This March marks the 36th anniversary of Women’s History Month. Congress originally designated just one week for the women who formed history. Now, the full month of March is set aside to honor, celebrate, and learn about the women who changed and continue to change our world.
In the words of the great poet Maya Angelou: “The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are.” In our country’s history, women have had to work longer and harder — and in some cases, are still working — to gain the same rights as men. Even when some of these rights were initially granted, such as the right to vote and the right to equal education, they were not extended to all women. Women of color, women with disabilities, and transgender women continue fighting for equity.
It’s important to recognize the role that gender plays at Oregon Youth Authority in our work. Historically, the correctional field has been dominated by men. Currently, women make up 36% of the OYA workforce overall, and 42% of those in management positions. Those numbers are better than in the past, but we still have a ways to go toward improving gender diversity in our workforce.
Gender also is an important consideration in our services to youth. Young women and teen girls make up only 11% of the youth in our custody, but they often have higher levels of needs, including more mental health diagnoses, histories of substance abuse, and suicidal behavior. It’s critical for us to address young women’s different crime histories and developmental needs as we help them on the path to success.
In the spirit of learning and committing to positive change, we encourage you to set a goal of taking about 10-15 minutes this month to learn about the strong, brave, and determined women who have shaped our cultures, laws, nations, and values. Here are some suggestions for ways to learn and initiate discussions with your teams:
- National Women’s History Museum: explore biographies and articles about women making history. Here are a few examples:
- Wilma Mankiller, civil rights activist, feminist, and Cherokee chief
- Rachel Levine, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health and four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps
- Antonia Hernández, lawyer, advocate for Latina/a/x rights, and the first Latina to be staff counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee
- Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark, a pathbreaking psychologist whose research helped desegregate schools in the U.S.
- Asieh Amini, journalist and poet and a leading voice in the campaign to end stoning and juvenile executions in Iran
- Marsha P. Johnson, LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS activist and key player in the Stonewall Riots
- Nevertheless, They Persisted: online exhibition from Oregon Historical Society about the 19th amendment and Oregonians’ participation in the campaign for women’s voting rights
Thanks again for your dedication to meeting people where they are through learning, listening, and actively supporting women at our agency and in our communities.