March is not only Women’s History Month but it incorporates some other important dates as well, like International Women’s Day.
The Women’s Department along with Ivana Saula, Canadian Territory Women’s and Human Rights laison and some other members, wanted to highlight these trailblazing women below.
Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture- Canada
Edith Monture accomplished many firsts in Canada. She was a Mohawk First World War veteran, the first Indigenous woman to become a registered nurse in Canada, and the first Indigenous woman to gain the right to vote in a Canadian federal election. She was also the first Indigenous woman from Canada to serve in the United States military.
Edith had to study in the US because most Canadian nursing programs excluded Indigenous women, and the federal Indian Act meant she would lose her Indian status if she attended post-secondary. (Canadian Women)
Swati Mohan- India
Not only the face of the Perseverance landing mission on Mars, she is also the guidance and controls operations lead for the Perseverance rover mission, NASA’s most sophisticated spacecraft to date. Swati studied mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University, followed by a master’s degree and doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Before her work on Perseverance, she was a part of space exploration efforts such as Cassini, a spacecraft that unearthed countless discoveries about Saturn, and GRAIL, a mission that sent twin spacecraft around the moon.
Her phrase and voice will mark history, as she announced to the world, “Touchdown confirmed. Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life.”
Allison Beck, United States
Allison Beck is a homegrown trailblazer in the labor movement. Allison began her labor career at the U.S. National Labor Relations Board and joined the IAM legal department in 1980. Her natural leadership skills and legal prowess lead to Allison quickly becoming the first Female General Counsel for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. She was, in fact, the first female to serve as General Counsel for any major industrial labor organization in the U.S. Allison proudly served the IAM for 30 years. And when she retired, she continued her tireless fight for working people at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). In 2014, Sister Beck was nominated by the President and confirmed by the US Senate to become the first female Director of the FMCS. There, Allison redesigned the delivery of FMCS conflict resolution services to government and industry, and also oversaw the growth of the agency’s international labor relations and conflict resolution training services, working with the U.S. Departments of State and Labor to help emerging market economies achieve workplace stability.
Luisa Capetillo, Puerto Rico
Luisa Capetillo was a Puerto Rican labor organizer and women’s rights activist. Her first interaction with labor unions came when she worked as a book reader at a tobacco company in Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War. She began writing opinion essays during that time, criticizing the labor conditions tobacco workers were exposed to and advocating for women’s rights. In “Mi opinion,” she wrote: “Oh you woman! who is capable and willing to spread the seed of justice; do not hesitate, do not fret, do not run away, go forward!” By 1905, Capetillo was a leader of the American Federation of Labor and traveled throughout Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, New York City, Florida, and Cuba. She organized tobacco workers everywhere she went. She is also known as being one of the first women to use men’s clothes publicly, for which she was arrested in both Puerto Rico and Cuba.
Malala Yousafzai- Pakistan
Not only the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, Malala is a global symbol of the fight for female education and advancement, and more broadly, human rights advocacy. After the Taliban occupied the region in which she lived, and banned many things, including schooling for girls, Malala continued going to school and advocated for girls’ rights to education. She even wrote a blog under a pseudonym detailing her life under the Taliban. Consequently, she became the target for the Taliban, suffering a vicious attack and attempted murder, which left her fighting for her life. But, this did not stop her.
She went on to establish a global non-profit organization whose goal is to ensure 12 years of free and obstructed education for girls. The organization is based in several countries, such as, Afghanistan, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. She also recently graduated from Oxford University.
Rose Omamo, Kenya
Rose Omamo from Kenya. She is the general secretary of the metal workers union in Kenya. She is more and more involved in IndustriALL work at regional and global level. On the gender aspect, she is involved in the campaign for the ratification of C190, and she is mentoring gender champion young trade unionists.
Wangari Mathai, Kenya
Kenyan politician and environmental activist, Wangari Maathai became the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, and the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She became a prominent environmental activist in Kenya working to end the devastation of Kenya’s forests and founding the Green Belt Movement. Her environmental activism quickly became a political one and her vocal opposition to the Kenyan government would be heard throughout the world.
