Women Leading Today

From March issue African American Point of View

by: Lora Wondolowski

I have to say that I was dreading writing an article for Women’s History Month this year.  Regardless of your political leanings it was a bruising year for women.  We witnessed a barrage of anti-female sentiments from political candidates and voters throughout the year.  Sexual assault crisis hotlines experienced a 30-40% increase in calls this fall.  Women’s aspirations of seeing a woman break the highest glass ceiling were dashed.  How do women heal and lead?

In 1912 the women’s suffrage movement was frustrated with their lack of progress after years of advocating for the vote.  Alice Paul and Lucy Burns proposed an “audacious” and massive march on Washington to coincide with Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.  Their group got to work organizing this massive march.  Their march in March of 1913 drew 8,000 marchers including Helen Keller, Nellie Bly, and Ida Wells and a half-million spectators. Additionally, a group hiked in the cold from New York to the march in Washington, covering 234 miles in 17 days!    This was a huge display at the time that helped the movement continue and eventually win the vote in 1919.

Earlier in January of this year, two women leaders took the world by surprise organizing the largest protest march ever. More than a half-million marchers descended on DC while millions of others joined affinity marches around the world.  The march in my little Greenfield, MA drew roughly 2,500 people.  It was in inspiring show of women’s leadership and perseverance around the world.

The other stand out at the event was the sea of pink kitty hats worn by most of the marchers.  Jayna Zwiman and Krista Shuh designed the hat’s pattern with the owner of The Little Knittery in LA.  They made the pattern available for free online and organized hundreds of knit-alongs around the country.  Craft stores and knitting shops around the country reported a shortage of pink yarn in the weeks leading up to the march.

In LPV we have been discussing the leadership capacity of advocacy.  Advocacy is an important skill for leaders—it is the act of giving voice to your intentions.  Leaders need to be advocates in order to engage others in their vision.  An advocate should be clear, compelling, credible, and committed.  The message of the women’s march was “women’s rights are human rights.”  This was a clear, compelling message from committed leaders that engaged others.

The Women’s March showed the world that women’s leadership has not gone away in the face of an atmosphere that was increasingly hostile to women and our rights.  The spirit of the early suffragists is alive in a new generation of women leaders who are advocating for their basic rights and dignity in a hostile and divided world.  Their leadership is giving hope to many that despite steps backwards, new women leaders have stepped up to make a difference.