International Women’s Day: Women in the News on This Day Over The Past 50 Years

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Images: The Straits Times, Criminal, ITE.

A local teacher becomes the first female Singaporean soccer coach. A local actress snags the female lead role in an HBO drama. And a mother is reunited with her daughter who “died” in a fire 6 years ago. These are snapshots of women in the news on this day, 8 Mar, over the past 50 years.

8 March is International Women’s Day (IWD), which began with one pioneering woman named Clara Zetkin. In 1910, 53-year-old Zetkin faced over 100 women from 17 countries at the International Conference for Working Women in Copenhagen and made a daring proposal: In every country, in every year, we should establish one day to celebrate women, hear out their demands, and respect their rights. Zetkin’s proposition was met with unanimous approval, and thus IWD was born.

Now the year is 2024. IWD is 114 years old! This IWD 2024, I want to do exactly what IWD is all about—celebrating women. Celebrating their triumphs, remembering their trials, and honouring what women have achieved over the past half a century. Let’s shine a spotlight on the past 50 years of women in the news on this day. 

 

IWD 1974

Lab blast girls pass ‘O’ Level exams

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Image: The Straits Times, 8 March 1974, Page 9

On this day 50 years ago, the 4 worst affected students in the Anderson School blast of 1972 passed their GCE *O’ level examinations. The explosion happened in one of the school’s science laboratories on 28 July 1971 and caused 2 of the girls, Yip Yoke Moi and Lim Siew Tin, to lose an eye each. Despite this, they passed with 6 and 4 credits respectively—hats off to them!

Their classmates Lim Chey Ei and Leong Sweet Chan (which is such a cute name, no?) passed with 2 credits each. Can you believe the latter still had several glass splinters in her body? At the time this article was published, Sweet Chan had a number of glass pieces that remained lodged in her. Some were as large as a shirt button. That’s crazy— the blast happened 3 years prior! Both her eyes were also affected, with her vision reduced to a 5-feet distance.

I know I’m 50 years late, but well done girls—now women!

 

Press Queen contest by newsmen

It’s quite fitting that The Singapore Malay Journalists’ Association announced their “Press Queen” beauty contest on IWD 1974. Back then, you’d have to physically make a trip down to the association’s headquarters at Jalan Nanas to get an application form and enter.

I bet you’re wondering: Who won the contest? I did some poking around. Exactly 9 months later on 8 Dec 1974, the winners were announced: 21-year-old Aggie Khoo in first place and 24-year-old Rosa Tok in second.

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Image: The Straits Times, 8 December 1974, Page 7

Both chose to wear cheongsams with thigh-high splits. Aggie won a return ticket for 2 to Manila, donated by MAS, while Rosa won a 22-inch Siera colour TV set from Asia Radio.

The 2 also received cosmetics, and all 8 finalists walked away with a Buler watch and Nestle food hamper! It’s funny how reading this is making me feel nostalgic for a time I didn’t even experience myself.


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IWD 1984

Mother Teresa opens first women’s university in India

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Image: The Straits Times, 8 March 1984. Click on the link to view the original image if the one above is too small.

The first women’s university in India? That’s huge! 

But look how small this article is on the page. It’s squished to a tiny 2-paragraph mention at the very bottom of the newspaper! And this was after Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979, so she was already a Nobel laureate at the time of publishing.

Above the article is a piece about 2 newsmen convinced that there’s a ghost haunting a family’s Ohio home. This piece takes up about 5 times as much space on the page as the article on India’s first women’s university. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is more newsworthy.

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Image: Mother Teresa Women’s University

In any case, 1984 was the year Mother Teresa Women’s University, a state university of the Government of Tamil Nadu was established. Today, it continues to serve women of all communities and specialises in services and research in Women’s Studies.


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Woman guerilla chief is captured

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Image: The Straits Times, 8 March 1984, Page 3

Meanwhile in the Philippines, a woman guerilla chief commander was captured on this day 40 years ago. She had a 50,000-peso price on her head, which amounted to S$8,500 in 1984. That’s no small sum—after adjusting for inflation over the past 40 years, that’s about S$23,100!

 

IWD 1994

First female Singaporean soccer coach

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Image: The Straits Times, 8 March 1994, Page 2

Sports is an area that remains heavily male-dominated today. For example, how many female soccer coaches do you know? I’ve heard of at least one.

On 8 Mar 1994, a teacher by the name of Catherine Chung was set to make history as the first Singaporean woman coach for soccer. Now, the article published on this date states that she was about to take a course that would qualify her—so technically she hadn’t made history yet.

But according to the Singapore Book of Records, she did go on to become the first Singaporean lady to qualify as a football coach. Chung started teaching football that same year in Jagoh Primary School. Score!


