Essay: A time to celebrate women’s accomplishments — and advocate for gender justice

“In addition to celebrating past and current achievements, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to rally around important gender justice issues of our time.”

Christine Monska, Women’s Fund SouthCoast

The below essay was written by Women’s Fund of SouthCoast Executive Director Christine Monska, and first appeared in the New Bedford Light news outlet.

When I was a girl I dreamed that I could become just like the amazing women I read about in my books. I spent countless hours in my small town library wishing, hoping, dreaming that I could be something that I only witnessed on the pages of the carefully selected books I delved into. I wanted to be just like Eleanor Roosevelt, Shirley Chisholm, Frida Kahlo, and so many others.

The pages were my escape. They were my refuge from a world where I was not expected to go to college, one day become a CEO, or lead much of anything in part, because I was a girl. Each of the women leaders I read about played a key role in my career trajectory that led me to where I am today. I am proud to work alongside leaders on the SouthCoast and beyond to advocate for gender equity.
On International Women’s Day, we have the opportunity to celebrate all of the exciting work we are collectively doing around the world. This year’s theme is “inspire inclusion” where we are asked to “imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.” That’s the world we are building together, one block at a time.

For the very first time, our state is being led by women — Gov. Maura Healey and Lt Gov. Kim Driscoll, who are leading a more inclusive state for all. Locally, we have a significant amount of inspiring women who are leading change. I’m honored to work alongside them at the Women’s Fund and in the greater community.

This year in particular, I want to highlight the leadership of our Board Chair Carmen Amaral, who recently ran for New Bedford City Council and was named a 2024 Woman of Distinction by the YWCA SEMA and our board member, Melissa Costa, who sits on the city’s School Committee. We do not have enough women in leadership roles in almost every sector — which certainly does not “inspire inclusion.” We are proud to collaborate with the women who lead Elect SouthCoast, YWCA SEMA, Leadership SouthCoast, CEDC/Mujeres Victoriosas, United Neighbors of Fall River, Coalition for Social Justice Education Fund, T.R.U.E Diversity and many others to provide women and gender expansive people with the tools and empowerment to run for office or advocate for policies that truly inspire inclusion.

Our history is being reshaped, and in some cases rewritten, by many inspiring women in New Bedford. Recently, the YWCA opened the Yvonne Drayton House, which commemorates the lifetime achievement of our esteemed board member. Named after our founder, the Bettina Borders Archive was launched at UMASS Dartmouth, and our grantee partner, Fishing Heritage Center, is collecting HERstories from aging women in the fishing industry. They will showcase the project on March 14. I invite all to join us for AHA! Night’s “Women’s Work,” also on March 14 at 5 p.m., where the Women’s Fund, YWCA SEMA, Our Sisters’ School, and the Women’s Center will have the Women’s History Timeline displayed with fun activities and resources for the whole family.

In addition to celebrating past and current achievements, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to rally around important gender justice issues of our time. We have significant work to do. The SouthCoast remains an abortion desert for those seeking in-clinic abortions. Health Imperatives just started offering medication abortions in July, which is a huge step towards equity. Girls and other menstruators are still being sent home from school because they don’t have access to menstrual products. Parents are struggling to afford child care, which often causes women to stay home instead of work, further exacerbating the gender pay gap. Black and Brown women are at least three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. There is an attack on our autonomy of our own bodies, and now embryos. We have work to do, and we are not done. We won’t be silent.

We believe that every girl and gender expansive youth should have the right to pursue a life filled with happiness, rest, and have all the opportunities to thrive. They should see women all around them who are lifting as they climb. That’s why in 2024 the Women’s Fund will launch our Young Women’s Initiative, a national project stemming from the former White House Council on Women and Girls and in partnership with over 10 other Women’s Funds across the country.

I thank all the wise women (and men) who helped me step into my own power to lead with purpose so that all girls see empowered women around them that inspire inclusion.

Christine Monska is the executive director of the Women’s Fund SouthCoast and commissioner on the state-wide Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, where she serves as secretary and chair of the Girls Empowerment and Leadership Initiative.