I have always felt somewhat ambivalent about Women’s History Month, that one month out of 12 when we honor women’s contributions to history; as well as International Women’s Day, the one day of the year (March 8th) when we honor women’s accomplishments around the globe. I guess it’s because I run an organization devoted to reporting on women’s goals and accomplishments every day of the year, and know that true gender parity will not be fully achieved until women no longer need one designated month, or day, to honor our work.
But what if, I thought, both girls and boys were taught about women’s achievements, alongside that of men’s, as early as grade school? How would this influence young children’s minds about what they, too, could realize for themselves and others? This year’s Women’s History Month theme, “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence,” honors women who have led efforts to end war, violence and injustice, and pioneered the use of nonviolence to change society.” Imagine if boys, as well as girls, learned about the effectiveness of historical nonviolence to make change, instead of memorizing the names of each country’s presidents and dictators who led their countries to war, as well as the number of casualties that resulted for those who both won and lost.
Perhaps they would learn that in France, in 1789, while protesters stormed the Bastille, a number of Parisian women gathered in the square in protest of the surging price of bread, and then peacefully marched on Versailles, where King Louis XVI held court. Ultimately, many men joined the women as they made their way to the city, in a crowd which was said to have numbered in the thousands. This ultimately forced the King to move the royal family out of Versailles.
More recently in 1975, 25,000 Icelandic women peacefully protested by striking (called ‘Woman’s Day Off’), to demonstrate against being underpaid and underrepresented in government. Further, 90% of the female population did not go to work, cook, clean or take care of children. As a result, Finnbogadottir became the nation’s first female president five years later, and credits that day with helping her get elected.
Later that year in Poland, when politicians sought to further restrict abortion access by proposing a ban on abortion in all cases and a prison sentence of up to five years for women who undergo the procedure, thousands of women dressed in black and boycotted their jobs and classes. About 30,000 also gathered in Warsaw’s Castle Square, chanting. Their efforts resulted in the parliament backtracking and overwhelmingly rejecting the total ban.
And just imagine if women’s inventions and creations were taught in schools, alongside those of Thomas Alva Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, and Alexander Graham Bell. As we celebrate today’s International Women’s Day theme, “Think Equal, Build Smart,” we would have already known about Grace Hopper, who invented computer programming in the early 1960’s, and Maria Telkes, who designed the first 100 percent solar-powered house, and Katherine Johnson, the African-American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics at NASA were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. manned spaceflights, without having to first learn about her from a major motion picture release decades later.
Achieving a gender-equal world requires social innovations that work for everyone… leaving no one behind. It also demands that women have equal opportunity to shape them, and be recognized for their work, every single day!
As Katherine Johnson once said, “It’s not parallel, so I’m going to straighten it. Things must be in order.”
Lori Sokol, PhD
Executive Director & Editor-in-Chief