by Jo Allen
Women’s History Month is a legally recognized international commemoration of women’s achievements in history, economy, and society. It has been observed annually in March in the United States since 1987. Iowa State Student Government sponsored the celebration this year by hosting a week of online, in-person, or hybrid events. Working with women all across the globe, this event allowed for an intersectional and cross-national approach to the topics discussed.
Anna Olson, senior director of communications in Student Government, came up with the Women’s Week event in hopes to uplift and empower women everywhere. After reaching out to Eliana Crabb, the director of outreach, the two women got to work on providing an inclusive experience for anyone who attended.
“Eliana and I thought it was important to have panels that could speak on diversity and inclusion, gender violence, international perspectives and other such topics involving women’s rights in order to provide a more intersectional approach to the conference,” Olson stated in an article with the Iowa State Daily.
The history of celebrating Women’s Week at Iowa State has been around for over 45 years. Former director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, Dianne Bystrom, served at Iowa State University from 1996 to 2018. Throughout her time at Iowa State, she got to see the uprising of feminist discourse help propel the celebration of women.
“From a historical perspective, such celebrations of women grew out of the women’s rights movement in the 1970s, when Women’s Centers and Women’s Studies Programs were being created at colleges and universities. Celebrations grew as Congress passed legislation in 1981 requesting the President to proclaim the week beginning on March 7, 1982, as ‘Women’s History Week’,” Bystrom said.
Every president of the United States has declared March to be “Women’s History Month” every year since 1995. The proclamations encourage all Americans to recognize and honor women’s past and present contributions to the nation.
Previous students and faculty at Iowa State recall acclaimed women visiting to speak in the past. Pat Miller, an alumna who attend in 1975 and a retired director from the lectures program, remembers taking her toddler to a Germaine Greer session.
“Other highlights are Jane Fonda in 1979, Gloria Steinem for the first time in 1984, and Angela Davis in 1990, all as part of that series,” Miller said.
This year, Olson and Crabb were able to get a variety of speakers for the event such as local politicians, Women and Gender Studies professors, and international voices as well. Gloria Allred, a women’s rights attorney known for taking high-profile cases involving the protection of women’s rights, was also one of the keynote speakers this year. The panels focused on issues prevalent in women’s lives such as violence on women and women’s health, diversity and inclusion, and international perspectives on women’s rights.
These panel discussions allowed for a conversation about the diverse experiences of women at Iowa State, throughout Iowa, and across the globe. Bringing attention to the stories of women around us is key to understanding the empowerment of women and the fight for gender equity.