Women’s History Month began as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California dating back to 1978. That year, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women planned and executed a “Women’s History Week” celebration, selecting the week of March 8 to correspond with International Women’s Day. The movement got some momentum as it spread across the country, causing other communities to initiate their own Women’s History Week celebrations in 1979.
In 1980, the National Women’s History Project (now the National Women’s History Alliance) lobbied for national recognition of the celebration and succeeded. In February that year, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th 1980 as National Women’s History Week and since 1995, each president has issued an annual proclamation designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.”
The NWHA selects and publishes the yearly theme and for 2023, the theme is ‘Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories’, “recognizing women, past and present, who have been active in all forms of media and storytelling including print, radio, TV, stage, screen, blogs, podcasts, news, and social media”. While we acknowledge and celebrate this theme, we also would like to celebrate those women who partake actively in activism and volunteering, making change happen, supporting other women and creating a palpable social impact around them and their communities. Here, a few names you definitely should know:
- Polly Irungu: American politician and activist, Shirley Chisholm, once said: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” and that’s exactly what this Kenyan-American photographer did. Irungu is the founder of the Black Women Photographers, a community database that holds the work of and provides access to Black women and non-binary photographers, giving BIPOC artists more visibility, support, connections and exposure. “I decided that I couldn’t keep waiting for the community that I wish I had — I needed to create it,” she says.
- Sabuni Francoise Chikunda: After loosing her husband and four children to violence, Chikunda was exposed to slavery and sexual abuse for several years, but she worked to become a strong pillar for refugee women and girls in her new-found home, Uganda. Chikunda is not only an english teacher for refugee children, but she is also the founder of the Kabanza Women’s Center, where displaced women can receive training to help them become financially self-sufficient; including in tailoring, cooking, handicrafts, hairdressing, and agriculture.
- Suhani Jalota: Realizing that there was a lack of access to health care and sanitation for low-income women in Mumbai, Suhani Jalota decided to do something about this and founded Myna Mahila, a social enterprise that trains and employs women to make low-cost, eco-friendly sanitary products. Jalota works hands-on with women in Mumbai’s urban slum communities, empowering them through employment, and helping them dissipate the stigma and shame associated with menstruation in these communities. Jalota was also a Global Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership Award Nominee in 2020 for her accomplishments.
- Zainab Salbi: Through her organization, Women for Women, Salbi has been supporting women survivors of war with access to skills development, resources, and educational information to help them practically move from a state of instability and crisis, to economic self-sufficiency. WFW works in eight countries across the globe (including Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo) supporting women experiencing ongoing crises, as well as those who are trying to rebuild their lives after conflict.
- Dr. Leyla Hussein: The Dahlia Project, founded by Hussein, provides support and counselling for girls who have undergone FGM in the UK. The organization also works with the UK’s National Health Service to help survivors access physical health counseling. She’s not only helping survivors directly, but she’s also educating communities through her organization and decision-makers through her advocacy. “My biggest fear is that this country won’t act on tackling FGM until a young girl dies,” says Hussein.