This year’s campaign theme is #BalanceforBetter.

In honour of International Women’s Day, we bring you five Italian women who have made their mark on the world in their own unique way.

Rita Levi-Montalcini

Rita Levi-Montalcini was an Italian Nobel laureate, celebrated for her work in neurobiology.

More importantly, she was a strong woman who changed the world.

Levi-Montalcini was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with her colleague Stanley Cohen for the discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF).

From 2001 until her death, she also served in the Italian Senate as a Senator for Life - an honour that was bestowed for her significant scientific contributions.

On April 22, 2009, Levi-Montalcini became the first Nobel laureate ever to reach the age of 100, a milestone which was celebrated with a party at the Italian president’s official residence in Rome.

At the time of her death on December 30, 2012, she was the oldest living Nobel laureate, at 103 years of age.

Levi-Montalcini was born on April 22, 1909, in Turin, to a Sephardic Jewish family.

Her parents were Adele Montalcini, a painter, and Adamo Levi, an electrical engineer and mathematician.

Levi-Montalcini grew up wanting to be a writer, but after seeing a close family friend die of stomach cancer she decided to study medicine at the University of Turin.

Her father discouraged his daughters from attending college, as he feared it would hinder their ability to become wives and mothers, but eventually he supported Levi-Montalcini’s aspirations to become a doctor.

After graduating in 1936, Levi-Montalcini remained at the University of Turin as a research assistant, but her academic career was cut short by Benito Mussolini’s 1938 Manifesto of Race and the subsequent introduction of laws barring Jews from academic and professional careers.

During World War II she set up a laboratory in her bedroom and studied the growth of nerve fibres in chicken embryos, which laid the groundwork for much of her later research.

In September 1946, Levi-Montalcini was granted a one-semester research fellowship in the laboratory of Professor Viktor Hamburger at Washington University in St. Louis.

Having duplicated the results of her home laboratory experiments, Levi-Montalcini was offered a research associate position, which she held for 30 years.

In 1952, the groundbreaking scientist did her most important work: isolating nerve growth factor (NGF) from observations of certain cancerous tissues that cause extremely rapid growth of nerve cells.

Six years later, she was made a full professor.

In 1962, Levi-Montalcini established a second laboratory in Rome and divided her time between the Italian capital and St. Louis.

In 1963, she became the first woman to receive the Max Weinstein Award (given by the United Cerebral Palsy Association)thanks to her significant contributions into neurological research.

Levi-Montalcini never married and had no children, despite her father’s earlier desires for her to do so.

In a 2006 interview she said: “I never had any hesitation or regrets in this sense... My life has been enriched by excellent human relations, work and interests. I have never felt lonely.”

Laura Bassi

Laura Maria Caterina Bassi was the world’s first female university professor.

Bassi was born in the northern Italian city of Bologna, into the family of a prosperous lawyer.

According to various sources, she was born between October 29 and 31, 1711.

Bassi received a doctoral degree in Philosophy from the University of Bologna in May 1732.

Up until then she had completed a great deal of private work.

In 1732, at the age of 20, she publicly defended her thesis in the Palazzo Pubblico, kickstarting her academic career.

Bassi contributed greatly to the field of science while also helping to diffuse the study of Newtonian mechanics throughout Italy.

In 1738, Bassi married Giuseppe Veratti, a doctor of philosophy and medicine and a fellow lecturer in physics at the University of Bologna.

They had 12 children together, of whom only five survived infancy.

Bassi died on February 20, 1778, at the age of 67.

Her tomb is in the Corpus Domini Church in Via Tagliapietre, Bologna, in front of the tomb of her fellow scientist Luigi Galvani.

Oriana Fallaci

Oriana Fallaci was the first Italian female journalist to become a war correspondent.

Fallaci gained international fame for her coverage of war and revolutions, and for her aggressive and revealing interviews with many world leaders.

Fallaci was born in the Tuscan capital of Florence on June 29, 1929.

Her father, Edoardo Fallaci, was a political activist struggling to put an end to the fascist dictatorship of Mussolini.

During World War II, Fallaci joined the Italian anti-fascist resistance movement, Giustizia e Libertà.

She later received a certificate for valour from the Italian army.

Fallaci began her career in journalism as a teenager, becoming a special correspondent for the Italian paper Il mattino dell’Italia centrale in 1946.

In 1967, she began working as a war correspondent covering Vietnam, the Indo-Pakistani War, the Middle East and South America.

For many years, Fallaci was a special correspondent for newspapers and political magazines.

She was both brave and courageous in her career.

In Mexico City, during the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, Fallaci was shot three times by Mexican soldiers, dragged down stairs by her hair, and left for dead.

Her eyewitness account became important evidence disproving the Mexican government’s denials that a massacre had taken place.

Fallaci later between New York City and Tuscany, and lectured at the University of Chicago, Yale University, Harvard University and Columbia University.

She died on September 15, 2006, in her native Florence, after battling cancer.

She was buried in the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori in the southern suburb of Florence, Galluzzo, alongside her family members and a stone memorial to Alexandros Panagoulis, her late companion.

Miuccia Prada

Miuccia Prada is the designer and brains behind Prada, and has been named one of the world’s most powerful women by Forbes.

Born Maria Bianchi on May 10, 1949, in Milan, she took the name Miuccia Prada in the 1980s, after being adopted by an aunt.

She attended Berchet High School in Milan and graduated with a PhD in political science at the University of Milan.

She trained at the Teatro Piccolo to become a mime artist and performed for five years.

She was a member of the Italian Communist Party and involved in the women’s rights movement during the 1970s in Milan.

In 1978, she entered into her family’s business of manufacturing luxury leather bags, a company established by her grandfather in 1913.

The youngest granddaughter of Mario Prada, she soon transformed the business into a fashion empire.

Around the same time she met her future husband and business partner, Patrizio Bertelli.

They went on to marry and have two sons.

Samantha Cristoforetti

Samantha Cristoforetti is an astronaut with the European Space Agency (selected among 8,000 excellent candidates), an Italian Air Force pilot and an engineer, and the first Italian woman to fly into space, where she spent 199 days on ISS.

Cristoforetti holds the record for the longest uninterrupted spaceflight of a European astronaut (199 days, 16 hours), and until June 2017, she held the record for the longest single space flight by a woman.

She is also known as the first person who brewed an espresso in space.

Cristoforetti was born in Milan in 1977.

She spent her childhood in Malé, in the northern Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige.

When she was 18, she took an AFS exchange program to the USA and attended Space Camp.

After studying in Italy, Germany, France and Russia, she joined the Italian Air Force.

On July 16, 2015, Cristoforetti was awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who said: “She has been followed with affection and love by all Italians.”

In 2016, she had a baby girl in Cologne, Germany.

Photos: ANSA