The importance of Women’s History Month

The importance of Women’s History Month

On a warm October day in 2012, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was happily walking home from school, when she was stopped by a masked man and shot in the head. She, like 130 million girls around the world, was denied the right to education, and had risked her life by speaking up. 

This month, from Wednesday, March 1st to Friday, March 31st, marks the celebration of Women’s History Month. It is a commemoration of women like Malala, and all the women in America who fight for equality. It is a time to reflect on the richness of our community and the contributions women can make.

“Gender equality for women means having access to all the opportunities that men or other people have access to,” senior Neha Suresh said. “It means making sure that everyone is able to do what they want with their life.”

Unfortunately, for many countries, gender equality is not a priority. In 2022, women in Afghanistan were banned from attending high school and university. Currently, women are only allowed to go to school up to sixth grade. 

“It makes me so incredibly sad because as a woman who wants to be a teacher and go into education, I believe everybody should have equal access to education,” senior Desi Arnaiz said. 

For women across the globe, including Liberty students, the banning of female education anywhere is an attack on women’s rights.

“A lot of reasons women don’t fight back is because they don’t know something’s wrong, and it’s because they are not educated in the way that other people or other societies are,” Arnaiz said. 

While in the United States women are able to receive an education, America still has a lot of progress to make. Women’s History Month is a great time to reflect on these issues.

Women in STEM

In the workforce, women deal with discrimination and outdated gender rules. While women continue to make strides that bring society closer to equality, the gap is still prevalent– especially in STEM fields.

“In my career, I did have individuals that did not deal with me, because I was a woman. Instead, they would talk to my male colleagues,” Liberty science teacher Eleonor Schneider said.

Interactions like this undermine women’s places in STEM fields, leaving many feeling as if they aren’t welcome or considered as valuable as their male peers and coworkers. 

“Early in your career, it’s harder because you don’t have self-confidence. You’re like, ‘I don’t really know a lot,’ and so you internalize it a little bit,” Schneider said. “Then as you build your confidence, and you realize, ‘no, I know what I’m talking about,’ then it’s easier to deal with. Not that it makes it easy, but you can’t change how other people act, but you can change how you respond to them.”

Women face unique challenges even with credentials equal or superior to those of their peers. Some of these challenges are minor, but others are more severe. 

“When I was in graduate school, I knew female Ph.D. students who had their work stolen from them and published under a male advisor’s name. I was lucky enough not to experience anything similar,” Liberty science teacher Erin Stephens said.

Despite these challenges, women continue to show up and claim a place in STEM, but the gender gap remains more prevalent in some fields.

“There hasn’t really been an increase in fields like physics and computer science. However, more women are in life sciences, potentially because there’s better access to these sciences,” Stephens said.

Closing the gap will take time, but with continued advocacy and support, women have begun to be properly represented in STEM.

“It’s important that we build everyone up to participate in whatever industry they are interested in,” Stephens said. “Additionally, we need to ensure there’s funding for underrepresented groups. This can help ensure that if you are a non-dominant gender in a field, you feel like you have a place at the table.”

Gender equality at Liberty

While Liberty has historically been considered a safe and welcoming school, issues of gender equality still affect day-to-day life.

“The high school environment is a reflection of society. Gender equality and sexism is definitely still an issue that should not be overlooked,” Suresh said. 

In particular, inequality in STEM is predominant in some Liberty classrooms.

“In AP Bio, the ratio of women to men is pretty split. In AP Physics, that’s unfortunately not the case,” Stephens said.

Neha Suresh, one of the few women taking AP Physics at Liberty, has felt the impact of the lack of representation directly.

“I frequently have to prove my ‘credibility’ before my male peers listen to me. I’ve gotten used to it, but it’s not something that I should be accustomed to,” Suresh said.

In addition to AP Physics, this discrepancy in levels of men and women is similar in computer science.

