Celebrating women: First female cabinet member in Botswana

To mark the 2018 centenary of the first British women winning the right to vote, we are honouring Bristol women who have changed our institution, and the world. From our first woman lecturer to the first British woman to have won a Nobel Prize, these activists, educators and agitators now take their rightful place on the walls of the Wills Memorial building – along with ten of the women in today’s University community to who continue to be inspired by their legacy.

Dr Gaositwe Chiepe,
First female cabinet member in Botswana
with Samantha Budd,
Chief Executive of Bristol SU

“As the first black woman to be a Chief Executive of a students’ union in the UK at the union that also had the first black President, it makes me proud to learn that our University has among its alumni such a distinguished pioneer as Dr Gaositwe Chiepe.

Gaositwe was the first woman from Botswana to earn both an undergraduate and postgraduate degree, completing her Master’s degree here in 1959. In 1966 she became Botswana’s first director of education and she laid down reforms that transformed the education system such that today Botswana has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa with equally high progression rates from primary through to higher education.

Known as the ‘woman of many firsts’, Gaositwe became the first female African High Commissioner to the United Kingdom in 1970 and the country’s first female cabinet member in 1974. Access to education has long been recognised as an essential requirement for the emancipation and empowerment of women. It is therefore particularly inspiring that Gaositwe has dedicated her life to improving the life chances of so many girls and to ensure that African people, and in particular women, are able to take their seats at tables previously denied them.

Gaositwe is an inspiration who deserves to be recognised and celebrated alongside the other great women whose stories and portraits adorn the walls of this great University.”

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This month, Sam Budd won the Diversity Champion Award for the Education Sector at the 2018 Inclusive Companies Awards.

We were the first higher education institution in England to welcome women on an equal basis to men, but our commitment to gender equality reaches far beyond this milestone. The wooden panels of the Great Hall in its Wills Memorial Building have been an all-male domain thanks to hosting portraits of its Vice-Chancellors. But now, thanks to a project specially-commissioned to mark 100 years since the first women in Britain won the right to vote, a series of ten portraits redresses the balance and celebrates notable Bristol women who have changed the institution – and, indeed, the world.

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