Salute to the women in science fiction

From JK Rowling to Nnedi Okorafor, they have made a mark

In Summary

• It is worth celebrating them on International Day of Women and Girls in Science


When you are in Paris, you will accept that it is one of the most beautiful cities of the world. I look at it as a woman of timeless symbolic lessons.

Of course, Paris is a male name out of the famous historical Battle of Troy made popular by the great European epic poet known as Homer.

The scene is famous where Paris’s elder brother called Hector and Achilles, the mighty warrior of that epic war, battle it out at the mammoth gates of the city of Troy in ancient Greece.

Their bloody and violent duel unfolds right before the eyes of the most beautiful woman in history, as she refuses to return to her royal husband from whom she has eloped, with a handsome visiting prince called Paris.

Yes. Hector died that day, way back in time, protecting the honour of his newfound but dangerous sister-in-law. His mangled body was tied to the polished chariot of Achilles the immortal.

The name Paris has outrun time itself. Paris. The icon of love. The name still stands on right here on earth as that of one of the most beautiful city in the world today. Paris.


It is in Paris that one of the most important women in history is buried. She is buried in the national cemetery of France. It is called the Pantheon. Her name is Marie Curie.

In the same place, in Paris of today, is where the French bury the greatest writers of their language. They include one of the fathers of Negritude, the finest black poetry movement of the 20th Century. His name is Aime Cesaire.

Cesaire, Curie and a litany of great French minds rest in peace in the Pantheon at the heart of the city of light and love. Paris. It is often open to tourists. I paid homage to them in the summer of 2010.

Today, as we mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science across the world, Marie Curie returns to life through her famous statement. She once said, "I am among those who think that science has great beauty."

Curie went on to become the first woman to win the Nobel prize. She is the first woman to win it twice. She is the first human being to win it in two different sciences: chemistry and physics.

Her feat are sterling, but it is the beauty of her mind that stands out like the Eiffel tower of her city of eternal rest. Paris.

Unesco has dedicated the 11th of February as a day to be marked by mankind the world over in honour of women and girls in the sciences. The idea is to create awareness beyond the luminaries like Marie Curie to other female researchers and innovators of today, wherever on earth they are.

According to Unesco, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science is “an opportunity to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls.” The argument is that their ideas heard are “levers for development and peace” in the 21st Century across the world.

This is a noble initiative, especially when we examine the statistics of women in science. It is not a secret that they get smaller research grants than their male counterparts, and they are still in the minority when one inspects the membership of most associations, organisations and academies of sciences the world over.


We can extend the idea of marginality to include the position of women in the arts today, too. Their plight in both sectors of knowledge is not markedly different. Think here, for example, of women in science fiction, or what is generally called speculative fiction. It is only in the past few decades that women have risen to visibility.

Of course, like Marie Curie above, one female figure stands out in the field of science fiction. This is the British writer of the internationally acclaimed Harry Porter series. Her name is Joanne Rowling, better known by her pen name JK Rowling.

By the way, she inspired me to use my initials due to my long name. It is common in the academia for colleagues and students to refer to me as JKS Makokha.

Rowlings, 59, is today one of the people who have attained billionaire status courtesy of their intellectual beauty and artistic talents. Harry Porter today is a franchise and includes: theme parks, movies, books, comic strips and many more.

Through her writing and philanthropy, she has inspired many other women and males to write in this genre of science fiction. One thinks here of a writer like Nnedi Okorafor. She is an American sci-fi author with Nigerian roots.

Since the turn of the century, she has carved a place in new African literatures with novels that talk of telepathy, teleportation and time travel. These are quite unusual themes for major African writers of the past century.

Nnedi, 48, is a stellar scholar also. She has an MA in Journalism, another in literature and a doctorate, besides being a prolific writer of speculative literature. Some of her novels include: Who Fears Death, Akata Witch and Remote Control. They are the subject of an ongoing postgraduate research at Kenyatta University. I am honoured to be one of the guides supervising it.

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