Now, I admit, there were some women in there about whom I knew absolutely nothing. Some other names were familiar, but I could not remember why. So, I did a little digging, and wanted to share with you what I learned.
The first woman I looked up was:
Asma Khader, lawyer and human rights activist, is general coordinator of the Sisterhood Is Global Institute/Jordan (SIGI/J) and secretary-general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women. Asma has spent her career campaigning to combat violence against women and raise their awareness of their legal rights.
Asma was elected to the Permanent Arab Court as counsel on violence against women in 1996, and has served on judicial bodies and human rights fact-finding missions. Inspired by a client whose pregnant 15-year-old daughter was raped and killed by her father to preserve family honor, she says: "I realized I couldn't be an effective lawyer if I did not do my best to change laws that cover up and even sanction crimes against women. This woman challenged me to address a problem that I could not ignore - crimes of honor." Khader has subsequently become a leading campaigner to end honor crimes.
What an amazing, brave woman she is! But she is not the only one. Next is Malalai Kakar, the first woman police officer in Afghanistan, continuing the family tradition to serve. Her career was ended by the Taliban:
Taleban gunmen shot dead Afghanistan's most high-profile policewoman yesterday as her teenage son prepared to drive her to work.
Malalai Kakar, the head of the city of Kandahar's department for crimes against women, had been the subject of numerous media reports and was famous for her bravery throughout Afghanistan. She had survived several assassination attempts.
A spokesman for the Taleban said that the assassination was carried out by its gunmen. “We killed Malalai Kakar,” said Yousuf Ahmadi. “She was our target, and we successfully eliminated our target.”
Her death came as reports emerged of a Saudi-brokered initiative to negotiate between the Afghan Government and the Taleban.
How tragic that her life was cut short as a result of who she was, and the work she did. What a threat this one woman was to the misogynistic Taliban, the same one with whom Obama is thinking of playing nice. Words fail.
The next woman whose name was familiar, but whose story was forgotten to me is Jeanette Rankin:
a Representative from Montana; born near Missoula, Missoula County, Mont., June 11, 1880; attended the public schools, and was graduated from the University of Montana at Missoula in 1902; student at the School of Philanthropy, New York City in 1908 and 1909; social worker in Seattle, Wash., in 1909; engaged in promoting the cause of woman suffrage in the State of Washington in 1910, in California in 1911, and in Montana 1912-1914; visited New Zealand in 1915 and worked as a seamstress in order to gain personal knowledge of social conditions; elected as a Republican to the Sixty-fifth Congress (March 4, 1917-March 3, 1919); was the first woman to be elected to the United States House of Representatives; did not seek renomination in 1918, but was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for Senator; was also an unsuccessful candidate on an independent ticket for election to the United States Senate; engaged in social work; elected to the Seventy-seventh Congress (January 3, 1941-January 3, 1943); was not a candidate for renomination in 1942 to the Seventy-eighth Congress; resumed lecturing and ranching; member, National Consumers League; field worker, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; member, National Council for Prevention of War; remained leader and lobbyist for peace and women’s rights until her death in Carmel, Calif., May 18, 1973; cremated; ashes scattered on ocean, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.
What a wonderful forerunner for women in Congress. Her work on behalf of women's rights is sorely needed in today's Congress, too.
In the field of education, we have Martha Carey Thomas:
Thomas is perhaps best known for having facilitated the admission of women to the John Hopkins Medical School. With the help of four of her friends, a total of $500,000 was raised to aid the Medical School in its financial struggle. The funds raised were used as a leverage to get the University to accept women. Thus, thanks largely to the efforts of these five women, women were to be admitted on precisely the same basis as men. There were three women among the first class to enter the John Hopkins Medical School in 1893.
Thomas became president of Bryn Mawr College in 1894, serving until 1922.
What incredible tenacity and drive Ms. Thomas had, not to mention intelligence. She is definitely a woman to whom women in the medical field are indebted.
Another woman who fought for the rights of women was Mary Astell:
She is remembered now for her ability to debate freely with both contemporary men and women, and particularly her groundbreaking methods of negotiating the position of women in society by engaging in philosophical debate (Descartes was a particular influence) rather than basing her arguments in historical evidence as had previously been attempted. Descartes' theory of dualism, a separate mind and body, allowed Astell to promote the idea that women as well as men were blessed with reason, and subsequently they should not be treated so poorly: "If all Men are born Free, why are all Women born Slaves?" (Emphasis mine.)