Matthai’s outspokenness, academic and professional success was often considered subversive in her own country for stepping outside of traditional gender roles. Despite this, Wangari Maathai would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her “holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights, and women’s rights in particular.” (Source: Instagram- Feminist)
Juana Belén Gutiérrez Chavez (later de Mendoza) – Mexico
She was an advocate for worker’s in Mexico, Indigenous rights, and the founder of a group that advocated for better working conditions for women. She later became a teacher, translated numerous classic anarchist texts into Spanish, and contributed prolifically to revolutionary publications, and more mainstream ones on working class issues.
In 1907, she founded Las Hijas de Anáhuac, an anarchist-feminist group which agitated for strikes for better working conditions for women. She enthusiastically took part in the revolution which began in 1911, and was imprisoned for three years. Upon her release she set up a military unit in the army of Emiliano Zapata, who made her a colonel. She kept up her political activity advocating for rights for women, workers and Indigenous peoples until her death in 1942. (Source: Instagram- Working Class History)
Kanno Sugako- Japan
A Japanese feminist, Japan’s first female journalist, advocate of women’s rights, and author. Her life ended abruptly when she was executed for her part in a plot to assassinate the Emperor. She remains the only woman to be executed in Japan for treason. Sugako had admitted her guilt in the plot, as had her half-dozen or so co-conspirators.
In her prison diary she wrote: “Needless to say, I was prepared for the death sentence. My only concern day and night was to see as many of my… fellow defendants saved as possible… I am convinced our sacrifice is not in vain. It will bear fruit in the future. I am confident that because I firmly believe my death will serve a valuable purpose I will be able to maintain my self-respect until the last moment on the scaffold. I will be enveloped in the marvelously comforting thought that I am sacrificing myself for the cause. I believe I will be able to die a noble death without fear or anguish.”(Working Class History)
Mary Brooksbank- Scotland
Scottish mill worker and socialist Mary Brooksbank founded the Working Women Guild to fight for better health and social services, and was active in organizing women workers on the railways. She was imprisoned three times in her life for her activities, which she continued until her death aged 82. ( Working Class History)
Tang Qunying- China
Chinese revolutionary and women’s rights advocate, born in Hunan. She was the first woman member of the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance, fighting for women’s suffrage as well as helping to overthrow the ruling dynasty in China. (Working Class History)
Sojourner Truth- United States of America
Pioneering feminist, Black emancipationist, preacher and poet who was born into slavery, but would later escape with the help of an abolitionist family. After she moved to New York City she became a charismatic preacher, helping enslaved people escape. She was a passionate advocate for abolitionism, and for women’s rights, including women’s suffrage. During the civil war, Truth assisted the Union side, and after the war she helped people formerly enslaved in the South build new lives, often as wage workers. Truth remained active until the end of her long life, spending time in her later years campaigning for land redistribution to formally enslaved people – which was famously promised as “40 acres and a mule”, but was never delivered. (Source: Working Class History)
Transito Amaguana- Ecuador
Kichwa Indigenous rights activist was born in Ecuador to a family of day labourers on a hacienda. She began working on the land herself at the age of seven. Her experience inspired her to become involved in community, socialist and Indigenous organizing. She took part in an agricultural workers strike in Olmedo in 1931, after which government forces destroyed her home and forced her into hiding for the next 15 years. With the help of Dolores Cacuango she co-founded the Indigenous Ecuadorian Federation. She remained active until her death just months shy of her 100th birthday.
Maria Cano- Colombia
Colombian socialist and women’s rights advocate María Cano, known as the “Flor del trabajo” (“Labour flower”). At the time, women in Colombia could not hold most jobs, participate in elections, or even spend their own money.
Cano was from a middle-class family, but came into contact with people of different backgrounds regularly at her local library, and began to support people living in poor neighbourhoods. At the age of 38 she became a socialist, and a leading activist, which made her the first woman political leader in the country. She toured widely, wrote texts and gave fiery speeches to huge crowds of mining, oil and banana workers. She was placed under police surveillance, repeatedly arrested and security forces occasionally opened fire to disperse her audiences. She continued her outreach work and strike solidarity until the end of her life in 1967.
