Women’s History Month: Celebrating women of the past, present and future

The month of March is home to many things—St. Patrick’s Day, the beginning of spring and Mardi Gras are all notable celebrations that come to mind. March is also Women’s History Month, 31 days that bring recognition to women and their achievements throughout history and help educate the populace on all that women have done for civilization.

The recognition of women’s influence in history started in the 1980s when the week of March 8 was designated as Women’s History Week, and in 1987 the month of March was deemed Women’s History Month.

Dr. Linda Mitchell, a Martha Jane Phillips Starr Missouri Distinguished Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, said Women’s History Month was invented in the 1980s after the US Congress in 1982 designated the second week of March ‘Women’s History Week.’

“It is, therefore, a very recent phenomenon,” said Mitchell. “It is designed to act as an alternative to the idea that women were/are invisible in the historical record, that they didn’t do anything and that only queens and other ‘exceptional’ women made a mark on history.”

Women’s History Month exists today as a way to pull back the curtain on all of the achievements and discoveries made by women that history may have glanced over simply because of her corporal existence.

Every year, the National Women’s History Alliance picks a theme for Women’s History Month. 2019’s theme is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence,” celebrating those women who have faced struggle and strife head-on with nonviolent rhetoric, and who actively use their voices to fight for peace, pacifism, and equality.

Malala Yousafzai is a perfect example of a woman who is fighting for peace with peace. She is the youngest Nobel laureate prize winner and continues even today to champion for women’s educational rights all over the world.

The Pakistani activist started the Malala Fund, which according to the international organization’s website, “breaks down barriers preventing more than 130 girls around the world from going to school.” The Malala Fund’s work centers in countries that are highly discriminatory against women in the educational sphere and aims to give those girls a chance at pursuing something more than a life of servitude to their husbands, fathers and the state.

The organization works primarily in six countries: Afghanistan, Brazil, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Syrian region. Although the Malala Fund has a different reason for being in each country, the main objective still stands: to bring educational reform to the women who live there.
But what about celebrating women’s history a little bit closer to home? The Women’s Center, located in 105 Haag Hall on the UMKC campus, is the perfect place to start.

In the hallway close to the center, there is a giant billboard bringing recognition to over 100 years of women’s history. Notable names like Susan B. Anthony, who helped win the right for women to vote in 1920, and Tamara Burke, who started the Me Too movement back in 2016 after Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual abuse in the film industry, embellish the wall.

The Women’s Center is a safe space for women of all backgrounds and offers resources and knowledge on sex-based discrimination and issues. It’s also a great place to just sit and relax or get some homework done.

The Women’s Center always has a great itinerary of events to look forward to, such as the “Who Does She Think She Is?” art exhibition going from March 15 to April 19 at the InterUrban ArtHouse in Overland Park, Kansas. It features local women artists expressing their identity and struggles through various mediums.

One of the main points about Women’s History Month is why it’s still necessary today. Although it’s a great thing that there is an entire month for celebrating women’s history, the need for it is due to the thousands of years of the patriarchy erasing women’s contributions to the world.

“While it is nice that we celebrate women’s history in March each year, I would like to move to a place where we integrate the contributions of women into historical discussions every day,” said Dr. Diane Mutti Burke, chair of the history department at UMKC and the director for the UMKC Center for Midwestern studies. “Women have been significant historical actors throughout history.”

So while Women’s History Month is an important time to recognize the influences women have had on world history, it’s also important to remember that many of the contributions made by women have been forgotten.

“Women have been history-makers on every level and in every way since the beginning of humanity, but until very recently (the last 40 years or so), most of the achievements of women, their influence on society and their importance in the world have been erased, hidden, denied and diminished in the ‘official’ records of historical writing by the men who controlled the writing of such histories,” Mitchell commented.

So please, celebrate Women’s History Month by remembering and advocating for all of the women who are trying to make their voices known and for those who didn’t have the chance to try.

amrhd3@mail.umkc.edu

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