By Viet Tran
Let’s discuss the current world we live in – of the 195 countries, there are only 22 female leaders currently in power. If we delve further, in the United States women make up less than 20% of the 113th Congress (102 of 535). Why is it that in a global society in which females constitute roughly half the total population, women are underrepresented or marginalized? For thousands of years, women have impacted the course of history; however it has only been in the recent century that women have started to be recognized for their contributions.
The United States has had 44 consecutive male leaders. We are taught to familiarize ourselves with each President and his Vice President, but we are not as stringently made to focus on their female political counterparts – the First Ladies. We laud the achievements of prominent male athletes such as Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant but tend to prefer seeing women on the cover of Sports Illustrated rather than on the courts. If women are recognized for their leadership positions or accomplishments, we view them as cold, aggressive or downright intimidating.
It is 2014. Women have been changing the scope of the world by impacting the field of science, leading society in advanced technological innovations, changing the discourse of politics and more. There are countless women who should be recognized for how they have changed contemporary society. Move over Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. It is time to put a few others in the limelight.
In light of the upcoming Mother’s Day, most of these individuals listed below are also mothers in addition to being successful professionals and revolutionaries. The list below highlights a few women and mothers who I believe should be acknowledged for their achievements today.
Founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran, this Iranian lawyer has changed the scope of international affairs in the Middle East. Ebadi was not only the first ever woman judge in Iran but she was also the first Iranian and Muslim woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. She received the award in 2003 for her efforts in promoting democracy and human rights. Despite death threats, Ebadi continues to utilize her global recognition to campaign for human rights in Iran. The state of women’s rights still remains a concern in Iran, but her influence has prevailed across the Muslim world and her message for Muslim women out there is: “Keep on fighting.”
Aung San Suu Kyi
Suu Kyi is well recognized as an international figure standing for peace in the face of oppression. Her headstrong spirit has been compared to that of South African leader Nelson Mandela. She endured some form of detention for nearly two decades as a consequence of her efforts to change the political scope of the military-ruled Burma. In 2010, despite being a former political prisoner, she was sworn into parliament with the National League for Democracy, a previously unthinkable achievement given the political atmosphere. Even at 68 years old, she continues to fight for democracy and is a symbol of hope for many, proving that one individual with undivided passion for political justice can make a difference.
Wafaa El-Sadr is an Egyptian physician and a visionary in the field of global and public health. El-Sadr’s passion to eradicate HIV inspired the creation of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP), where she is currently the director. This organization has provided more than one million individuals with HIV access to various services such as life-saving antiretroviral therapy.
One of the technological innovations we all use religiously today is thanks to Marissa Mayer. At the start of her career, Mayer worked at Google. Her work with the company involved some of its most recognizable and successful products including Google Maps, Google Earth, Street View, Google News and Gmail. In addition to her pioneering work, she shattered gender barriers when she became Google’s first female engineer and later the CEO of Yahoo.
Afghanistan is a country with one of the most egregious atmospheres towards women and their human rights. In addition, given its history, Afghanistan is not an ideal place for a politician. Fawsia Koofi, a member of parliament and Vice President of the National Assembly, is both. Her decision to run as a presidential candidate in 2014 would have deemed her a revolutionary; however she missed the age cut-off of 40 years by months. Even with the considerable dangers she faces every day, she continues fight for women’s rights and encourages younger women to enter politics as well.
Johnson Sirleaf is an African icon. She was a headstrong dissident who spoke out against the Liberian military regime in 1985. Consequently she served 10 years in prison. When she returned in 2005 for the national election, her victory crowned her the first female elected head of state in Africa as well as the world’s first black female president.
Just last month, our nation’s first Latina and third female justice spoke out about affirmative action. Justice Sotomayor expressed a dissenting opinion on the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Michigan’s ban on race-based admission to its state universities. She stated that the decision “ignores the importance of diversity in institutions of higher education and reveals how little my colleagues understand about the reality of race in America.” Sotomayor not only stands as a beacon for social justice today but also as an icon for females and minorities in underrepresented areas such as politics.
Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid has defied existing conventions of architectural and urban design by experimentation with new spatial concepts for her creations. Hadid is the first and only woman ever to be a recipient of the highest honor in architecture, the prestigious Pritzker Prize. Some of her most prominent works are the BMW Central Building in Leipzig, the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinatti and the Hoenheim Nord Terminus in Strasbourg. Her projects across the world refute and give new definition to the gender charged word “man-made.” It should not be a surprise that we are now living in a world where some of the greatest architectural wonders are created by female visionaries.
Saujani is on this list because she stands as a role model for an important demographic group in the United States – first generation individuals. Her parents were expelled from Uganda in the early 1970s by Idi Amin. Subsequently, they moved to the states for the promise of freedom and boundless opportunities. As the daughter of refugees, Saujani inhered an interest in politics and desired to be a voice that could speak about economic opportunity for all Americans. In 2010, she went on to become the first Indian-American woman to run for office in New York’s 14th Congressional District as a Democrat and community organizer. More recently, in 2012 she founded Girls Who Code, a non-profit organization with a mission to assist underprivileged girls by giving them resources and skills to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Her vision is one we should all grasp – “we don’t even know what the world would look like if we give girls the leverage and the power of technology – the ideas that they come with are so different, and they are centered on changing the world.”
Minhtam Thi Tran
The unconditional love of a mother is unparalleled and immeasurable. What this human being is willing to do for her loved ones is unquestionably one of the greatest acts of this world, yet at times we carry through our lives unaware that the masterpiece of a figure standing before us deserves much more recognition than given.
For my mother and all others out there – in all that they do and continue to do. This is a piece for my mother, Minhtam.
She is the girl that grew up among a group of seven boys.
She is the child that walked miles to attend the nearest public school.
She is the single daughter that received the highest education.
She is the female professional that held the most respected position in her field.
She is the educator that persevered through a war-torn country.
She is the widow that made the most difficult decision to leave her own country.
She is the immigrant carrying an infant son to live in a compacted home.
She is the silent American muted by her poor English skills.
She is the diligent baker, seamstress, babysitter, to make days end.
She is the last of the parents to say goodbye to her child on the first day of pre-school, but the first to standing at the gate to pick him/her up.
She is avid reader at the library whose checked out book titles consist of “How to write in cursive,” “Geometry 101,” “Science Projects for Beginners.”
She is the “worst” tennis enthusiast, but the biggest fan of one of the team’s player.
She is the make-up artist, the photographer and the videographer at your high school graduation.
She is the technologist that searches on Google, “how much UCSD cost,” “jobs in San Diego” and “what is loan.”
She is the insomniac that stays up until 3AM with you because you have a final tomorrow and offers, “I make coffee for you? How about some fried rice? Anything you want.”
She is the diamond among the crowd of people as you walk across the stage for your college diploma – you are smiling and she is crying.
And lastly, and best of all, through all the sacrifices she has made, the roles that she has taken, she simply does the best in being one incredible individual – your mother.
Cảm ơn mẹ, con thương mẹ rất nhiều.
Decades ago, the idea that a woman could step outside their societal household duties and have a professional career was outlandish. However, these women sought to challenge the scope of societal expectations. They changed the face of the world not only by shattering gender standards, but also by succeeding in the respective fields they each chose to pursue. You indeed can be a CEO, a politician, or even president of a nation and still be a mother.
Women are as capable as any other individuals, and they should not be defined by the fact that they do or do not have children. For hundreds of years, men have been fathers and workers but we do not question that societal order. Both men and women are human beings and thus are both endowed with the same rights to be educated, to raise families, to pursue what they desire and succeed. Celebrate women’s accomplishments as mothers, and celebrate women’s accomplishments as professionals, but do not confine them to either role.
The characteristics necessary for achievements are not based on parental status, sexual orientation, race, religious affiliation and most definitely not gender. What it takes is an undivided passion of pursuit, unwavering dedication and an incontrovertible sense of individuality that no one can take from you. Women are indeed changing the scope of contemporary society, so let us take a moment to recognize their accomplishments.
Image by Asia Society