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U.S. Celebrates Women’s Contributions to the World Every March

Women’s role in the environmental or “green” movement is 2009 focus
By Louise Fenner, America.gov Post a comment  
Posted: March 1, 2009 Related coverage: > Secretary Clinton’s Town Hall Meeting at Ewha Womans University  
> U.N. Secretary-General Says Violence Against Women Must Stop  
> Presidential Proclamation on Women’s History Month  
Related material: > International Women's Day / National Women's History Month (in Spanish)  
Author Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring led to a federal review of pesticide policies, testified before a Senate Government Operations subcommittee in Washington on June 4, 1963. Carson urged Congress to curb the sale of chemical pesticides and aerial spraying. The pesticide DDT was banned for use in the United States in 1972.
Washington — The world-renowned marine biologist, author and environmentalist Rachel Carson is the inspiration for the 2009 National Women’s History Month theme, Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet.

Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring focused the world’s attention on the harm to human health and the environment caused by the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Its message was that mankind's growing reliance on these chemicals carried real and not fully understood risks.

She did not urge a ban on all pesticides, but called for more research on their safety, more careful and moderate use, and tighter regulations. The federal government conducted a review of pesticide policies and, in 1972, banned the pesticide DDT in the United States. Carson and her book are credited with launching the modern environmental movement. (See Rachel Carson: Pen Against Poison.)

Every March in the United States, National Women’s History Month celebrates the contributions of women to the nation’s history and culture. This year’s theme “honors women who have taken the lead in the environmental or ‘green’ movement,’” according to the National Women’s History Project (NWHP), an educational nonprofit group based in California. Rachel Carson is “the iconic model” for the theme.

UNITED STATES ALSO CELEBRATES INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

Each year, the president issues a proclamation calling on all citizens to observe March as National Women’s History Month, as well as a separate proclamation on International Women’s Day, March 8. The worldwide celebration, begun in 1975 by the United Nations, recognizes women’s achievements, highlights issues of common concern and focuses on ending discrimination and increasing support for women’s full and equal participation in society. In 2009, the theme is Women and Men United to End Violence Against Women and Girls. (See ”Domestic Violence Seen as Worldwide Problem.”)

Poster for the Women's History Month 2009 theme, "Women Taking the Lead to Save our Planet."
For National Women’s History Month this year, NWHP asked for names of women who have shown “exceptional vision and leadership” in protecting the environment at the local, state, national and international levels. Rather than selecting only a few people from the 103 nominees, the group is recognizing all of them.

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH HONOREES HELPED OUT MOTHER NATURE

The Women’s History Month honorees include scientists, engineers, politicians, writers and filmmakers, conservationists, teachers, community organizers, religious or workplace leaders, businesswomen and others who took action to help heal the planet — some by promoting legislation and education, and others by getting their hands dirty planting trees and picking up trash.

Some are historic figures, such as Ellen Swallow Richards (1842–1911), the first American woman to earn a degree in chemistry and the first person to undertake scientific water-quality studies in the United States, and Mollie Beattie (1947–1996), the first woman to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act.

Most of the honorees are contemporary women, such as these:

• Lynne Cherry, author of The Great Kapok Tree and more than 30 other children’s books that teach respect for the earth;

• Sharon Matola, an American who founded the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, begun in 1983 to protect exotic animals that had been used in a documentary film but were too tame to be released into the wild;

• Meg Lowman, a Florida biologist, science educator and pioneer in temperate and tropical forest canopy ecology, who runs a foundation for tropical forest conservation;

• Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, now a promoter of youth education in science and technology, especially on climate change;

• Shirley Nelson, leader of the Navajo Nation Trash Taskforce of Arizona, which helps communities solve solid waste problems;

• Lorrie Otto, of Wisconsin, a founder of the natural landscaping movement, which promotes biodiversity through the preservation and restoration of native plant communities;

• Alice Waters, chef and owner of Chez Panisse restaurant in California and head of a foundation that promotes healthy school lunches and educational programs such as sustainable school gardens; and

• Betsy Damon, founder of Keepers of the Waters, headquartered in Oregon, which supports communities in the preservation and restoration of their water sources. She works in the United States and China.

The origins of National Women’s History Month can be traced to Sonoma County, California, where in 1978 the Commission on the Status of Women initiated Women’s History Week. Two years later, President Jimmy Carter asked Americans to celebrate women's historic accomplishments in conjunction with International Women's Day. Congress established the first National Women’s History Week in 1981 and expanded it to a month in 1987.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, females account for 50.7 percent of the U.S. population (there are 154.7 million females and 150.6 million males). Women own 28 percent of all nonfarm businesses in the United States. For every dollar earned by men, women earn only 77.5 cents. (See the bureau’s annual fact sheet on Women's History Month on the Census Bureau Web site.)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a fact sheet on Rachel Carson on its Web site. Some 300,000 people visit the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge on the coast of Maine each year. The refuge was established in 1966 by the Wildlife Service and the state of Maine to protect valuable salt marshes and estuaries for migratory birds.

For more information, see the National Women’s History Project Web site. Also see the United Nations Web site for information on International Women’s Day and The United Nations and the Status of Women.

The Library of Congress Web site on Women's History Month offers additional information, as does the Veterans History Project Web site on American women in wartime.



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