The stories of women achievements are integral to the fabric of our history. Learning about women tenacity, courage, and creativity throughout the centuries is a tremendous source of strength. Until recently, this sphere of women history was overlooked and undervalued. Women achievements were often distorted, disdained, and denied; but, knowing women stories provides essential role models for everyone. And role models are genuinely needed to face the extraordinary changes and unrelenting challenges of the 21st century.
This year, we commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women Day, a global celebration of the economic, political, and social achievements of women past, present, and future. International Women Day is a chance to pay tribute to ordinary women throughout the world and is rooted in women centuries-old struggle to participate effectively in society on an equal footing with men.
Until the 20th century, most female leaders inherited their positions. From ancient Egypt to modern Britain, a woman whose father, brother or son sat on a royal throne might rule as a birthright, or she might be barred from it. Outside of royalty, the rise of women to ruling positions often still depended upon their relationships with men, particularly husbands. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, the first woman elected to lead a country, became Prime Minister in 1960, following her husband’s assassination. Juan Peron’s third wife, Isabel Peron, was Argentina’s vice-President during his second term, and succeeded him as President after his death in 1974.
Furthermore, the only female in Chinese history to rule as Emperor did so during the Tang dynasty. Wu Zetian, born into a rich and noble family, in a time when women did not bind their feet or lead submissive lives, joined the imperial court at thirteen. After years of manipulative and violent moves to eliminate her opponents, she married the Emperor in 655. When he died, she manipulated her sons in and out of power. In order to challenge the Confucian beliefs against rule by women, she had scholars write biographies of famous women, and moved her court away from the seat of traditional male power. In 690, she declared herself Emperor. Her rule proved benign, forward-thinking and prosperous.
In the years before the Civil War, the lives of American women were shaped by a set of ideals that historians call “the Cult of True Womanhood.” As men work moved away from the home and into offices and factories, the household became a new kind of place: a private, feminized domestic sphere, a ‘haven’ in a heartless world. “True women” devoted their lives to creating a clean, comfortable, nurturing home for their husbands and children.
However, during the Civil war, American women turned their attention to the world outside the home. Thousands of women in the North and South joined volunteer Brigades and signed up to work as Nurses. It was the first time in American history that women played a significant role in a war effort. By the end of the war, these experiences had expanded many Americans’ definition of “true womanhood,” and helped broaden many women idea about what their “proper place” should be, which goes beyond the boundaries of the home.
In recent times, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Africa’s first elected female Head of State; her background as turbulent as her country’s history. Liberia, Africa’s oldest Republic, founded by freed American slaves in 1847, has suffered 14 years of civil war, firing squads, purges, corruption, inequality and poverty. Sirleaf was forced into exile twice. Her Resume, after three decades of political involvement, includes a Harvard Master’s degree, senior jobs at Citibank, the U.N. and the World Bank, a year of house arrest and four years in prison. In 2005, Sirleaf faced a run-off against former football star, George Weah and won the presidency.
Although women’s history are often intertwined with the history shared with men, several factors, such as social, religious, economic, political, and biological, have worked to create a unique sphere of women history.
It is worthy of note that women shared history have made tremendous impact on families, communities, and nations. In the last decade, democracies all over the world have chosen female leaders with few or no family ties to political life; women have become active participants in expanding Economies as Entrepreneurs, and serving in various nations of the world at the highest levels of government, even in the face of fierce opposition.
Therefore, as we reflect on these triumphs, we must also look to the limitless potential that lies ahead. To win the future, we must equip the young girls and women of today with the knowledge, skills, and equal access to reach for the promise of tomorrow; and as we prepare to write the next chapter of women history, let us resolve to build on the progress won by the trailblazers of the past, as we carry forward the work of the women who came before us, to ensure our daughters have no limits on their dreams and no obstacles to their achievements.
Conclusively, the 2011 theme “Our History is our Strength” is well suited for such a time as this with the global hardship, because knowing the challenges these women faced, grappled with and overcame can be an enormous source of strength to all of us.
In today’s difficult times, the 2011 theme can serve as an important reminder to the world that adversity can be overcome.
by Winnie Aduayi; Editor, Trendy Africa USA (Article is featured in Trendy Africa Magazine Issue 7)