Women’s History Month has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean we stop celebrating and highlighting the women and non-binary afab that paved the way for us.
Here is a list of some amazing people that have made an impact on our lives and should never be forgotten:
Deb Haaland is a Laguna Pueblo woman who made history after becoming the first Native American Cabinet secretary and head of the Interior Department. In 2018, she was also one of the first two Native American Women elected to Congress alongside Sharice Davids of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Haaland was also a lawyer and member of Congress for New Mexico. She is passionate about affordable healthcare, the environment, advancing Indigenous rights, and advocating for Indigenous women victims of violence.
“Everything depends on our ability to sustainably inhabit this earth, and true sustainability will require us all to change our way of thinking on how we take from the earth and how we give back.” – Deb Haaland
Claudia Paz Y Paz is a legal expert, lawyer, and activist. She’s been working in the justice system for over 18 years. She was also the first woman to hold the position of Attorney General in Guatemala from 2010-2014. She earned her doctorate in human rights and criminal law, served as a judge, and was the national consultant to the UN Mission in Guatemala. In 1994, she founded the Institute for Comparative Criminal Studies of Guatemala (ICCPG), a human rights organization that promotes restorative justice and protects the rights of marginalized and discriminated groups during criminal proceedings.
“Until 10 years ago, aggression against women did not exist as a crime in Guatemala. It was seen as a private affair. Now two laws have been passed in which violence against women is a specific crime. The justice system is now seen as a new place for women to go to.”
– Claudia Paz Y Paz
Emmanuelle Charpentier (French) and Jennifer Doudna (American) are the first all-female recipients of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Both are biochemists, microbiologists, and geneticists, who are responsible for the development of a method for genome editing which is called CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing or CRISPR. This method allows scientists to precisely cut any strand of DNA they wish and alter DNA in organisms like plants, insects, animals, and humans.
“My wish is that this (their win) will provide a positive message to the young girls who would like to follow the path of science, and to show them that women in science can also have an impact through the research that they are performing.”
– Emmanuelle Charpentier
Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was a passionate educator, civil rights advocate, and presidential advisor. She was the daughter of former slaves who became one of the most important Black educators, civil and women’s rights leaders, and government officials of the 20th century. In 1904, she opened a school, the Daytona Educational and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls which, in 1923, became what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Florida. She was president of the college for 20 years and is the first woman to start a historically Black college and university (HBCU). In 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women and was president until 1949. From 1940 to 1955, she was vice president of the NAACP. She was also an important advisor to FDR and 4 other U.S. presidents.
“We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.”
– Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune
Dr. Vandana Shiva is an Indian scholar, physicist, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, eco-feminist, and anti-globalization author. In 1982, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy (RFSTN), an organization devoted to developing sustainable methods of agriculture. This led to the creation of Navdanya in 1987, which is a movement for biodiversity conservation and organic farming. It is an “Earth-centric, women-centric and farmer-led movement protecting biological and cultural diversity.” Dr. Shiva has over 20 publications that link women’s freedom and environmental freedom.
“We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth or we are not going to have a human future at all.”
– Dr. Vandana Shiva
Marielle Franco was a Brazilian councilwoman of Rio de Janeiro and a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberty. She was also part of the LGBTQ+ community and a human rights activist. She dedicated her life to fighting against police brutality in the favelas or slums of the city. She also fought for social justice and against racism and misogyny. She would continue fighting until her assassination in 2018.
“The cycle of a racist society: while another poor black youth is arrested for merely existing, another poor black mother suffers in solitude.”
– Marielle Franco
Denise Oliver-Velez is an American political activist, feminist, anthropologist, educator, journalist, and community organizer. She was active in the civil rights movement, women’s movement, and HIV/AIDS activism movement. She was also a member of the Young Lords Party (YLO) in New York and the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She and other women in YLO fought to prioritize reproductive rights and battled against the “machismo” views of social justice, which largely ignored women’s health. Oliver-Velez demanded rights such as legal abortion and contraception, an end to forced sterilization, prenatal and postnatal care for poor women, and affordable daycare. She also fought for sexual equality for women of color. In her later years, she worked in community media and public broadcasting. She was a co-founder and program director of Pacifica’s first minority-controlled radio station, WPFW-FM, in Washington D.C. She was the executive director of the Black Filmmaker Foundation. She has published ethnographic research as part of several HIV/AIDS intervention projects and has a book on the women of the Young Lords Party. Today, she’s teaching the next generation how to stick it to the patriarchy as a professor of women’s studies and anthropology at SUNY New Paltz.
“I was in the Young Lords, and one of the points in the original program was ‘Revolutionary Machismo.’ Machismo is reactionary, so you can’t have revolutionary machismo. We women weren’t having it. So we made a very different kind of statement. ‘We want equality for women. Down with machismo and male chauvinism.’”
– Denise Oliver-Velez
Art & Culture:
Shirin Neshat is a contemporary Iranian visual artist. She is best known for her work in photography, video, and film (such as her 1999 film, Rapture). Her work explores the relationship between women and the religious and cultural value systems of Islam. Her experience of exile during the Iranian Revolution is deeply woven into her practice, raising questions about displacement, power, identity, and paradox. She strives to foster justice and humanity to bring about an awareness of one’s own identity in the face of change. She has won several awards, including the International Award at the 1999 Venice Biennale and the Silver Lion for best director at the 2009 Venice Film Festival.
“Part of me has always resisted the Western clichéd image of Muslim women, depicting them as nothing more than silent victims. My art, without denying ‘repression,’ is a testimony to unspoken female power and the continuing protest in Islamic culture.”
– Shirin Neshat
Sangduen Lek (“Tiny”) Chailert is a Thai animal rights activist and conservationist. She founded the Save the Elephant Foundation and was the co-founder of Elephant Nature Park. Her mission is to protect endangered Asian elephants in Thailand from animal cruelty and death and provide rehabilitation and a safe refuge for them to live. Already she has rescued over 200 elephants. She has also extended her hand in helping and rescuing other animals from cruelty like turtles, dogs, and cats. She was honored as one of six Women Heroes of Global Conservation in 2010, was named one of Time Magazine’s Heroes of Asia for her work in conservation in 2005, and was named the Ford Foundation’s “Hero of the Planet,” in 2001. Her work with the Asian elephant was also recognized by the Humane Society of the United States with the Genesis Award in 2003.
“When animal law does not exist, I only hope that education of the heart will help to change animal lives for the better. Please help to educate the younger generation, to live with love and compassion for others. The world will be a happier place if we live kindness for others.”
– Sangduen Lek Chailert
Junko Tabei was a Japanese mountaineer and environmentalist. She was the first woman to reach the top of Mt. Everest and the first woman to climb the highest peak on every continent. She also founded the Joshi-Tohan Club in 1969, which was the first women-only mountaineering club in Japan. She dedicated her life to saving Mt.Everest from degradation due to the waste left behind from climbing tourism. By the end of her life, she had climbed 70 mountains which were some of the highest in the world.
“I can’t understand why men make all this fuss about Everest–it’s only a mountain.”
– Junko Tabei
There are endless more women that I didn’t mention but are so important to the herstory of our lives. Transgender women included!
Let’s also not forget all the women and nonbinary afab in our lives who empower us and make us who we are today. Let’s celebrate our moms, sisters, aunts, grandmas, nieces, cousins, great grandmothers, best friends, dogs, cats, and more.