Women’s History Month still alive with learning

I’ve learned a lot this month.

During Women’s History Month every March, a lot of information comes across my desk and on my computer. I’m always struck by the power of women to change the world, to fix their neighborhood, to right wrongs, to shelter those in need, to save a family, to keep trying. It’s not that these roles are exclusive to women — we have many strong male role models —  but that women sometimes still have to try harder to make things happen or get their voices heard. They still earn less money than their male colleagues. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women in 2012 still made 77 cents on the dollar for what men made.

And, according to The Atlantic, single moms make up one quarter of the households here in America. (Single dads make up another six percent.) Which means many women are out there working, trying to make a living and make a mark, and raising their children by themselves. That’s part of what I mean about having to try harder. With less money. And less support.

I learned about many New York women through a calendar published by the Workforce Development Institute, a program created by and focused on working women in partnership with Area Labor Federations and Central Labor Councils. Their motto is “WDI listens to women, learns from women and shares with women.” Click here to get their calendar.  The calendar features a high school living environment teacher from the Saranac Teachers Association, Michele Bushey; bus operator Geneva Aiken from the Transport Workers Union and part of the Next Generation Initiative; and Denise Dowell, CSEA, who directs the union’s early learning and care program representing home-based child care providers. The WDI regularly offers programs around the state on issues affecting working women. Next up is a discussion on Women in Leadership: Securing a Seat at the Table, in Yonkers on April 10, from 6-9 p.m.

I’m always startled anew each time I learn new facts about how women had to work for decades to get the right to vote. It’s always been difficult for me to understand why one person would be allowed to vote, but not another, based on skin color or gender. I learned more this year when I saw NYSUT’s poster for Women’s History Month on Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which you can download here. You can also order it at orders@nysutmail.org (reference project number 516_14 and include your name and mailing address). Stanton was a social activist and abolitionist. Although I studied her in grammar school, I’ve learned more this year. She presented a declaration at the first women’s rights convention in 1848 right here in New York in Seneca Falls, initiating the women’s rights movement. This was the year of the Gold Rush and the cholera epidemic in New York, and when only 30 states made up the United States of America.

I’ve also learned this month about some women who I hadn’t heard of before, through a program called the National Women’s History Project. This year, the program chose the theme of celebrating women of character, courage and commitment. Each year, the National Women’s History Project welcomed nominations and choose women to highlight for Women’s History Month. One woman featured was Jaida Im, who likely caught my eye because last year I interviewed a group of girls from Young Women’s Leadership School in Brooklyn who won the RFK Speak Truth to Power video competition for human rights defenders. They won for a video on Juliana Dogbadzi, who is fighting the sickening increase in human trafficking. (This year’s winning video will be announced April 2.) Im is being recognized by the Women’s History Project for her work starting and running Freedom House, a safe home in California for shelter and long-term aftercare for survivors of human trafficking. A new residence, The Nest, was opened this year for minors. The FBI says that human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and mostly affects females and children in the horrifying commercial sex industry.

While March may be ending soon, women will continue to make their marks in all aspects of everyday life.

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