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First assignment of women to a combat ship

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USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) in Oct 1994. Image: Naval History and Heritage Command.

Meanwhile over in the USA, the United States Navy was also breaking new ground. They had just announced their first assignment of women to a combat ship, putting more than 60 women on deck. These ladies joined the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), and were the first of 500 female officers and sailors that the Navy planned to assign to the carrier.

 

IWD 2004

Tina Turner is cast as an Indian goddess

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Tina Turner and Ismail Merchant on a visit to India in 2004. Image: Tina Turner Blog.

And Hindus in Britain weren’t happy about it.

In 2004, goddess of Rock ‘n’ Roll Tina Turner agreed to play the goddess Shakti in a British film by Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. The film was called The Goddess. In Hinduism, Shakti is the force behind both the universe’s creation and destruction, and is seen as a symbol of female power and divinity.

12-time Grammy winner Tina Turner may have been “simply the best” on stage and on screen, but Hindus in Britain thought she wasn’t a good fit to play the Hindu goddess. In fact, they thought her downright inappropriate due to her sexually charged public image, even threatening to picket movie cinemas that screened the film.

All this outcry eventually came to nothing, because the film was never made. One half of the filmmaking duo, Ismail Merchant, passed away suddenly in May 2005 following a surgery for abdominal ulcers. Tina Turner herself passed away just last year in May 2023 at the age of 83. She’d battled kidney failure, a stroke, and intestinal cancer for years.

 

Mother reunited with daughter ‘killed’ in fire 6 years prior

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Luzaida Cuevas with her daughter, Delimar Vera. Image: Criminal.

This story reads like an over-the-top telenovela, but sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. In Dec 1997, Luzaida Cuevas’ baby girl Delimar Vera (just 10 days old!) was assumed to have died in a fire at home in Philadelphia. That is, firefighters, medical examiners and family all presumed the newborn dead—except for her mother.

Fast forward 6 years to Jan 2004, and Cuevas is at a children’s birthday party. Unbelievably, she recognises one of the girls there as her daughter. How can she prove that to be true? Nothing short of DNA testing would prove the biological link—so DNA testing is exactly what Cuevas did. Cuevas pretended to help remove chewing gum from the child’s hair in order to surreptitiously pluck a few strands of it for DNA testing.

So, what really happened that night in Dec 1997? A woman named Carolyn Correa, a cousin by marriage of the girl’s father, had apparently kidnapped the newborn and started the blaze to cover the crime. Correa named the girl Aaliyah and told everyone that she was her daughter.

Sounds like a movie script? It became one—Little Girl Lost: The Delimar Vera Story was released in 2008.

 

IWD 2014

Local actress Constance Song snags lead role in HBO drama

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Image: The Straits Times / HBO Asia

She thought she’d just be discussing her role in a small scene for an HBO Asia original series, but local actress Constance Song ended up snagging the female lead role.

The meeting turned into a proper audition, and the then 36-year-old Song was given 15 minutes to prepare 3 to 4 pages of lines. That’s not a lot of time—I mean, I can take longer than that to just get out of bed—but the talented actress obviously impressed the filmmakers. They called her up with better news than she hoped: She’d be playing Angela Chan, the wife of cheating husband Roy in the 4-part series.

 

ITE graduate “world best” in beauty therapy

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Image: Catherine Boey in 2014 (left) and 2018 (right). Images: AsiaOne, ITE.

In the news on 8 Mar 2014 was a Straits Times feature on then 20-year-old Catherine Boey, who bagged the gold medal in the Beauty Therapy category at the WorldSkills competition held in Leipzig, Germany the year before. Think of the event as a vocational skills “Olympics”.

Catherine was there with 21 other Singaporeans, a team which collectively won 3 gold and 2 silver medals at the competition. That’s no mean feat, especially considering they were up against some 1,000 competitors from 53 countries.

At the time, Catherine was doing her Bachelor of Science in Beauty and Spa Management. She said she wanted to go back to ITE to teach after graduating, and aimed to disprove the flawed idea that ITE means “It’s The End”.

A decade later, she’s achieved her goal. According to this Facebook post from ITE Singapore, Catherine is now an ITE lecturer and WorldSkills Ambassador.


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About the author

Vanessa Nah is a personal finance content writer who pens articles on the ins and outs of personal loans, the T&Cs of credit cards, and the ups and downs of alternative investments. She’s a researcher at heart and leaves no stone unturned when it comes to breaking down complex finance concepts and making them easy to understand for the everyday Singaporean. When Vanessa’s not debunking finance myths, you’ll find her attending dance classes, fingerpicking a guitar, or (most impawtently) fulfilling her life mission to make her one-eyed cat the most spoiled and loved kitty in the world.