Indeed. I'd like to know the answer to that question myself since too many people still believe that to be the case.
Another modern day women's rights activist is:
Parvin Ardalan, born 1967 in Tehran, is a leading Iranian women's rights activist, writer and journalist. She was awarded the Olof Palme Prize in 2007 for her struggle for equal rights for men and women in Iran. In the 1990s Ardalan, along with e.g. Nooshin Ahmadi Khorasani, established the Women's Cultural Centre (Markaz-e Farhangi-ye Zanan), which since then has been a center for forming opinions, analyzing and documenting the women's issues in Iran. Since 2005 the organization has published Iran's first online magazine on women's rights, Zanestan, with Ardalan as its editor. In its constant struggle against censorship – the magazine comes back with a new name all the time – the newspaper has dealt with marriage, prostitution, education, AIDS, and violence against women.
Ardalan is one of the founding members of the One Million Signatures Campaign, attempting to collect a million signatures for women's equal rights. As a part of the campaign she has taken part in protests that have been violently silenced. In 2007 she, together with Nooshing Ahmadi, was sentenced to three years in prison for "threatening the national security" with his struggle for women's rights. Four more women's rights activists later received the same sentence.
Again, how threatened are these people that these women intimidate them so? We certainly saw our share of this kind of reaction during the 2008 Primaries and Election. While the actions of the intimidated were not quite so extreme as to imprison anyone, it was but a matter of degrees in the result of silencing so many women. That is to say, this sort of thing doesn't just happen in other countries. Sadly.
Next on the list is a woman who was one of the original Americans:
Born the daughter of Chief Winnemucca of the Paiutes, a tribe in Nevada and California, Sarah Winnemucca lost family members in the Paiute War of 1860. She tried to operate as a peacemaker, using her language skills learned in convent school to work as an interpreter in an Army camp. She went with her tribe to the Malheur reservation in 1872, and when the Bannock War broke out in 1878 she offered her services to the Army. She volunteered to enter Bannock territory when she learned that her father and other tribesmen had been taken hostage by the Bannocks. She freed her father and other captives and served as an army scout in the war against the Bannocks. She spoke out, describing the plight of her people, exiled from their homelands, and the treachery of dishonest Indian agents. She drew much attention, and was able to speak with President Rutherford Hayes and Interior Secretary Carl Schurz; promises to return her tribe to the Malheur Reservation were never honored. She wrote Life Among the Piutes[sic]: Their Wrongs and Claims, published in 1883. Despite passage of Congressional legislation enabling the return of the Paiute land, the legislation was never enacted.
I wish I could say I was surprised by that outcome, or rather the lack thereof. But that does not minimize the work of Sarah Winnemuca.
Last, but most definitely not least, is:
Chien-Shiung Wu, a pioneering physicist, radically altered modern physical theory and changed our accepted view of the structure of the universe.
Wu's experiments led physicists to discard the concept that parity was conserved. In recognition of her contributions to atomic research and the understanding of beta decay and the weak interactions, Wu became the first woman to receive the prestigious Research Corporation Award and the Comstock Prize from the National Academy of Sciences. The Comstock Prize is given only once every five years.
Wu's distinguished career in the nation's leading universities as a teacher and researcher in nuclear physics has been characterized by a string of firsts. She was the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate of science from Princeton University, to be elected president of the American Physical Society, and to receive the Wolf Prize from the State of Israel. She was also the first living scientist to have an asteroid named after her.
In 1972, Wu was appointed to an endowed professorship as the Pupin Professor of Physics at Columbia University.
Incredible. What an incredible history we have, past and present. How lucky we are to have such incredible role models to whom we can look. This is by far not close to exhaustive, but merely a small representation of women who have achieved greatness through sheer hard work, determination, and passion.
And while she is not in the above video, Roxana Saberi, the American journalist captured in Iran, discussed her experience this morning:
Wow. What an amazing woman.
Please feel free to share other women who inspire you, whose history has informed your own, a woman who is your hero.