Milunka Savic- Former Yugoslavia
Known as Serbia’s Mulan, she is also the most decorated woman in the history of warfare. During the Balkan War in 1912, her brother was called for service, but Milunka decided to take his place. It wasn’t until her 10th mission that her gender was discovered due to an injury. Her superiors found out that she was indeed a woman, and planned to transfer her to the nursing division. However, she refused, insisting she continue to fight as a soldier. Given her commitment and competencies, she was allowed to continue fighting and would go on to fight in the Second Balkan War and World War I. France bestowed upon her the Croix de Guerre and Legion d’Honneur, with a state pension, which she refused and decided to return to live in Serbia. Russia honored her with the Cross of St. George and Great Britain bestowed on her the Medal of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael.
Although she wasn’t allowed to fight during World War II, she organized an infirmary to give aid to the Partisans (The Yugoslavian Resistance Army), for which she was imprisoned by the Nazis, whom she escaped. After WWII, Milunka continued to make a difference, adopting children off the street, and helping educate others, until her death in 1972.
Fatima Al-Fihri- Tunisia
Fatima founded the first known university more than 1,000 years ago: the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco. Guinness World Records acknowledges it as the oldest existing and continually operating educational institution in the world.
In the early 9th century, Fatima’s family along with many other Arabic people, left Tunisia and immigrated to Fez, then, a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis. When her father died, Fatima and her sister inherited his fortune. The sisters then decided to invest the money in something that would benefit their local community.
In the beginning, the educational part of al-Qarawiyyin offered courses in religious instruction and the Qur’an, but its curriculum gradually expanded into Arabic grammar, mathematics, music, medicine and astronomy, and then began conferring degrees on its graduates.
The mosque became the largest in Africa, with a capacity of 22,000. Al-Qarawiyyin university is still operational, and include alumni like Fatima al- Kabbaj, one of its first female students, who later became the sole female member of the Moroccan Supreme Council of Religious Knowledge.
Hodan Nalayeh- Somalia
Hodan was born in Los Anod, Somalia in 1976 and died in her beloved country on July 12, 2019. She died in the Asasey Hotel attack in Kismayo, Somalia. She was pregnant at the time with her first child to her new husband, and was also a mother to two beautiful boys. She and her family migrated to Canada in the early 80’s in Alberta, but they eventually made their way to Toronto in 1992.
In September 2013, Nalayeh was appointed Vice President of Sales & Programming Development of Cameraworks Productions International’s Canadian operation based in Vaughn, Ontario. The company is a global, full-service and comprehensively-equipped video and television production facility focusing on pre- to post-production of business-to-business video assets.
Nalayeh served as the President of the Cultural Integration Agency, a full-service media firm specializing in the development, production, marketing and distribution of multicultural programs. In February 2014, the company partnered with Cameraworks Productions International to produce a new television format for cultural community programming. To this end, on March 1 Nalayeh began hosting the half-hour Somali community show Integration: Building a New Cultural Identity. She also served as an Executive Producer on the weekly Toronto program.
Besides media production and consultancy, Nalayeh was involved in voluntary and advocacy work for the Somali community. She founded the Somali Refugee Awareness Project, Nalayeh also worked closely with a number of non-profit organizations.
She was an inspiration to a whole nation, and the Somali diaspora, because she was a beautiful, bold, youth black community leader, accomplished single mother and the voice that resonated with so many people inspiring us not to give up, no matter the challenge. She was a personal inspiration to many women, because she took the time through face to face meetings and Social media to inspire all of those who were striving and working towards a brighter future for our children.
Her life and work are expected to be commemorated through renaming the Vaughn Secondary School after her, Holdan Nalayeh Secondary School.
Phoolbasan Bai Yadav- India
The Story of a Child Bride who has been Empowering Women. Phoolbasan Bai Yadav was born into a very poor family and herself had been a child bride, when her family married her off at age 10.
She began taking part in the activities of the self-help groups in the district and formed her own groups as well with the women in the districts. Using the groups as a way to collect only 2 rupees per person and establish ration shops she was able to distribute food to people that were very poor.
The organization has since grown to cover 12000 women self help groups with a reported total strength of over 200,000 members.
By collecting 2 rupees per person, the organization has accumulated 150 million rupees, equivalent to US$ 3 million.
The participating groups engage in activities such as health programs, education, sanitation and social reforms.
They have also set up livelihood earning programs such as sewing centres for women and campaign against child marriages.
She was able to achieve this by collecting only 2 rupees, showing that even a small gesture can make a big difference if we all join together.