March is Women’s History Month, and here at PLEN we have celebrated this month by featuring several influential women throughout history. As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we are taking the opportunity to reflect and take a closer look at these women and their inspiring accomplishments.
Women’s History Month began as a local celebration by Women's History Month was officially created by Congress in 1987 — but its roots go much deeper, starting with suffragists fighting for women to get the vote in the early 20th century. Women’s History Month began as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women planned and executed a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978.
Throughout Women’s History Month, PLEN featured three influential female voices. In this article, we will revisit, and dive deeper into the legacies of these women to continue education beyond Women’s History Month.
Week One: Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist who, as a teenager, spoke out publicly against the prohibition on the education of girls. Her family, particularly her father, supported her education, hoping that she would have the same opportunities as her male peers. Yousafzai was vocal about her commitment to her education, giving speeches and protesting throughout her youth. She gained global attention when she survived an assassination attempt at age 15. In 2014, Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of their efforts on behalf of children’s rights.
The Malala Fund was established by the Vital Voices Global Partnership to support education for all girls around the world. She has since continued her activism and empowers other women to stand up to injustice. Malala is the subject of several children’s books and is commonly referred to in schools as a model of scholarship and resilience.
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
Week Two: Johnnie Lacy
Johnnie Lacy was a Black disability rights activist, who was integral to the independent living movement. Lacy fought to bring awareness to the intersectionality of race and disability. At age 19, Lacy was diagnosed with polio, which briefly led her to become paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. Despite barriers and discrimination due to her disability, she continued her education at San Francisco University, studying language-speech pathology. Throughout her life, she worked to tackle ableism in the Black community and racism in the largely white-dominated disability community.
Lacy was a passionate advocate for the right of people with disabilities to live independently in the community. She was a founding member of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living in 1981 and served for over a decade as the director of the Community Resources for Independent Living (CRIL). Additionally, Lacy served on the California Attorney General’s Commission on Disability, Hayward’s Commission on Personnel and Affirmative Action, and the Mayor’s Disability Council for the city and county of San Francisco. Lacy overcame every obstacle and went on to use her voice to remove those obstacles for generations of women to come.
"I cannot allow myself to fall into the trap of being identified by others... I have a sense of my own personal identity."
Week Three: Danica Roem
Danica Roem began her career as a journalist, interested in writing about homelessness, poverty, and inequity in her own community. After years of journalism, which she characterizes as “years of listening,” she moved into the political sphere.
Danica Roem made history as the first openly transgender person to be elected to the Virginia General Assembly and the first to serve in any U.S. state legislature. She is recognized for her fierce opposition to a highly anti-transgender piece of legislation known as “The Bathroom Bill.” When faced with discriminatory and gender motivated attacks, Roem responded by stating that she feels her "identity shouldn't be a big deal. This is just who I am."
In December 2017, The Advocate named her as a finalist for its "Person of the Year.” Soon after, Roem earned the Gainesville Times / Prince William Times "Readers Choice Award" for "Best Local Politician" because of her focus on constituent service. Roem was awarded Victory Institute's "Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award" for her dedicated work for the LGBTQ+ community. She is an excellent role model for young women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
"You can’t count on other people to be your best advocate. You have to step up."
Throughout Women’s History Month, PLEN featured three influential female voices. Women's History Month is a celebration of progress, as well as a look into the future. Figures such as Malala, Johnnie, and Danica have paved the path for other young women to come. As former President Jimmy Carter stated in his message designating Women's History Week in 1980, "Too often, the women are unsung and sometimes their contributions were unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength, and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of men whose names we know so well." We are grateful for the opportunity to recognize some of the many women who have so deeply contributed to society today!
- I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
- Director, Community Resources for Independent Living: Oral History Transcript: An African-American Woman's Perspective on the Independent Living Movement in the Bay Area, Johnnie Lacy
- Burn the Page: A True Story of Torching Doubts, Blazing Trails, and Igniting Change, Danica Roem
- The Woman Who, Zawe Ashton
- Activism, Changemakers and Hope for The Future, Malala Yousafzai, TED Talk
- How Students of Color Confront Imposter Syndrome, Dena Simmons, TED Talk
- Inside Danica Roem's Historic Victory, Documentary
- The Gospel According to Berkeley, Documentary
- He Named Me Malala, Documentary