Mar 242005
 
Authors: Meg Burd

While we often don't see it in the news or in our history textbooks, women have always had a profound impact and held many prominent roles in historical events. As the month of March, which is National Women's History Month, begins to wind down, it is important that we recognize the importance of discussing women's roles in society, both past and present.

This involves taking time to both reflect upon the fact that in many cases in the past (and even today), women's stories were often left out of historical accounts, and why some of the most successful and important women working right now around the globe for such causes as peace, environmentalism or freedom from oppression are not in the national news spotlight more often today.

As college-aged students, we may take for granted that women have been included in curriculum or that women's history was promoted as something important to learn.

"I've met many young people who just assume that National Women's History Month and recognizing women's history have always been part of this country's cultural agenda. They are startled to realize that, indeed, this is a recent accomplishment," Molly Murphy MacGregor, executive director and co-founder of the National Women's History Project, wrote in a recent letter on the project's Web site.

Looking back just a few decades, textbooks used in school curricula cited next to nothing about the accomplishments of individual women or even experiences of women as a group during historical times. Men were seen as figureheads of history, the active agents who influenced and participated in events. As recently as 1980, the National Women's History Project notes, "No more than 3 percent of the content was devoted to women."

While celebrating the accomplishment of groups such as the National Women's History Project in getting such historical information included, there should also be a push for more inclusion of women's accomplishments in both historical and current-event dialogues, as well as greater attempts to focus on women from various multi-cultural, ethnic and economic backgrounds in texts and today's news.

Looking at the accomplishments of a few heroic and powerful women from around the globe today makes one wonder why their accomplishments do not receive more press.

Turning to Africa, Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai is one of the women of today who should be better known and indeed a more celebrated hero for all of us today.

"Wangari Maathai has converted the seemingly mundane and domestic act of planting trees into a continent-wide movement aimed at empowering women and reshaping society's relationship with the natural environment," Amnesty International noted of this successful and influential woman who coordinates Kenya's Greenbelt Movement, a tree-planting organization that works with women's groups throughout Africa to promote both environmentalism and women's empowerment.

Starting the Greenbelt Movement in 1977 after being the first woman to receive a doctorate in East and Central Africa, Maathai realized that environmental degradation and a whole host of human rights issues were interlinked.

Recognizing that women were often ones most affected by environmental degradation in some areas, Maathai worked with women's groups to plant more than 30 million trees all over Kenya. While enormously successful in such endeavors, she has faced imprisonment and violence for her efforts, Amnesty International noted.

Reformer Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma) also has faced oppressive forces and imprisonment for her efforts to promote greater peace in her country and the world.

"Inspired by the non-violent campaigns of American civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and India's Mahatma Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi organized rallies after her return to Burma, and traveled the country, calling for peaceful democratic reforms," Arlene Gregorius and Larry Jagan note via the BBC.

Placed under house arrest for 10 years for her efforts of peace, she campaigned tirelessly for change through dialogue and has become a major figure and hope for people who want to see peace for all. Called "one of the most impressive people" he's ever met by U.N. envoy Razali Ismail, Aung San Suu Kyi is another important woman whom we do not often hear of in today's news.

Both these women serve as examples of successful and important women who should be included not only in our current dialogues, but they also should, in the future, find important notes in textbooks. History is filled with such women, and during Women's History Month, we should seek out the stories and celebrate all of them.

Meg Burd is a graduate anthropology student. Her column runs every Friday in the Collegian.

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