Celebrating Inspirational Women

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Today, March 8, is International Women's Day.  On this day we focus on and celebrate women's achievements throughout history and across the world.  The first National Women's Day was observed on February 28, 1909 in the United States by the Socialist Party of America.  In 1910 the Socialist International observed a Women's Day in honor of women's rights and to build awareness and support for achieving universal suffrage for women.   One year later, on March 19, 1911, the first International Women's Day (IWD) was observed in Australia, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland.  Over one million women and men attended women's rights rallies on this day, demanding women's rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.  IWD continued to grow throughout the years and in 1975 the United Nations officially assigned March 8 as the IWD date and annually holds large-scale events honoring women's advancements and encouraging continued vigilance and action required to ensure global equality for women. Throughout history there have been so many inspiring women who have impacted the world in great ways.  It would not be possible for me to write about all these amazing women, but I would like to share with you some of my personal inspirations. Some you may have heard of, others you may not have and it would be my pleasure to introduce you to their amazing lives.

Gladys Aylward

I read about Gladys Aylward (1902-1970) when I was in grade 4 and have been inspired by her ever since.  At the age of 30, she left her home in London, England to assist an aging missionary in Yangcheng, China, the mountainous province of Shansi. Gladys soon became aware of the many unwanted children and her missions focus turned to taking care of them.  During this time, China was under attack from Japan so as she was attending the growing number of children left in her care, she also took care of the injured soldiers.  Over the years the number of children left in her care grew to more than 100 and she had also become involved in spying on the Japanese. After being warned of a bounty that was placed on her head by the Japanese, she was forced to relocate to a safer place.  Unable to travel by road, she took all of her children by foot over the mountains to the safer province of Sian (some 100 mile journey). After arriving in Sian, she collapsed having made the journey while suffering from typhus, pneumonia, a relapsing fever, malnutrition, and supreme exhaustion.  Although she did regain some of her strength, she never completely recovered.  Gladys continued her ministry until 1947 when she was forced to return to England after the Communist regime took over.  In 1958, Gladys Aylward moved to Taiwan where she began another orphanage and she remained there until she passed away in 1970.  Throughout all of her years, Gladys became known as 艾偉德 (ai wei deh; Virtuous One) by the Chinese that had grown to love and trust her.

Somaly Mam
I first learned about Somaly Mam in 2011 when I was doing some research on sex trafficking, and have , found her to an incredible inspiration.  Growing up in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime Mam was sold into sex slavery when she was twelve years old.  She eventually ended up in the Phnom Phen brothel where she had to endure being tortured and raped daily.  After being forced to watch her best friend being murdered, Mam finally escaped Cambodia with the help of a French aid worker.  Rather than hiding from her past, Somaly Mam returned to Cambodia after reaching adulthood to help girls who had not been able to escape.  She has begun the Afesip organization (acting for women in distressing situations) in 1996, rescuing girls ad women from brothels and helping them in their recovery.  In 2007, she began the Somaly Mam Foundation to raise awareness and fund recoveries for women and children in slavery.  Although she has suffered from depression as a result of the numerous threats from pimps and brothel owners, as well as her own daughter having been kidnapped and raped in retaliation for Mam's work, Mam continues to stand in her firm and fight against sex trafficking.

Queen Esther
Esther is one of my favorite women in the Bible and in history in general. Esther was originally a Jewish orphan raises by her cousin, Mordecai. Because of her beauty, she was chosen by Persian King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) to be his new queen. Soon after their marriage, Esther's cousin, Mordecai, overheard two guards plotting the assassination of the king. Mordecai warned Esther, who in turn warned the king and saved his life. Later, it became known to Esther that Haman, a prominent prince of the realm, was plotting to kill and extirpate all the Jews in the Persian realm. With prayer, faith, and courage, Esther stood before the king and against Haman, asking the king to save her people.  At this time, it was not customary for women to challenge a man, let alone a man of high rank.  Esther could have been cast out or put to death for her accusations against Haman and for making a request of the King.  Esther's actions are an inspiration, teaching women that it is important to stand up for our beliefs and for what is right even when it is difficult.

Mama Mary
Mama Mary is a wonderful woman who I know from Soshenguve, South Africa. Having been raised by humble means, she never had the opportunity to complete high school. At the age of twenty-one, she would see a teenage boy on the streets every day as she was walking home from work. One day she stopped and offered to give him food and a roof over his head if he agreed to go to school and help with the chores at home. The boy agreed and not long after, the same deal was made with several other teenagers living on the streets. At the time she only had a one room shack to live in. Later, when she had too many children to stay in the shack, she got a two bedroom home with the aid of the first boy (now grown and helping her financially) and some neighbors. Children and teens of all ages continued to come to mama Mary and she used an old truck trailer to house the boys while the girls slept in the house, three/four to a mattress. Now, years later, mama Mary has been honored by winning a "woman of the year" award. She cares for over 80 children, receiving help from grown children she helped, neighbors, and daily donations of milk and bread. I love mama Mary and to me, she is my present day Gladys Aylward. 

Aung San Suu Kyi
World politics is not really an area that I am all that I am all that informed about, though I do find myself reading political news articles every once in a while as I am reading up on other countries.  A couple of years ago I stumbled upon a CNN article, Aung San Suu Kyi: Peaceful Freedom Fighter that caught my attention. Since reading that article, I have found myself more aware of and interested in women involved in politics.  Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of the leader of Myanmar's struggle for independence, Aung San. In 1965, Aung San Suu Kyi moved to England to study at Oxford University.  While in England, she met her husband and they had two children.  In 1988, she left her family and returned to Myanmar to take care of her ailing mother.  While there, Suu Kyi became involved in pro-democracy demonstrations that later became known as the "8888 Uprising". She realized that she could not stand idle and remain indifferent to her country's struggles.  Suu Kyi quickly became the icon for the country's reform movement and became a co-founder of the National League for Democracy (NLD).  Over the course of twenty-one years she continuously campaigned to restore democracy and improve human rights in Myanmar. Throughout these years, Suu Kyi was continuously harassed by the military, and she was placed under house-arrest multiple times, and a law was passed denying her the right to run for presidency.  Her first house arrest resulted in an incredible 82% vote landslide in favor of the NLD  However the military government refused to accept defeat, claiming that the election had been rigged and they jailed hundreds of NLD members.  Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for this outstanding achievement. She did not personally receive it because she knew that if she were to leave the country, she would never be able to return.  This was a small sacrifice to make compared to her sacrifice several years later.  Her husband (still in England) was diagnosed with colon cancer and made multiple requests to see his wife, which were all rejected by the Myanmar government.  Knowing that she could not leave Myanmar if she wanted to continue helping her country, she was not able to see her husband before he passed away in March 1999. Suu Kyi was released from house-arrest in 2010 and she continues to fight for the democracy and rights of her country and holds a seat in parliament in Myanmar.  Now gearing up for the 2015 election, Suu Kyi and her supporters have been reported to be considering boycotting the election if the law preventing her from running for presidency is not changed.  It will be interesting to see what will happen and what more this incredible woman will achieve.

No comments:

Post a Comment