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32 Countries, 32 Women: Group F

Four continents, four amazing women - our World Cup journey continues

A pop singer, a writer who loves fashion as much as feminism, a tennis player who loves to dance and Evita

Just for bravely neutralizing Argentina’s repeated attempts to score, we hope Iran makes it to the knock outs. Two of the countries in Group F will soon head home, so you might as well read about these four fascinating women before it’s too late. To read more from our 32 Countries , 32 Women series, click here.


Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a musical on her life, Madonna played her on screen (dismally, we might add) and an entire country wept in grief upon her death. Eva Perón managed to accomplish in 33 years what many can’t dream of achieving in a century of living.

Born into poverty, she nonetheless managed to accomplish her childhood dream of becoming an actress when she moved to Buenos Aires at the age of 15. By the time she was 24, she was a star – she had firmly established her reputation as a renowned stage and radio actress (radio was big in Argentina at that time) and had also set up her own company that produced radio shows.

The next big turning point in Eva’s life occurred a couple of years later, when she married Juan Perón, who went on to become Argentina’s president a year after they were married. It was the long exploited labour class of Argentina that swept Perón to power, and Eva was rumoured to have played a big role in mobilizing the fragmented workers. And so it was no surprise that Eva refused to play the role of a wallflower when her husband came to rule the country. Instead, she created Evita.

I am Eva Perón, the wife of the President, whose work is simple and agreeable … and I am also Evita, the wife of the leader of a people who have deposited in him all their faith, hope and love.

Evita joined her husband in running the country, negotiating better wages for labourers, assisting the needy and speaking up for the rights of women – at a time when the “second sex” was hardly given a thought in Argentina. Working tirelessly and relentlessly, she went on to establish numerous policies and schemes that addressed the welfare of workers, women and children – culminating in her success in procuring the right to vote for Argentine women in 1947. Through her words and actions, she propelled the feminist movement – not just in Argentina, but also across the world.

Eva Perón died of uterian cancer in July 1952. In a testimony to her legacy, the official announcement of her death mourned the loss of “the Spiritual Leader of the Nation”. To date, she remains one of the most admired women of her generation – remembered for her implacable self belief, relentless courage, and her invaluable contribution to the rights of the dispossessed.


Home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, Iran is today reviled in the Western world for its “radical Islamization” – but it’s worth remembering that it was the same Western forces that sent Iran on the path of autocracy and religious zeal, thanks to a coup they helped engineer in 1953.

An unfortunate fall out of the theocratic rule is that we don’t know much about Iran’s people, except the little that is reported by the Western media. Some of us may have heard about Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize; and some may have read Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel that depicted the impact of the Islamic Revolution on ordinary citizens. But what about the ancient nation’s scientists, politicians, writers, artists and activists?

One Iranian artist who we discovered some time back is Faegheh Atashin a.k.a. Googosh – we were impressed by her song celebrating lesbian love in prudish Iran. What got us interested even more is that the 64 year old is one of the few prominent Iranians who chose not to escape Iran after the revolution, even though she was in the United States at that time. Instead, she chose to return, served a brief period in jail and then spent the next two decades without a public performance, due to the ban imposed by the new government on pop songs and women singing in public.

In the pre-revolution, Shah-ruled days (when Iran was much more westernized than it is today), Googosh was one of the biggest stars that the country had ever seen – a celebrated singer, renowned actress and fashion diva whose hairstyles and dressed were aped by millions of her countrywomen. Interestingly, her following continued to grow even when she was kept away from the public eye, not just in Iran but across the Middle East. She was finally allowed to leave the country in 2000, twenty one years after the revolution, and she emigrated to Toronto. Since then, she continues to produce music and films, while also giving numerous tours all over the world.


The most populous country in Africa was recently in the news for the horrific kidnapping of 200 schoogirls by an extremist group. But the country has always had a chequered past, repeatedly alternating between stability and violence.

For a long time, all we knew about Nigeria was occasional acquaintances taking off to make some money in the country’s lucrative oil or mining sector. All that changed a few years ago when we chanced upon Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, a poignant tale of love and loss in the midst of civil war. Reading about British colonization and their divide-and-rule policy that deepens suspicions between the Yoruba’s and Igbo’s (the North and the South) is bound to remind Indians of our own unfortunate Hindu-Muslim conflict.

Adichi’s work has won widespread international acclaim – she is often placed highly in lists of “Authors below 40″ and her latest book, Americanah, is part of our #ReadWomen2014. But what we like best about her is that she is unafraid to speak her mind – whether it is her assertion that a woman who dresses fashionably can also be a serious woman writer , or her declaration that everyone should be a feminist.

If you have the time, do watch Adichi’s engrossing 30 minute TED talk “We should all be feminists”. Else, just go back and listen to Beyoncé’s Flawless – the songwriter uses extracts from Adichi’s speech in the song. We’re positive you’ll take out the time to listen to the TED talk after that!

We raise girls to see each other as competitors – not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

There are a couple of principles that we’ve tried to stick to throughout our 32 Countries, 32 Women series. One is that the woman we are featuring should have spent a big part of her life in the featured country, and the second is that we should know something about the woman in question. After all, the idea is not to provide a Wikipedia entry of the most famous or important woman; and that is why you see a large number of tennis players, authors and pop singers in our list!

When it comes to Bosnia & Herzegovina, we’ve had to compromise on Rule 1 in order to satisfy Rule 2. Tennis player Andrea Petkovic was born in Tuzla, the third largest city of Bosnia & Herzegovina, but her family relocated to Germany while she was still an infant. Petkovic is a successful tennis player – she was ranked as high as number 9 in the world in 2011, and is currently ranked an honourable number 20. But how is it that we recognize the 20th ranked woman in professional tennis, while we’d be hard-pressed to recollect the name of her male counterpart?

The answer lies in Petkovic’s personality, which is often at odds with that of a “successful pro”. For one, Petkovic loves reading, from Goethe to Oscar Wilde (reminds us of Serbian Janko Tipsarevic, who can be found on court with a Dostoyevsky). Then there is the highly entertaining Petkovic dance, which was unveiled at the 2010 US Open after she scored two consecutive upset wins over higher ranked opponents. Finally, there is the willingness to share her life as a WTA pro with tennis lovers -by means of her Youtube channel  and her diary contributions to a major German newspaper. 

And if you think Petkovic is all about having a good laugh, you’re wrong – she is exceedingly resilient and a great competitor. Petkovic has had to face two injury lay-offs already, but on both occasions she’s worked her way back to the top 20. And just two months ago, she beat several highly fancied rivals to secure the third WTA title of her career.

In an age of finely polished tennis players who always oblige with press conferences and tweets about their work but reveal nothing of themselves as individuals, Andrea Petkovic is a much needed breath of fresh air. Now how about practising the Petko dance for the next big fat wedding in your family?

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

Image courtesy: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ via Compfight cc


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