Women’s History Month Spotlight

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on October 6, 2016. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Sarah Harley
March 26, 2021

As many may know, March marks Women’s History Month, a celebration of the achievements of women offering an opportunity to reflect on the world’s gender issues. The following are four of many women currently impacting world affairs.

Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green, born in 1982, was the second African American woman to receive a doctorate in physics from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2012. Orphaned at a young age, Green had a humble beginning to life. She became the first member of her family to attend college, graduating from Alabama A&M University, a historically black institution, with a Bachelor’s degree in physics and a minor in mathematics in 2003. Green is best known for her cancer research and, most notably, her development of a technique involving lasers that combat the deadly disease. According to NBC News, “Testing her treatment on mice was a success…  Dr. Green became the first person to successfully cure cancer using nanoparticles.” Now, Dr. Green aims to make cancer treatment more affordable. She recently created the Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation and received a 1.1 million dollar grant to continue her research in laser technology, championing STEM as an avenue for effective cancer treatment for all.

Anne Firth Murray, born in 1935, received a Bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1955 and a Master’s degree in health policy and administration from New York University in 1977. While in school, Murray became committed to supporting women’s rights. In 2006, she wrote Paradigm Found: Leading and Managing for Positive Change, and in 2008, she wrote From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice. This book draws on the perspectives of women from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds to support her thesis that women, in a diversity of environments, still suffer from gender inequality. She is the founder, CEO, and president of the Global Fund for Women, a leading non-governmental organization (NGO) that supports other women-led organizations. The organization works to fund movements working towards “a world where every woman and girl is strong, safe, powerful, and heard,” according to the foundation’s website. In addition, Murray is a Consulting Professor at Stanford University, teaching International Women’s Human Rights and Gender Studies. 

Nadya Okamoto is an entrepreneur born in 1998 in Portland, Oregon. Her interest in women’s health rights flourished when she wrote a high-school project on the subject. In 2018, she founded and became the executive director of the non-profit organization/movement PERIOD, which aims to address social stigmas surrounding menstruation and combat “period poverty,” or access to proper menstrual products. The organization has over 800 chapters around the globe. Okamoto describes PERIOD as “the largest youth-led nonprofit in women’s health.” In recent years, she has been recognized as one of People Magazine’s “Women Changing the World,” one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30,” one of Huffington Post’s “2020 Culture Shifter,” and one of Teen Vogue’s “21 under 21.” She is also a recipient of L’Oreal’s Women of Worth award, a National Leadership Academy fellow, and an ambassador of HERLead, a mentorship program for women entrepreneurs, among other recognitions. More recently, she launched her brand, August, which will begin selling sustainable menstrual products this spring. She will be a part of Harvard’s graduating class this year. 

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was born in South Africa in 1955. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in social science and education from the National University of Lesotho in 1980 and a Master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Cape Town in 2003. From a young age, Ngcuka worked to better the lives of the disadvantaged; as the youth director of the World Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in the 1980s, she supported women’s education efforts worldwide by founding the Young Women’s International Program. As Ngcucka’s dream of a better world matured, she became involved in politics. She took on a variety of roles, serving in South Africa’s Parliament as chair of the Public Service Portfolio Committee and deputy minister of the Department of Trade and Industry. Ngcuka even served as Deputy President of South Africa from 2005 to 2008, taking on land reform and poverty initiatives. In 2013, she was named the Executive Director of UN Women, an entity “dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.” She has been recently reelected to the position and is serving her second term. 

Women’s History Month reminds the world of the grit and tenacity of women throughout the ages. The legacy of these women and others will remain a light in the continued fight for gender equality worldwide.

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