I easily recognize my good fortune to be a professional woman living in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area in 2017.  I have the privilege of working as an executive with an organization (and cause) for which I have tremendous passion, raising a seventh-grade son (who  by all accounts is incredible) with the luxury of flexibility in my workplace that affords me the opportunity to spend time carpooling, helping with homework, vacationing during spring break and more.  When I take a step back to think about how different my opportunities are today than they would’ve been just 30-40 years ago, I am incredibly grateful for the tremendous amount of effort women contributed to the fight for gender equality.  Without these efforts, my life would be very different.

When I reflect upon the journey of the women who fought for gender equality during the past century, I have great admiration for their tireless efforts; specifically their clarity and fortitude.

I wonder how these women had the clarity to know that the cause they were pursuing required their dedicated and focused attention.  How did they persist without letting something cloud their vision on what they were trying to accomplish?  How did these women stay focused when they were the underdog from the start?  The propaganda around them was that women were weaker in all ways; including intelligence, security, and self-sufficiency.  Women were not providers; women were caretakers. At times along their journey, many, many women – nearly the majority – believed they were less able than men – in many ways.  It took clarity for these women to forge on and enlighten others along the way; including other women.

Thoughts and beliefs that are common in our society today; like voting rights for women, college for women; including medical and law school, and women in the workplace in executive positions once held by men were considered outlandish thoughts by many just decades ago.   This injustice was commonplace.  Women were not allowed access to education nor were they afforded the opportunity to work, if they chose.  This left women without financial independence and in a position of weakness.  Starting in a position of weakness and fighting for these rights while raising a family, tending to children and a home seems exhausting today.  Where did these women find the fortitude physically and emotionally? Where did they find the strength as they were judged by their preachers, their husbands, their families and their friends – peers in their communities? These women were often the minority fighting for justice.  How were they not afraid?  Where did they find the fortitude?

Sadly, we still have a lot of work ahead of us as we continue to push for gender equality in pay and opportunity for women in our country and around the world. This week, there is an example in my hometown.  On Wednesday, March 8, 2017, the school system, Alexandria City Public Schools, is closed for the day as a demonstration of the importance of women’s rights. The women in the school system have requested the day off as a demonstration of what the school system would look like without women. As a result, the school system had to close for the day.   Organized by the team behind the Women’s March on Washington, “A Day Without a Woman” is a strike for “equity, justice and the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people, through a one-day demonstration of economic solidarity.”  These women have clarity and focus that I admire.  They didn’t allow their focus to be distracted by what people think or how they would be judged.  They didn’t allow their focus to be distracted by the logistics of how the schools would need to stay open and have a skeleton staff to serve breakfast and attend to the families’ dependent on before and after school care.  They are standing up for social justice issues for women to continue to pursue gender equality and human rights – unwavering clarity.

As I contemplate the clarity and fortitude of these women, I am profoundly grateful for their efforts and I am filled with energy to make a commitment to find my clarity and fortitude in these issues so the girls of today and the women of future generations are living in a world of greater justice and equality for women.

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