“A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.” – Diane Mariechild Did you hear? International Women’s Day is March 8th and it’s time to celebrate, honor, and unite behind the women of the world.
The celebration of womanhood, in all of its unique iterations, is an opportunity to reflect back on the incredible contributions of women around the world, throughout time and space. It’s also a day dedicated to the progress of women everywhere, understanding how we can all work together to protect and advance the lives of women around the world.
This year, International Women’s Day is organized around the theme #BeBoldForChange, calling on all people to forge a better working world anchored in gender inclusivity and equality. That inspired us to look back on the struggles and accomplishments of women around the world and pay tribute to some of the noteworthy, changemaking women that have preceded us. These are women who have paved the way for a better tomorrow for people of all walks of life, colors, creeds, and localities, often in exchange for their own well-being. This International Women’s Day, get inspired by the stories and accomplishments of these four incredible women in history.
Arkansas, United States
Our first woman of the hour is Daisy Bates, a civil rights activist and journalist who played a crucial role in battling segregation and documenting the struggle through the power of her pen. Together with her husband Christopher Bates, Daisy published the Arkansas State Press, a weekly African-American newspaper. The paper served as a way to advocate for civil rights and highlight the accomplishments of African Americans in Arkansas.
Daisy was also instrumental in mentoring the famous “Little Rock Nine,” the first nine African American students to enroll in all-white schools after the Supreme Court’s desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In the face of angry mobs and death threats, Daisy worked alongside civil rights advocates to mentor, protect, and guide those nine students through a historical transition, ultimately opening the door to integration in schools across the country.
Our next story takes us to Germany circa 1742, where the first woman doctor in Germany was fighting for her right to attend university and study medicine. The daughter of a doctor herself, Dorothea took an early interest in medicine with the full support of her father, who believed all of his children deserved a good education. As a young woman, she studied medicine independently, immersing herself in medical theories that ultimately led her to challenge the idea that women weren’t fit to practice medicine.
In 1742, Dorothea and her father published a controversial book on women’s education, A Thorough Inquiry into the Causes Preventing the Female Sex from Studying. Over the next decade, Dorothea faced harsh criticism and persecution from her fellow Germans, all while attending university, raising a family, and practicing medicine - at one point, she was even accused of being a witch. Despite the opposition, Dorothea continued her work. Finally, Dorothea became the first woman in Germany to receive her M.D. degree in 1754, making history.
Qiu Jin was a revolutionary, a feminist, and a symbol of women’s independence in China during the Qing dynasty. As a young woman trapped in an unhappy marriage, Qiu began exploring exciting new ideas on women’s rights and a new kind of government. Joining a growing movement aimed at overthrowing the Qing dynasty, Qiu moved to Tokyo, Japan where she could write more freely and enroll in school to to learn language, philosophy, and martial arts. Qiu was known to wear Western-style men’s clothing whenever she pleased - a radical move for Asian women of her time.
Qiu went on to pen poems and journalistic essays for her fellow Chinese women, condemning the practice of binding women’s feet, arranged marriages, and other acts she deemed repressive for women. At the young age of 31, Qiu was murdered by Chinese authorities for her involvement with the revolutionaries. Qiu Jin went down in history as a figure of change for Chinese women, honored in poetry, movies, literature, and there is even a museum in her honor in Shaoxing in eastern Zhejiang.
1956 - Present
Shahla Sherkat is a pioneer of the women’s rights movement in Iran. For decades now, Shahla has been putting her own security on the line in the name of elevating the stories of women in Iran and providing serious coverage of their rights in her home country. An established journalist, Sherkat founded Zanan (meaning “women”) magazine in 1992 as a response to the lack of women’s rights coverage by the mainstream media. The only Persian women’s magazine in Iran, their stories addressed issues of gender equality, domestic abuse, sex education, and other topics largely deemed objectionable by the Iranian government. Time and time again, the authorities challenged their work. Nevertheless, she persisted.
After 16 years of publication and 152 issues, the magazine ceased publication in April 2015. This came after several appearances in court, a handful of mandatory shutdowns, and even physical attacks against Zanan offices. Today, Shala is the recipient of the Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation and the Louis Lyons Award from Harvard Univerisity.
The language of equality knows no bounds. Around the world, International Women’s Day brings together all people to celebrate and advance the lives of women. When we start the journey of learning a new language, we begin the important work of forging connections across borders that could change the world. Ready for your story to begin? Find Mango at a library near you.