“In my intro to website design class, there are only five women. The rest are men, myself included,” Regelbrugge said. “There should be significant outreach to students to really encourage women to see these stigmatized classes as a foreseeable option. People of any gender should feel safe in the classroom.”

For senior Desi Arnaiz, the experience of being the only girl in the video production class at Liberty was an experience she never expected to happen in 2023.

“When I showed up on the first day, I remember feeling so incredibly intimidated because I was surprised I was the only girl,” Arnaiz said. “It’s been a good challenge. I’ve had to learn different techniques of how to be heard and how to be respected.”

Beyond the classroom, behavior in schools can perpetuate gender inequity and inequality. One of the clearest examples: sports games.

“When you go to a boys’ basketball game, the stand is packed. Multiple different Instagram accounts post about the game and get the word out. For girl’s basketball, there is a much different story,” Regelbrugge said.

Compared to girls’ sports, the attention that boys’ teams receive is magnified. Unfortunately, many girls’ sports don’t get an equal amount of attendance and community support.

“Boys’ sports become this thing that gathers and unites the students, so students populate those events more than they do the girls’ sports,” sophomore English teacher Henry Level said.

While there is a lot to be done in improving equality between women and men, Liberty has still made a lot of progress. In recent years, gender-neutral bathrooms were made available to students.

“A lot of my friends are able to access and use the gender-neutral bathrooms,” Ou said. “We have groups like Girls Who Code and GSA which I think have made good progress.”

As Women’s History Month continues into March, many students, regardless of their gender, will use this time to recognize the progress made in women’s equality but also continue to push for a brighter future.

How to be an advocate for women’s rights

“You have to understand and then embrace yourself first, because the moment you understand yourself is when you can spread and create positivity in the world.” Brian Reyes Ramirez (12)

“We can make everyone feel like they can do whatever they set their mind to, whether it’s programming code or solving math equations.”  Dr. Stephens

“People should listen to women more. Most of them have a story to tell – you just have to be there to hear them out.” Gabe Regelbrugge (12)

“It’s important for people to listen and hear what that other perspective is and recognize that, hey, about half the planet that shares that perspective.” Mr. Level

“I think we should make it clear that women have a place in STEM classes or male-dominated classes. While we make the classes available to all people, Liberty needs to start encouraging women to enter those classes and fields.” Neha Suresh (12)

“Encourage them to share ideas and thoughts. Having somewhere where men and women can work with each other to develop their confidence is beneficial.” Mrs. Schneider

  • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich – Ever heard the saying “well-behaved women seldom make history”? The phrase was coined in a 1976 academic paper by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Ulrich has dedicated her studies to the stories of women, and in 1990 she wrote the first book about women’s history to win a Pulitzer Prize.
  • Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier – “Women’s work can be recognized as much as men’s.” (-Doudna) Researchers Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier discovered the revolutionary gene editing technology CRISPR-Cas9, which won them the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. CRISPR is giving new hope to various disease treatments, and has already been successfully used to treat sickle cell disease.
  • Fearless Girl – On International Women’s Day in 2017, artist Kristen Visbal’s four-foot-tall “Fearless Girl” statue was placed in front of New York City’s “Charging Bull” statue to bring attention to gender inequality in the workplace. Though controversial, “Fearless Girl” remains a powerful symbol of women’s empowerment. The statue currently stands across from the New York Stock Exchange.
  • Malala Yousafzai – “There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.” Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai is best known for her fight in education equality for women.
  • Pauli Murray – “True community is based on equality, mutuality, and reciprocity.” Activist Pauli Murray was the first African American woman to earn a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from Yale Law School, which she used to defend civil and women’s rights as a lawyer. In 1966, Murray co-founded the National Organization for Women.
  • Grace Hopper – During World War II, mathematician Grace Hopper joined the Navy Reserve as she did pioneering work in computer science. She developed one of the first computer coding languages, and also eventually retired from the Navy as an admiral.