the list of Montessori educated celebrities ranges from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Jeff Bezos, Larry Page & Sergey Brin. No wonder she is the only Italian woman to appear on the country’s bank note!


It’s difficult choosing just one interesting woman from a tiny island that nonetheless produced some of the most awe inspiring female politicians, writers, artists and activists in human history. So let’s not talk about Queen Elizabeth, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana, Agatha Christie, J K Rowling, Judie Dench, Anna Wintour and the numerous other names that are rolling off your tongue. Let’s talk instead about the humble Marie Charlotte Carmichael Stopes, tireless campaigner for women rights and sex education. A 100 years ago, at a time when the role of a woman was clearly secondary to that of a man even in England, Stopes had the courage to publish Married Love, with radical views on how a marriage should work, including – horror of horrors – an advocacy of contraception (this was a time when the Catholic Church, and its abhorrence of contraception or abortion, prevailed). A passionate advocate of preventive contraception as opposed to abortion, Stopes went on to establish England’s first birth control clinic in 1921. With a single bold stroke, Stopes thrust the subject of birth control into public discourse.

Stopes continued to build a network of her clinics across England, while also supporting feminists across the globe in her mission to dismantle taboos about sex and conception. Her work was picked up by the Marie Stopes International global partnership after her death, and their reach has expanded to over 40 countries worldwide. The 70s & 80s generation of India will recall advertisements about “safe abortions” at a Marie Stopes clinic  – and that’s because Stopes International opened a clinic in Dehi as early as 1978.

For giving voice to women’s sexual needs and for offering them a choice when it comes to reproduction – at a time when such subjects were unthinkable – Marie Stopes’ contribution to society is beyond compare.

married love by marie stopes


The second smallest nation of South America with a population of just over 3 million, a country nestled between regional power houses Brazil & Argentina – what hope is there for Uruguay? Plenty, for Uruguay ranks high on economic and human development indices as compared to its neighbours. But were it not for football (and Luis Suárez), this tiny nation would remain unknown to most of us.

We spent a lot of time reading, and watching, famous Uruguayan women – from feminists to politicians and actresses. But it didn’t take us long to decide our favourite. Mariana Ingold is a composer and musician who has recorded dozens of songs, travelled across the world to capture the stories & voices of musicians, and relentlessly campaigned for the preservation of whales and dolphins. An explorer and humanist at heart, Mariana has incorporated music from all over the world – from African, Cuban, Native American to sacred Hindu chants – into her compositions.

We love the joie de vivre in Mariana’s music, but what we like best is her demonstration of the power of music – to heal and to bring immeasurable joy – through her videos for children and teachers, her therapeutic workshops and her chronicling of musical beats and fables from all across the world. All we can say is, Thank you for the music, Mariana!

My Big Red Bag brings original content inspired by life’s joys and passions. Check out other articles from our Midsummer Madness Issue, and stay tuned to our latest content by following us on Twitter and FB. See you on the other side!

Image courtesy:zachstern via Compfight cc

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