As we near the end of Women’s History Month, it’s important to reflect on the meaning behind this annual celebration. No doubt, the last year has been challenging and COVID-19 has had an especially detrimental impact on women. We recognize that the celebration of Women’s Month may feel poignant in the face of how the pandemic has in some ways turned back the clock on gender stereotypes and responsibilities.
But it’s because of the challenges of this past year that we feel that women’s resilience deserves particular attention. The National Women’s History Alliance said it perfectly: “[we are] determined that the important roles of multicultural suffragists and voting rights activists continue to be recognized and honored…we refuse to allow their voices to be silenced, even by a pandemic.”
A little history lesson: International Women’s Day was first observed in 1911 to “press for their demands.” However, it was not until 1975, that the United Nations finally observed March 8 as International Women’s Day. In the 1980s, the holiday was expanded to observe the entire month of March, becoming Women’s History Month.
Women’s History Month brings awareness to the inequality and sexism that women continue to battle. This holiday allows us to collectively commemorate, appreciate, reflect and educate — on a global scale. Most of all, it’s used to advocate and take action on pressing issues against all women.
This month should also recognize the many accomplishments that women have achieved during this path to parity. By looking back on those that have paved the way before us, we can celebrate their influence and continue the work that needs to be done. We don’t have to look far to see how women have made history in the last year alone.
Kamala Harris shattered the glass ceiling by becoming the first-ever female, black Indian-American Vice President of the United States.
Amanda Gorman, America’s First Youth Poet Laureate, poet and activist read at the 2021 presidential inauguration.
Gitanjali Rao, 15 years old, was named TIME’s First Kid of the Year. Rao created an app that detects cyberbullying using artificial intelligence to help kids correct their tone and phrasing before sending a message. According to TIME, Rao has “used science to tackle issues from contaminated drinking water, to opioid addiction, to cyberbullying.”
Hamilton Bennett, the 35-year-old senior director of vaccine access and partnerships at Moderna and her team engineered a vaccine. Moderna became the first American company to jump into the race for a coronavirus vaccine.
Özlem Türeci co-founded the German biotechnology company BioNTech, which developed the first approved messenger RNA-based vaccine against COVID-19 in 2020.
Latin America has also produced no shortage of inspirational women. For example, Peruvian Mariana Costa Checa, founder of Laboratoria, a business directed towards helping low-income women break into the tech industry by providing them with web design classes. She was recognized by MIT as one of the most innovative minds under 35 and named as one of just nine Latin American women in the BBC’s 2016 Women of the Year rankings. This past year, Laboratoria continued to provide opportunities for women to learn and expand their potential through virtual classes and educational zoom sessions.
From science to politics, Women’s History Month is a chance to reflect on the trailblazing women who paved the way for change. And while this past year has brought many challenges to all people everywhere. This, and each March will always be an important opportunity to pause and recognize the women who made history and the ones who are making history today.