On the International Women’s Day, Estonian World has since 2015 highlighted some of the most outstanding Estonian women on the global stage – this is our take in 2022.
It is important to emphasise that this is not the ultimate list of the most important Estonian women in the world. There are many others who stand out. Merely, we have brought out the names of Estonian women who have a larger-than-usual clout and impact outside Estonian borders and help to put the name “Estonia” on the lips of more people around the world.
In October 2021, Anett Kontaveit became the first Estonian tennis player to qualify for WTA Finals, the women’s championship tennis tournament run by the Women’s Tennis Association. She also became the first Estonian tennis player to make the global top 10 in singles rankings – her current ranking is five.
The Estonian theologian, Anne Burghardt, was in 2021 elected the general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation; the election marks the first woman and the first Central and Eastern European pastor to head the global communion of Lutheran churches.
The Lutheran World Federation, established in 1947, is a global communion of 148 churches in the Lutheran tradition, representing over 77 million Christians in 99 countries.
The Cambridge-educated Annela Anger-Kraavi is a climate expert who has been involved in the UN climate negotiations for many years. Since 2020, she has led the European Union’s high-level climate change negotiations. In addition, she is the chief executive of the Cambridge Trust for New Thinking in Economics, an educational charity that promotes new thinking in economics.
“My topics in the negotiations are a transition to a carbon-free economy and economic diversification and science related topics. The environment and climate are very multifaceted issues and the goal must be to implement changes so that members of society and also societies do not suffer,” she has said.
Henessi Schmidt is a 26-year-old Estonian actress who’s one of two Estonians cast in the Netflix TV show, “Vikings: Valhalla” (the other being Pääru Oja). She’s playing the role of Gytha in two episodes of the offshoot of the popular “Vikings” series. In Estonia, she’s known for the movie “Winter” and will be starring in the upcoming “Pharmacist Melchior” movies.
She’s also helping the people of Uganda through a charity organisation she founded – the Little Bridge Foundation – that helps especially the Ugandan orphans. She’s trying to collect donations to help the Ugandans get access to pure drinking water and create better living conditions for the orphanage.
Kadri Simson is an EU commissioner for energy, serving in Ursula von der Leyen-led European Commission (the executive branch of the European Union) since December 2019. A veteran Centre Party politician, she previously served as the Estonian minister of economic affairs and communications, from 2016 to 2019.
During the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she has worked in her role as an EU energy commissioner on ensuring that Ukraine can maintain stable electricity and gas supplies despite the war.
A globetrotting mezzo-soprano, Kai Rüütel has appeared on the stages of the Royal Opera House (London), the Dutch National Opera (Amsterdam), the Theater an der Wien (Vienna), the Teatro Real (Madrid), the Opéra national de Paris and Dallas Opera, among other famous opera houses. She has also acted in three opera-based movies: Cendrillon (2011), Der Schmied von Gent (2020) and The Royal Opera House: Otello (2017).
The 2021/22 season sees Rüütel make her debut at the Theater Dortmund (Dortmund, Germany) as Fricka Die Walküre.
Kallas became Estonia’s first female prime minister in early 2021 and her tenure didn’t start well. The country was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and her cabinet struggled to get coherent messages across and right policies in place. She was perceived as lacking touch with reality and at some point, her approval rating was barely above 10 per cent, making her one of the most unpopular Estonian prime ministers in recent times.
But what she lacks in domestic policies, she makes up by representing her country in international affairs. Some local pundits have even commented that she would make a better foreign minister. During the recent crisis, when Russia first threatened and subsequently invaded Ukraine, Kallas has given a myriad of interviews to global outlets, such as CNN, BBC, FT, Der Spiegel, communicating not just Estonia’s but wider regional security concerns.
Kelly Sildaru started skiing when she was two and got into freestyle-skiing at the age of five. In 2016, Sildaru made free-skiing history, becoming the youngest athlete ever to win a gold medal at the Winter X Games, world’s leading extreme sports competition that take place annually in Aspen, Colorado, the United States. In 2017, she defended her title from 2016 and at 14, became the youngest to win two gold medals in the X Games.
An injury kept her from competing at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, but she made her Olympic debut in Beijing 2022 and won a bronze in women’s freeski slopestyle.
Kersti Kaljulaid became the first Estonian female president in 2016, as well as the youngest – she was 46 at the time of her election. In 2017, she became the first Estonian to be featured in the Forbes magazine’s list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, placed at 78th, and came 22nd among the most influential female political leaders.
Kaljulaid was not elected for the second term as the president – the governing coalition of the Reform Party and the Centre Party did not support her candidacy – but after leaving her post in October last year, she has carried on with active duties in different roles across the globe. Just recently, she was elected as a board member of the Security Innovation Board of the Munich Security Conference.
One of the busiest female conductors in the world, Kristiina Poska is the chief conductor of the Flanders Symphony Orchestra, one of Belgium’s leading orchestras. She is the first female conductor to be named to the post.
Engaging and energetic, Poska is admired by audiences and musicians alike. One of the classical reviewers once noted that “wherever young Kristiina Poska appears on the podium, she thrills and convinces with her exceptional musicality and her impressive, highly distinguished conducting”.
Tiina Intelmann, Estonia’s previous ambassador to the UK, is now heading the European Union’s delegation to Somalia, located in Eastern Africa.
The European Union is cooperating with organisations like the UN and the African Union to strengthen national structures and improve security in Somalia, helping the country fight piracy and terrorism. The EU is also an important development cooperation and humanitarian aid donor for Somalia.
The women’s épée team
The Estonian team of Katrina Lehis, Julia Beljajeva, Erika Kirpu and Irina Embrich won the women’s épée team gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games last summer – Estonia’s first gold medal since Beijing 2008.
The Estonian women’s épée team had had outstanding results before, winning the silver medal at the World Fencing Championship in 2014 and gold at the World Fencing Championships in 2017. The épée is the largest and heaviest of the three weapons used in the sport of fencing.