Celebrated each year in March, Women's History Month is a vital reminder of women's remarkable achievements and contributions throughout history.
This month-long event celebrates and recognizes the unsung heroines of the past and present. It also seeks to kindle the aspirations of future generations to shatter glass ceilings and reach their full potential.
The primary focus of Women's History Month is to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of pioneering women across diverse fields, ranging from science and politics to arts and sports. By doing so, this observance plays fosters understanding and supports gender equality and women's empowerment. It sparks conversations around the ongoing struggle for women's rights and gender parity and drives impactful change.
Read on as we explore the background of Women’s History Month, more about the cause, and how to get involved.
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Women's History Month began as a local Santa Rosa, California, celebration. The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women planned and executed a “Women's History Week” celebration in 1978.
During July of that particular year, a conference on women's history was held for 15 days at Sarah Lawrence College. Historian Gerda Lerner chaired the meeting co-sponsored by the Women's Action Alliance and the Smithsonian Institution. Following the conference, there was a joint effort by women's activist groups and historians to advocate for a National Women's History Week.
It evolved into National Women's History Week in 1980, thanks to the dedication of the National Women's History Project (NWHP, now called the National Women’s History Alliance).
Molly Murphy MacGregor and others founded this organization to highlight women's often ignored historical contributions. The celebration coincided with International Women's Day by selecting the second week of March.
President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, National Women's History Week in February of the same year.
The first national week celebrating women’s contributions and history connected with many Americans. School districts and communities from coast to coast organized events and activities within their own organizations honoring women and their accomplishments.
Sensing the rising tide of enthusiasm, the NWHP seized the opportunity to petition Congress in 1987 to extend the week-long celebration to an entire month, thus transforming it into Women's History Month. Consequently, U.S. Presidents have issued annual proclamations designating March as Women’s History Month and as a time to reflect on the invaluable role that women have played in shaping our society.
Women's History Month has witnessed and celebrated numerous milestones and achievements within women's history. Take, for example, Janet Reno's appointment in 1993 as the first female U.S. Attorney General, which signified a major step forward in dismantling barriers for women in the legal profession.
Similarly, the signing of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 expanded healthcare access for women nationwide. These events, among countless others, demonstrate the progress made in recognizing and championing women's rights and accomplishments.
The National Women's History Alliance selects a different theme for Women's History Month each year. In the past, themes have focused on "Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet" and "Celebrating Women in STEM." For 2020 and 2021, the theme is "Valiant Women of the Vote," which acknowledges the fight for women's suffrage. 2023 the theme will be "Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories."
Despite some improvements, females still encounter substantial challenges, such as unequal pay, insufficient representation in top positions, and violence based on gender. Tackling these issues is crucial for enabling women to fully participate in society and realize their potential, ultimately benefiting their communities and the world.
A particularly critical challenge for women is the ongoing gender pay gap. Unfortunately, women worldwide receive lower pay than their male colleagues for carrying out identical job responsibilities3. This unfair practice perpetuates a cycle of financial disadvantage, limiting women's access to resources, education, and opportunities, which only widens existing inequalities.
Another pressing concern continues to be the underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions, especially in politics and STEM fields. This imbalance results in a lack of diverse perspectives and experiences, impeding progress toward gender equality and negatively affecting the development of policies and solutions tailored to women's unique needs.
Gender-based violence continues to be a prevalent problem worldwide, with numerous women experiencing physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Violence against women harms their physical and mental health and creates a culture of fear and victimization. This limits women's ability to participate in public life and assert their rights.
To address this issue, governments, organizations, and individuals must come together to ensure equal opportunities for women to thrive in all aspects of society.
Read more: Equality and diversity facts.
Organizations and governments worldwide are joining forces to make a meaningful impact on women's rights and gender equality. Take, for example, the United Nations Women's HeForShe campaign, an inspiring global effort that enlists men and boys to become advocates for gender equality.
The annual International Women's Day, held on March 8th, is another powerful force for change. This worldwide celebration recognizes women's accomplishments and raises awareness of the need for gender parity.
Countries across the globe participate by hosting local events, launching campaigns, and offering educational programs. In 2021, the #ChooseToChallenge campaign became a rallying cry for individuals and organizations to call out gender bias and inequality, sparking meaningful discussions worldwide.
At the heart of progress are local grassroots initiatives, such as Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of over 1,000 organizations committed to ending child marriage.
Grassroots efforts like these help shape policies, dispel harmful myths and raise awareness of the detrimental effects of child marriage.
A hands-on approach to participating in the celebrations around Women's History Month includes options to attend local events such as workshops, panel discussions, and exhibits.
Additionally, spreading the word on social media with hashtags like #WomensHistoryMonth, #HerStory, and #WomenEmpowerment raises awareness and encourages others to join the conversation. For inspiration, check out our equality and diversity quotes.
Education lies at the heart of supporting Women's History Month. Why not start by organizing a book club or discussion group focused on exploring works penned by women authors or those that delve into women's history? Engaging in discourse about women's rights, accomplishments, and obstacles throughout history can lead to thought-provoking conversations.
You can also volunteer at community organizations championing women's empowerment, such as girls' education initiatives or advocacy groups. Your time and skills can also make a significant difference to women’s organizations that rely on volunteer help and support in the ongoing quest for gender equality while celebrating women throughout March and beyond.
Raising funds can be yet another impactful means of contributing to the cause. Consider supporting non-profit organizations at the forefront of promoting women's rights, education, and empowerment. As you involve your friends, family, and colleagues in conversations about this annual observance's significance. Conversations can encourage and inspire them to join the movement and champion gender equality.
This month-long observance is more than just a celebration. It's a powerful reminder of women's tenacity, resilience, and impact throughout history.
Building a more equitable future means actively working to empower women2, raising awareness of their accomplishments, and championing their rights. We can inspire a new generation of pioneers by remembering the suffragists who fought for women's voting rights. Or celebrate those who broke into male-dominated fields.
Now is the time to seize this opportunity to become a steadfast ally, uplift women's narratives, and contribute to the positive change Women's History Month is designed to achieve.
Women's History Month is celebrated in the month of March every year.
Women's History Month was first celebrated in 1987 after the U.S. Congress passed a resolution declaring March as Women's History Month.
Women's History Month is important because it recognizes and celebrates the contributions of women in history and contemporary society and promotes gender equality and women's rights.
You can participate in Women's History Month by attending events, learning about women's history, sharing stories of influential women, supporting women-owned businesses, and advocating for women's rights.
Some famous women in history include Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Malala Yousafzai, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Jewkes, R., Flood, M., & Lang, J. (2015). From work with men and boys to changes of social norms and reduction of inequities in gender relations: a conceptual shift in prevention of violence against women and girls. The Lancet, 385(9977), 1580-1589.
Ridgeway, C. L. (2011). Framed by gender: How gender inequality persists in the modern world. Oxford University Press.
A grand gender convergence: Its last chapter. Goldin, C. (2014). The American Economic Review, 104(4), 1091-1119.
World Economic Forum. (2020). Global Gender Gap Report 2020.