In celebration of International Women’s Day, I want to share a personal story about a woman that has given much back to the world as well as talk about how each one of us can do something to change the future for women and girls.
My story starts with the woman in my life who taught me important lessons about my role and responsibility as a women in the 21st century and how to become a woman that gives back to the world.
I am the sixth of eight children born in Baltimore, Maryland, fifth daughter of Mary Ellen and Frank Gunther. My parents had a very traditional marriage except for the fact that it existed between two extraordinary people who worked in partnership as equals, nurturing the best in each other and sharing a commitment to service. My mother had an early career as a tea room model and teacher until she married and started having children. We came one after the other, the first two being Irish twins, less than a year apart. My mother was raising eight children but also remained deeply committed to her volunteer work in the community. She and my father would sit at the ends of our dinner table each night with four children down each side sharing the news from their daily work on community boards, their civic activities or fundraising efforts.
My father ran the family hardware business that enabled him to support the family but also to give back to the community, which was his real work.
The eight of us listened off and on as we vied for the last roll in the basket or tried to hide our vegetables. I remember one night when they were discussing the issue of drugs in downtown Baltimore and efforts to stop pushers from reaching schools. My little brother Gregory, who was in kindergarten, declared “we have a pusher at school!” My parents stopped their conversation and looked at Gregory in dismay who said “yea, every time we are in line he pushes us and it makes me really mad”.
Our lives were meshed into their daily lives of service each night at the dinner table and when we helped with volunteer projects. Most the time we didn’t fully understand the conversation but they were imprinting us with their character and example of giving back to the world.
When I was a girl my mother would volunteer for the League of Women Voters at the annual flower mart. I didn’t really remember much about the cause but she would bring me home a coffee can of Lilly of the valley. At 83 she is still supporting the League of Women Voters. When there was an election, my mother would march all of us down like a line of ducks to the pumping station in our neighborhood where she would cast her vote. She would take all of us in behind the curtain of the voting booth and we would each get to pull a lever. Something important was being taught, though I was not really aware of it at the time. I cringe now to think of the low voter turn-out in our communities and that not every citizen of this country exercises this responsibility. Women must especially vote and get other to the polls if we are to advance in our representation.
We hosted parties at our house for people running for local office. We went with my mom to the State House on Maryland Day to celebrate the founding of Maryland. She took us to the Maryland Historical Society to see the original manuscript of the Star Spangled Banner and to Fort McHenry. She was my Girl Scout leader. Dad’s job was to help us sell the cookies at his hardware store and throughout the neighborhood; every year we were at the top of the sales chart. Mom and Dad were the first husband and wife team to co-chair a major United Way Campaign and Mom was the first women to chair the campaign herself the following year. She went up in a telephone truck to hang campaign street banners with my baby brother on her hip. She took us to the library and became a champion of the Enoch Pratt Free Library System from which has now emerged Carla Hayden, President Obama’s nominee for Librarian of Congress who is the first woman and first African American to be nominated to the position. My mom was awarded the Silver Beaver for her volunteer service by the Boy Scouts, the first woman to receive this honor.
She raised eight unique children, each with their own personalities and talents which she allowed space and guidance to develop. For each of our 13th birthdays, she took us individually for a day alone with her to New York. She went with me when I bought my menorah as my keepsake from the trip which I continue to light each year alongside my Christmas tree. She never questioned my choice but celebrated the openness of my interest in other cultures and religions. I was taught that I was just a part of a global society and continuum of humanity that started before me and will remain long after. I could go on and on but this is not just a tribute to my mother but rather a tale of how she taught me about my role and responsibility in the world.
My mother taught me that women must teach their children generosity and empathy for others, that civic engagement is a responsibility that must be met with commitment, that we must be open to different experiences, people, places and cultures. We should revere our history and that of others for it lights the way for our future and enriches our present.
As I have matured I have also come to recognize that my experience was just that, my very lucky experience. Everyone’s experience, filters and references are different, but we all share some things. We all have a woman somewhere in our life or experience that has given something to us and the world.
Take a moment and remember a woman in your life that taught you something important about the way you should be in the world. Someone you think of as an extraordinary women who has made a difference in your life or the life of your community. Think of a mother, a teacher, a civic leader, a coach, a mentor, an artist or musician, a friend, a daughter, a spiritual guide, someone who inspires you and may have contributed to who you are today.
Hold that woman in your head and your heart today and honor her on this international woman’s day as we think about what this day is meant to represent.
International Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. International Women’s Day first emerged from the activities of labor movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe.
Since those early years, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.
International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
Many of the woman we celebrate and remember are well known like Mother Teresa, Gloria Steinem, Melinda Gates or Malala Yousafzai, but some we need to celebrate are those we are thinking of now in our hearts and heads or those we pass by daily without recognition who live in our neighborhoods and are mentoring the next generation, helping protect women’s rights, working on issues of human trafficking or domestic violence. They are women like my mother Mary Ellen. All of these women, famous or not, share a common desire to lift up society to be a place where all men and women thrive.
The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”.
UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon’s call to action for today is the following:
Let us devote solid funding, courageous advocacy and unbending political will to achieving gender equality around the world. There is no greater investment in our common future.”
“Worldwide, women continue to contribute to social, economic, cultural and political achievement and we have much to celebrate today. But progress towards gender parity has slowed in many places.
The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.
Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly – whether to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference, develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace bias. Each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity.
Globally, with individuals pledging to move from talk to purposeful action – and with men and women joining forces – we can collectively help women advance equal to their numbers and realize the limitless potential they offer economies the world over. We have urgent work to do. “
Remember the woman that you are holding in your head and your heart. Keep her in my mind as I ask you to commit to take action to accelerate gender parity.
Are you ready to accelerate gender parity?
Here is what we need to do:
1) Be a champion of diversity wherever and whenever you can. In your workplace, place of worship, community organizations, schools or social clubs, where you do business. Ask the questions about why women and girls are not better represented.
When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was asked how many women would be enough on the Supreme Court she replied “nine. Nine? Well there were nine men for a long, long time and no one said anything”
When I asked my brother-in-law about parity between men and women he said remember the book “Half the Sky”? If women represent half of the world they ought to fill half of the positions everywhere. I like his math!
2) Do not make assumptions of where talent or potential come from. Look to women from all walks of life and backgrounds to lift them up and support them. Think about how your unconscious bias may keep you from giving a girl or woman an opportunity.
3) Be a mentor to women and girls around you every day. Let them talk to you whether formally or informally. Offer them support and help build their self-awareness and confidence. Young women need someone to talk to, be that someone.
4) Be a sponsor, talk about and on behalf of the women and girls around you, give them access to networks and opportunities and sing their praises publicly. This happens for men and other networks and societies all the time but not necessarily for women and girls.
5) Studies conducted by the World Economic Forum and others confirm that even just the presence of women in leadership positions impacts positively on outcomes. Specifically, women in leadership are more likely to act in a bipartisan manner, are more likely to surface new ideas and bring new issues to the table for consideration; so please help more women decide to run for political and public sector leadership. We need more women in public life. And please make sure you and everyone you know votes!
Think about who has made it possible for you to rise to your potential?
How can you make it possible for others?
Adapted from http://www.internationalwomensday.com/
On this International Woman’s Day with your special person in your head and heart make a commitment that you will answer the United Nations call to work towards gender parity and lift one another up so that we all will live in a more just world, reap the benefits of all of our talents and build a better society for women and girls.
Happy International Women’s Day.
Excerpted from Maggie’s speech given at Liberty Bank’s 2016 International Women’s Day Celebration Breakfast Seminar.