Why Women’s History Month Still Matters

Women’s History Month is an internationally recognized event created to honor women’s contributions to historical and contemporary society. It is celebrated every March annually in the United States. Before there was a whole month, the U.S. honored International Women’s Day on March 8th. This date marked the 1908 garment worker’s strikes in New York when thousands of women marched for economic rights. We still observe this date today. 

Activists who helped conceive Women’s History Week saw the need to address the written and social American history that had largely ignored women’s contributions. Before the 1970s, women’s history was nonexistent in the national school curriculum. To remedy the exclusion of women’s history, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women set to revise the school curriculum and initiated a “Women’s History Week” in 1978 that corresponded with International Women’s Day, which the U.N. had begun officially acknowledging in 1975. At the National Women’s History Project’s request, in 1987, the U.S. Congress declared the entire month of March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. 

Today, we may feel there is less of a need to distinguish the significance of women’s contributions specifically. However, going beyond honoring our ancestors and feminist achievements, Women’s History Month serves as a reminder of the need to reshape society to increase gender equality continually. Worldwide, women are still subject to attitudes and practices that devalue them and render them invisible. Women still experience inequality in regards to the labor market, political representation, health, education, wealth, gender violence, etc.

In 2019, 55 million full-time working women earned an estimated $545.7 billion less than their male counterparts (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019). An even larger consideration is the cumulative impact of the gender wage gap has on women of color, particularly for Black women (Frye, 2019). According to the U.S. Census, in 2019 Black women were paid 63% of what white men were paid. In other words, on average, it would take a Black woman 19 months to make the same income a white man makes in 12 months. Historical and contemporary social injustices intertwine to produce the gender pay gap that Black women experience. Black women are negatively impacted by being positioned at the intersection of sexism and racism that preserves racial and gender wealth gaps. Black families also experience a wealth, i.e., total assets minus debts, gap compared to white families. In 2013, the median white household had 13 times the wealth of the median Black household, so that the median white household had about $134,000 to the median Black household’s $11,000 in wealth. There is also occupational sex segregation which leads to Black women being overrepresented in low-paying jobs and underrepresented in high-paying jobs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019)

This is a critical year to consider gender research as the COVID-19 pandemic is furthering the gender inequality gap. As schools close, the gains young girls have made in education over the last 25 years are at risk (UNICEF, 2020). As the COVID-19 pandemic acerbates economic and social stressors, we see an increase in psychological, physical, and sexual violence directed at young children and women (World Health Organization, 2020). Additionally, COVID-19 has had more significant negative impacts on working mothers and low-wage women. A recent survey found that 1 out of 4 women who became unemployed during the pandemic reported the job loss was due to a lack of childcare; this was twice the rate of men surveyed (Bateman & Ross, 2020). Without proper safety nets and acknowledging gender inequalities in the U.S. economy that rely on exploiting female labor, we will not see true gender equality.

We must work to counter the regressive effects of COVID-19. Gender inequality has negative impacts on global development. We must continue to celebrate March’s Women’s History Month because it allows us to look to the past to celebrate the gains made so far and inspire the work yet to be done. We salute the exceptional women who have fought for women’s rights, such as Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, etc., and the women who continue to fight on behalf of ALL women’s rights.