Today is Valentine’s Day. Originally created to celebrate Saint Valentine,* today the holiday is most commonly recognized as a day to share feelings of romantic love. On this Valentine’s Day, I am slightly changing the meaning once again. Rather than recognizing feelings of romantic love, I propose we pay our respects, love and appreciation to those women who have paved the way before us and are now considered female trailblazers the world over.
When given the diary for her 13th birthday in 1942, Anne Frank would have never guessed that she would become the voice of the Holocaust. The Diary of a Young Girl (also known as The Diary of Anne Frank), Frank’s account of her experiences hiding from the Germans during World War II, describes in detail the discrimination, frustrations and fears felt by Frank as well as the entire Jewish population. Translated into more than 70 languages, Frank’s diary now serves as a daily reminder of the importance of protecting human rights and equality around the world.
Aung San Suu Kyi
One of the foremost leaders in the fight for democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi initiated a nonviolent movement to achieve human rights and democracy in Burma in the late 1988. Quickly thereafter, Burmese political leaders noticed Suu Kyi’s efforts and placed her under house arrest for nearly six years. Only emboldening her vision and drawing international support, Suu Kyi has become known as one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners and has fearlessly continued her fight for a democratic Burma, spending almost 15 years under house arrest from 1989 to 2010.
Author of the 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan is commonly recognized as initiating the second women’s rights movement in America. Still extremely relevant today, the main message of The Feminine Mystique explores the idea that women can find personal fulfillment outside traditional family roles. Originally from Peoria, Illinois (my hometown!), Friedan founded and became the first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), an organization aimed at establishing equality for all woman.
Coco Chanel, French founder of the famed Chanel fashion line, is credited for liberating women from corsets’ harsh physical constraints by popularizing a sleek, more comfortable style. Giving women the opportunity to enjoy wearing their clothes, Chanel paired simple, yet sophisticated fashion with great accessories. Especially famous for introducing the little black dress, Chanel suit, Chanel #5 perfume, 2.55 handbag, and suntans, Chanel’s influence continues to permeate through modern day society.
Lucretia Mott & Elizabeth Cady Stanton
As a woman, have you ever voted in an election? You can thank these two amazing women. Leaders of the American women’s rights movement, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the original call for women’s suffrage using the Declaration of Sentiments at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. Although these women advocated for female voting rights in the United States, their actions paved the way for women around the world.
We are continually grateful for their efforts. With approximately 62,189,805 women voters in the 2012 Presidential election, one can imagine the potential for a completely different outcome, and world, if women were not allowed to vote.
Born into extreme poverty in the midst of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge’s national genocide, Somaly Mam has battled trials and tribulations her entire life. As a young child, Somaly was abused and eventually sold to a brothel, forced to work within the sex-trafficking industry. For years, she suffered as a victim of rape, violent beatings, and physical and mental torture. Thankfully, she never lost her inner drive to regain her freedom, inevitably pushing her to escape her captors. Vowing to always return to help those left behind, Somaly established a Cambodian non-governmental organization known as AFESIP (Agir Pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire) in 1996.
With the continued success of AFESIP, the Somaly Mam Foundation was born in 2007. To date, an estimated 7,000 women have been assisted by Somaly and her team. Deservedly so, Time Magazine honored Somaly as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People of 2009.
Of course, there are many more extremely significant female trailblazers not mentioned in the blog. As a representative of my gender on this Valentine’s Day, I want to say thank you for all your amazing efforts.
We love you!
*Saint Valentine was imprisoned for performing weddings to soldiers forbidden to marry.