The 8th of March is a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is also a day which marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Gender parity can be explained as an index or marker which is used to measure the relative access to education by both males and females. The day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action - from a local to a global level.
There are hundreds of women who have pioneered for the rights of women, and have had a great impact in society. With too many to be able to discuss in one article, we’ll focus on a few particularly well-known women pioneers from who we can learn something.
It was a female who transformed hospital care in the Crimean War and her next step was to use statistics to convince the British army and government of the need for widespread reform. Florence Nightingale has always stood out to me as I learnt about her at the young age of about 8. She was an English social reformer, statistician and the founder of modern nursing. Nightingale came into prominence while serving as a manager and trainer of nurses during the Crimean War - in which she organised care for wounded soldiers. Nightingale and her nurses saw soldiers suffering from frostbite to cholera and typhus. Despite the inadequate medical records and lack of systematic recording or reporting, Nightingale used her study of statistics throughout her nursing career to reform medicine.
Another well-known figure in the history of women pioneers is none other than the suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst. Pankhurst campaigned ardently for women to achieve the right to vote. She galvanised women as they fought to be granted the same electoral privileges as their male peers. Her bravery and radicalism shocked society in a way in which her effects were irreversible.
"You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else, in fact you have to be there all the time and see that they do not snow you under, if you are really going to get your reform realised," she said.
Pankhurst, along with her daughters, were jailed multiple times and even used staged hunger strikes to secure better conditions for women. It was in 1918 that the Representation of the People Act granted votes to women over the age of 30.
An individual who may be less well known is Mary Jackson. Jackson was one of a small group of African American women who worked as aeronautical engineers, called ‘human computers’ at NASA during the Space Age. Not only did these few women break down barriers between men and women, but they tackled racism in a heartfelt way. Jackson had in fact considered resigning from NASA but a chance encounter with her supervisor led her to be promoted to the role of an aeronautical engineer. This made her NASA’s first black, female engineer. Hidden Figures is a dramatisation of the three females who played a pivotal role in astronaut John Glenn’s launch into orbit. In celebration of International Women's Day, I have to say, the film is definitely worth a watch!
More recently, there are women powering through different career paths and lighting the way for future generations. Michelle Obama is an American lawyer, university administrator and writer, who was the first lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. Michelle Obama was the first African American First Lady of the United States. Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize as she continues to talk about living under the Taliban’s oppressive thumb, and the importance of gender parity. And Ali Stroker took the theater world by storm as she became the first performer in a wheelchair to take home a Tony Award. As the first actor in a wheelchair in Broadway history, she won the award for a powerhouse performance in Oklahoma!
So, here’s to female empowerment! Let’s continue to build each other up, support those working their way through various challenges and difficulties and continue to make change.
Happy International Women's Day.