Honoring PIP Helvi Sipilä, a woman with many inspirational "firsts"

As Women’s History Month comes to an end, we are grateful for the remarkable women affiliated with Zonta who have made strides toward the advancement of gender equality. One member in particular has inspired us to expand upon our Firsts for Women series by highlighting her many “firsts” throughout her life.

Today we celebrate Past International President (PIP) Helvi Sipilä. PIP Sipilä was dedicated to empowering women and fighting for gender equality through her career as a Finnish diplomat, lawyer and politician. Some of her contributions and “firsts” include:

  • One of the first women to graduate in law from Helsinki University in Finland
  • First woman to hold the rank of Assistant Secretary-General at the United Nations (appointed in 1972)
  • Organized and chaired the first United Nations World Conference on Women in Mexico in 1975
  • First woman to run for President of Finland (1982)
  • First recipient of the International Bar Association's Outstanding International Woman Lawyer Award in London (2001)


Sipilä said that half the world was "found" in the 15th Century, but it would take another 500 years before half of humanity was officially recognized. She recognized the importance of gender equality and dedicated her entire career to this mission. As a prime example of what it means to be an empowering leader, we hope Sipilä’s legacy continues to inspire women to “be the first”.

Do you know of a woman that has achieved remarkable firsts throughout her life? Share with us at [email protected].


25 MARCH 2021