Embracing Equity this Women’s History Month
Written by Michelle Price, Student U Executive Director
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it is important to reflect on the contributions that women have made and continue to make to our society. However, we must also acknowledge the systemic inequities that have historically prevented women from fully participating in society and the workforce.
Women’s History Month occurs during a very interesting time of year in this part of the South. March is a wild card month when the weather could be very warm or very cold. We could have snow one day and spring/summertime temperatures the very next day. But it is also one of the months of the year that has 31 days in it. And we could talk on each of these 31 days about the impact of women over the course of several centuries and still not capture all that women have contributed to the people and communities they love.
My first thought about needing to designate a month to focus specifically on the contributions of women is that it wouldn’t be necessary if it had already been happening. Like the other themes during the other months of the year, spending time during that month to focus on the theme is important, but the focus often goes away once the month is over.
Women were historically in the shadows, standing behind men, building internal infrastructures that supported all of the members of the household or the community. This job was often unrecognized and thankless, yet vital to the well-being of everyone the woman cared for. Voteless and often voiceless, women spent centuries utilizing their hands and hearts to uplift the very people who disregarded and often abused them, without taking into account those women’s hopes and dreams…as if they possibly might not have any.
One thing about oppressed people is that the same pressure used to keep them oppressed often builds the resilience needed for the oppressed to fight back. People from marginalized communities are often the ones who lead bold efforts toward change. During our Bold Ideas for Equity virtual event on March 8th, we opened the door for voices from the community to be heard regarding issues Student U is facing and working to address. Those issues were around teacher recruitment and retention (and women make up the majority of the teaching profession), staff culture, student and family engagement, student and family-led advocacy, mental health and school safety, and economic mobility. Many of the issues involve challenges presented by the systems that have been in place for hundreds of years. For example, workplace cultures historically focused on the needs of men who were not typically responsible for the day-to-day care of the home or small children. Even today, women fight for equal pay for the same jobs that men perform. During the past two weeks, Student U staff and community partners such as CIS Durham and Book Harvest have been to the Legislative Offices in Raleigh to advocate for the continuation of grant funding to support our programming. As we met with both House and Senate Representatives and walked the hallowed halls of Capitol Hill, most of the people we met with and saw were, you guessed it, men.
So this Women’s History Month, let us not only celebrate the contributions of women but also commit to embracing equity and working towards a more just society for all. We must acknowledge that the inequities are not only present but that our current systems uphold those inequities. Members of marginalized communities see clearly what members of “preferenced” or “privileged” communities do not have to see. Women continue to be the bold, life-giving, asset-building backbone that families, communities, and workplaces lean on in the fight for justice and equity. I can almost guarantee that you have at least one woman in your life who made sacrifices for you to be who and where you are today. Why not give her a hug or a call today and tell her, “Thank you!”