The female faces of leadership — past, present, future

The female faces of leadership — past, present, future

March is the month to reflect on women’s formidable contributions to keeping the world moving forward

SAXTONS RIVER — March is Women's History Month. What better time to honor the women - contemporary or not, familiar or unknown - who influence the worlds in which they live(d)?

Even in ancient times, examples abound. Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Egypt, was a favorite of Julius Caesar's. Another Cleopatra was a Syrian queen who claimed power when her husband died. Hatshepsut also ruled Egypt, as did Nefertiti.

The Vietnamese Trung sisters led the first national uprising against Chinese conquerors in 40 A.D. Then there were the famed Amazon women, and later, women like Grace O'Malley, chieftain of the Ó Máille clan, who challenged 16th-century politics in England and Ireland. And we all revere Joan of Arc for her role during the Hundred Years' War.

Not all heroic women have literally been warriors, queens, or saints.

Mary Wollstonecraft was a symbolic warrior when she published The Vindication of the Rights of Women in England in 1792, asking that women have “[power] over themselves.”

The Grimké sisters were warriors when they stumped for women's suffrage and abolition of slavery in the mid-1800s, along with multitudes of other women, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

In 1872, America's first female stockbroker, Victoria Woodhull, had the temerity to run for president. Lawyer Belva Ann Lockwood ran twice, in 1884 and 1888.

Ten years later, social activist Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote her pioneering book Women and Economics, a scathing treatise about women's dependence on men and marriage for survival and sexual legitimacy.

In the early 20th century, Emmeline Pankhurst called for militant action to secure women's suffrage in England, leading the way for Alice Paul, founder of the National Woman's Party and nemesis of Woodrow Wilson, as her “Sentinels of Liberty” picketed the White House for women's right to vote. Many brave women were jailed, brutalized, force fed, and threatened with psychiatric incarceration. But they carried on, forcing Wilson to support suffrage when their treatment was publicized.

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These women - foremothers of today's female activists, advocates, and educators - had spoken truth to power. Their work led to the vibrant and courageous female leadership across all sectors of society in the U.S. and elsewhere that continues today.

One example of that leadership is Jacinda Ardern, the world's youngest female head of state when she became prime minister of New Zealand in 2017 at age 37. Under her leadership, New Zealand has focused on issues like child poverty, housing, and social inequality. Ardern was recognized globally in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attack in 2019 that led to strict gun legislation.

Finland's Sanna Marin, leader of the Social Democratic Party, is 34 years old, making her now the youngest sitting prime minister in the world. Formerly a transport minister, she now oversees a governing coalition of five parties - all headed by women under age 35.

Iceland also has a female prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, a strong supporter of the country's Left-Green Movement. At 44 years old, she is the second woman to hold the position. Her priorities are the environment, health, and education. She hopes to make Iceland carbon neutral by 2040.

Closer to home, it now seems that no matter who wins the November election, the inevitability of having a woman president in the U.S. someday is not in question. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar were top tier candidates. If not this year, perhaps one of the “Squad” - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, or Rashida Tlaib - may find herself on a future ticket. And don't rule out Stacey Abrams, who nearly made Governor of Georgia and works tirelessly for voting rights.

Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Omar and Tlaib are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, and Pressley is the first Black congresswoman to represent Massachusetts.

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It isn't only female political leaders we should remember and recognize. Women thrive in the sciences, education, technology, communications, and other sectors as well.

From Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the U.S. to receive an M.D. in 1849, to Cecilia Payne, the first person to earn a doctorate in astronomy from Radcliffe College at Harvard University and the one who answered the question “What are stars made of?” in 1925, to Katherine Johnson of Hidden Figures fame, and astronaut Sally Ride, who became the first American woman in space in 1983, women have been pioneers.

Women have also excelled as business leaders, experts in various trades, academic visionaries, media specialists, and more.

And now we see them emerging as social justice and human rights activists across the globe, from education advocate Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, climate change activist Greta Thunberg, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year, and Emma González, a leader in the fight to stop gun violence who has worked with other youth leaders from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., to put a measurable dent in the National Rifle Association.

Behind each of these young women are multitudes more all over the world, raising awareness about critical issues, educating policymakers, organizing effectively, and mobilizing mightily for social change in their communities and countries.

We should honor them all, along with their pioneering role models, who through the ages have had the courage, skill, and tenacity to keep the world moving forward - even in its darkest days.

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