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Photo by: Kadi-Liis Koppel

Estonian women who have changed the world

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By Noora Karppi  •  07.03.2018

To celebrate International Women’s Day we present to you ten inspiring Estonian women.

These women have changed the world – if not everyone’s world, for sure the world of many Estonian girls. Leading by example and showing that women can be whatever they choose and want to be.

Lydia Koidula

Lydia Koidula (1843-1886) was an Estonian writer at a time when it was not considered a suitable career for women.  Her works include the most loved Estonian poem “Mu isamaa on minu arm” (My country is my love). The poem later became lyrics for a popular song, you can hear at every Song Festival. Loved by the public, she was portrayed on the 100 Estonian kroon banknote.

She wrote the very first Estonian play, a comedy “Saaremaa onupoeg” (The Cousin from Saaremaa) and was the creator of Estonian theatre. She also participated in making and printing the first daily newspaper in the Estonian language.

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Marie Under

Marie Under (1883-1980) was one of the most influential and awarded poets in Estonia in the 20th century. She was nominated for the Nobel prize in literature several times.

Marie Under was the leader and only female member of the Siuru literary movement, and also one of the founders of Estonian Writer’s Union.

Her sensual and erotic poems were bold and broke many rules of its time. She also wrote beautiful ballads and philosophical poems. In the 1940’s Marie Under fled to Sweden, where she lived and continued writing.

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Ene Ergma

Ene Ergma (1944) is an Estonian scientist and politician. She has studied astronomy and has a PhD in physics and mathematics. She worked from 1988 to 1998 at the University of Tartu. First as a professor of Astrophysics and later as the head of Institute of Physics. She is a member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, and has published several scientific papers.

In 2003 Ene Ergma became a member of the Estonian parliament. She acted as the President of the Estonian Parliament (speaker) almost continuously for eleven years, until 2014.

Tiina Lokk

Tiina Lokk (1955) has studied cinematology and has a long career in the international film industry. She graduated from the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography. Tiina Lokk has had a leading position in creating a high-quality film festival in Estonia.

Tiina Lokk has been the director of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF) since the beginning. First PÖFF took place in Tallinn in 1997. The festival has grown to be the biggest film festival in Nothern-Europe. It is also the only film festival in the region with an International Competitive Feature Film Program, making it one of the 14 most important film festivals in the world.

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Kersti Kaljulaid

Kersti Kaljulaid (1969) is the current and first female President of Estonia. She was elected in 2016. 

In 1999-2002 Kersti Kaljulaid was the economic advisor of Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar. After that, she became the first female director of state-owned Iru Power Plant, before heading to the European Court of Auditors. In the Europen Court of Auditors, Kersti Kaljulaid worked as a representative of Estonia from 2004 to 2016. 

In 2016 Kersti Kaljulaid was nominated as the most powerful person in Estonia. She is the first Estonian to be featured on the Forbes magazine’s list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2017.

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Anu Tali

Anu Tali (1972) is internationally successful Estonian conductor. She has studied conducting in Estonia, Finland and Russia. In 2017 Washington Post named her one of the female conductors to watch.

In 1997 Anu Tali founded the Nordic Symphony Orchestra together with her twin sister Kadri Tali. Since then she has been the conductor of the orchestra. She has also performed together with several other orchestras, including the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Currently, Anu Tali is the music director of the Sarasota Orchestra in Florida.

Carmen Kass

Carmen Kass (1978) is the first Estonian supermodel. She's one of Michael Kors' favourite models (together with another Estonian supermodel, Karmen Pedaru), and the first Estonian model to walk on the runway of Victoria’s Angels fashion show.

During her modelling career, Carmen Kass worked together with the most iconic fashion houses and magazines. In 2000, she was named the Model of the Year at the Vogue Fashion Awards.

Besides being a successful professional model, she is also an entrepreneur and enthusiastic chess player. From 2004 to 2011 Carmen Kass was the president of the Estonian Chess Federation. Later she has continued as one of the councillors for the federation.

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Katrina Tang

Katrina Tang (1985) is internationally recognized children’s fashion and portrait photographer. She has graduated from the Arts Institute at Bournemouth, where she studied photography.

Katrina Tang has worked together with famous fashion brands in Paris, New York, London and other fashion capitals. You have seen her works in Milk Magazine, The Times and several other magazines. In 2015, Photo District News chose Katrina Tang as one of the top 30 new photographers to watch.

Kristel Kruustük

Kristel Kruustük (1989) is the charismatic founder and CEO of Testlio software testing company. She was awarded the Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. With her successful business, she has rocketed to become of the youngest IT-millionaires in Estonia.

Kristel Kruustük founded Testlio together with his now-husband Marko, in 2013. Today Testlio has gathered investments over $8 million, employs over 50 persons and has offices in Tallinn and San Francisco. Kristle Kruustük is a strong believer in collaboration and never giving up. She’s a leader of a new generation that recognises the value of free time spend outside of work.

Kelly Sildaru

Kelly Sildaru (2002) was only 13 years old when she became the youngest gold medallist at Aspen Winter X Games in 2016. She is one of the best freestyle skiers in the world. Unfortunately, she injured her knee and couldn’t take part in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics. Nevertheless, her career has just started and we will see her participating in many Olympics to come.

Besides being a fantastic athlete, Kelly Sildaru is also a successful student. She's good role model and great inspiration for girls in Estonia and around the world. Kelly Sildaru has shown us, that with hard work you can achieve anything.

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These are ten inspiring Estonian women, but there are thousands of smart, successful, beautiful, warm and witty Estonian women all-around Estonia and the world. We wish them and everyone happy International Women’s Day! 

Learn more about the International Women’s Day from here and check #iwd2018 and #pressforprogress on social media.