Women’s History Month is celebrated every March in the United States, and International Women’s Day is observed around the world annually on March 8. One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to achieve gender equality across the world by 2030. Women have made great strides in serving in local and national governments, but gender parity is still far from reality.
Research shows that when women serve in government leadership positions, positive outcomes are achieved. Inspire your students with these stories of women in leadership from different continents. Learning about these figures and others will help students see themselves as future global leaders who can positively impact the world.
Nemonte Nenquimo is one of the leaders of the Waorani nation in Ecuador and has worked tirelessly to protect the Waorani territory from deforestation and oil concessions. Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with many indigenous communities living in its Amazon rainforest. Eighty percent of the Waorani people now live in an area one-tenth the size of their ancestral lands.
Through community and political activism, Nemonte successfully prevented the Ecuadorian government from putting Waorani land up for sale to oil companies, protecting 500,000 acres of rainforest. Her digital campaign, “Our rainforest is not for sale,” collected almost 400,000 signatures from around the world, bringing international attention to these issues.
She continues to fight for environmental preservation and the independence and legal rights of indigenous communities in Ecuador.
Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts in environmental conservation and human rights. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, obtaining her Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya.
Professor Maathai served on the United Nations (UN) Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament and in Kenya’s parliament from 2002 to 2007.
While serving on the National Council of Women of Kenya, Professor Maathai began planting trees with groups of women across the country to improve their quality of life and protect the environment. These efforts officially became the Green Belt Movement in 1977. Though Professor Maathai passed away in 2011, this movement continues and has planted 51 million trees across Kenya.
Deb Haaland is the current U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. Secretary Haaland was also one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress, representing New Mexico. She is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna.
She advocates for Native American women, fostering greater cooperation between law enforcement, tribal leaders, and government officials to reduce domestic violence and other crimes. As the head of the Interior Department, she also wants to honor the treaties and relationships the U.S. government holds with the nation’s 574 federally recognized Indian tribes.
Jacinda Ardern was elected prime minister of New Zealand at 37 years old in 2017, the youngest head of government in the world. She gave birth to her daughter while in office, one of few women in history to do so, bringing international attention to topics like parental leave and mothers in government leadership. In 2018, she became the first female world leader to bring her infant to the UN General Assembly in New York City.
She navigated New Zealand through several crises, including its worst-ever terrorist attack, a deadly volcano eruption, and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is known for leading with empathy and kindness, qualities she says are essential for effective governance.
As you study these female leaders and others with your students, you can have conversations together around questions such as:
- What qualities do you think make these women effective leaders?
- In what ways can you take inspiration from these leaders to make the world a better place?
- Why is it important to have women in leadership positions, especially in government?
For more resources for Women’s History Month and SDG 5, see this blog post.
How are you and your students celebrating Women’s History Month? We’d love to see what you’re learning! Tag us on social media using #UnitingOurWorld.