International Women’s Day began in the UN on March 8, 1975, after decades of fighting for gender equality. The purpose of International Women’s Day is to celebrate the achievements of women from all walks of life.
One unfortunate side effect of sexism is the lack of history involving brilliant women. In school, we learn about the men who revolutionized the world, but the women fall to the wayside. In observance of International Women’s Day, I have gathered a list of women who have changed history despite the odds!
Women to Celebrate on International Women’s Day:
Vigdis Finnbogadóttir is the first female president in history. She was born in Iceland in 1930 and went on to become a bright child, eager to learn. She did well in school and went on to teach French through a TV program.
Finnbogadóttir was well known in her community and successful in her career. Unfortunately, life wasn’t everything she wanted. She married and divorced by 1960. Vigdis was heartbroken by her inability to have a family. Instead of giving up her dream of being a mother, she started the process of adoption as a single parent.
Finnbogadóttir was denied the privilege to adopt multiple times because of her marital status. Instead of accepting her defeat, she took it upon herself to change the laws of Iceland for single parent adoption. After months of fighting, she was able to adopt her daughter in 1972. This made her the first single female to adopt a child.
The second wave of feminism encouraged a profound change in Iceland. This left the population craving a strong female leader. Finnbogadóttir went on to run for president of Iceland in 1980 and left her three male counterparts in the dust.
Finnbogadóttir was re-elected three times and was a pioneer for equal rights, environmental conservation, and Icelandic culture. Despite being rejected and underestimated, she changed Iceland for the better. She will always be remembered for her witty personality and strong determination. She is a prime example of a brilliant woman to celebrate on International Women’s Day
Patsy Mink was born in December of 1927. She was a third-generation Japanese American and spent her childhood in Hawaii. Her father was the first Japanese American to graduate from the University of Hawaii, and her parents fostered the same love of learning in their daughter.
She went on to graduate as valedictorian of Maui High School. Mink’s true passion was medical science. She aspired to go to medical school. She attended several colleges studying chemistry and biology, one being the University of Nebraska.
The University of Nebraska had a long-standing segregation act that prevented students of color from joining sororities, fraternities, and other extracurricular clubs. They also had separate housing for students of color. Mink found this to be unacceptable and organized protests against discrimination.
Her efforts ended the segregation at the University of Nebraska the same year. She went on to graduate from college and began the process of applying to medical school in 1948. She applied to twenty medical schools and was denied by each because of her gender.
Mink recognized the road to medical school would be a long, perilous journey. Instead of accepting societal norms, she decided to go to law school instead. She earned her doctorate degree in 1951, but she still faced discrimination. She couldn’t find work as a female lawyer. So, she opened her independent practice in 1953. This made her the first female lawyer in Hawaiin history.
She was so successful that she became the first female of ethnic minority to be elected to congress. There she authored the Women’s Educational Equality Act to prevent gender segregation in the education system. Remember Mink on International Women’s Day for her pure determination to make a difference for women despite the adversity. She revolutionized professional opportunities for girls everywhere..
Coretta Scott King
Coretta Scott King was the wife of Martin Luther King Junior. We know MLK’s contribution to American politics was a catalyst for African American equality. But his wife, Coretta Scott King, was just as influential.
After her husband’s assassination in 1968, she took over his mission of equality for all. Coretta King worked to establish her late husband’s birthday as a national holiday. King claimed one day of the year should be dedicated to an African American. Her efforts were successful, and the holiday was recognized federally in 1986.
King became increasingly active in the Women’s Movement. She used her connections with powerful politicians to campaign for the rights of African American women. King expanded her political campaigns to include LGBT rights. She also strongly opposed South African apartheid with the United States government.
Coretta Scott King continued her husband’s legacy despite his assassination and the threat to her own safety. She is a pillar of strength to women of color. On International Women’s Day, she stands as a reminder that progress stops for no man.
Malala Yousafzai is the epitome of bravery. She truly represents what International Women’s Day is all about. Yousafzai was born in Pakistan in July of 1997. Her parents were progressive and founded a string of schools in their hometown. Inspired by her father’s humanitarian work, she wrote a blog for BBC that focused on the Taliban’s occupation of her home. She was only 12 years old at the time.
This struck the interest of the New York Times. So, they produced a documentary about her life as a young Pakistani girl in a war-ridden country. She quickly became an international symbol of peace, giving interviews and contributing to the conversation around the violence in the middle east.
In 2012, she was shot in the head in an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Even though her recovery was long and grueling, she survived. She received international support as her story spread. Her experience raised awareness about the harrowing reality of life under the Taliban.
Yousafzai continued her work as an activist by campaigning for female education rights. She authored a book and was the first person to receive Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize. She was also the youngest co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.
Yousafzai achieved international peace recognition before the age of 22. For International Women’s Day 2020, remember her story as an act of bravery in the face of death. She changed the lives of Pakistani women by speaking her truth, despite the consequences.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the second most mentioned politician after the president of the United States. She was born to a middle-class family in October of 1989 in New York. She excelled in school and went on to study law at Boston University.
While attending school, her father died of lung cancer, leaving her mother widowed. Because of his death, Cortez worked a tedious probate case to settle his affairs. She credits this experience to understanding how lawyers appointed by the courts can profit off the lack of understanding in civilians.
After graduating, she moved back home and got a job as a bartender to help her mother pay the bills and prevent the foreclosure of their home. While working, she campaigned for the National Hispanic Institute and worked for the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign.
Cortez continued her political career after the general election by traveling the country and speaking to disadvantaged communities. Even though she was at a financial disadvantage, she used her commitment and determination to become a democratic incumbent in 2018.
She defeated a 10-time incumbent by nearly 15%. Today she rallies for equal rights for all genders, races, and economic backgrounds. Cortez uses her platform to promote environmental conservation and the decriminalization of illegal immigration.
She and those before her sacrificed so that women have the opportunity to make a difference in the world. On International Women’s Day 2020, use these women as inspiration. If they can win in the face of adversity, there is nothing that women cannot accomplish.