By Léo Azambuja

Left to right, Kaua‘i High School senior Autumn Lee, Zonta of Kaua‘i Treasurer Laycie Love and YWCA of Kaua‘i Director Renaé Hamilton-Cambeilh are seen here by the Sandra Mendonca-Galas Memorial in front of the YWCA of Kaua‘i office in Līhu‘e. Photo by Léo Azambuja

For several decades, the United States has set aside the month of March to celebrate women’s contribution to history, culture and society. The entire month is dedicated to reflecting on the often-overlooked contributions of women to our country.

“Women’s History Month holds a substantial level of importance because women throughout history, and even the women of present day, have done incredible things,” said 17-year-old Kaua‘i High School senior Autumn Lee. “It’s Important to remember the fact that the women of history fought for us to have the rights that we have today, and I think it’s important to observe the women of the past because we are still fighting for equality in present day.”

Lee took fourth place in a high-school student essay contest organized by the Kaua‘i County Committee on the Status of Women during last year’s Women’s History Month. In her essay, Lee wrote about Ellen Degeneres, who inspired her to be herself.

Darian Martin took first place in the same essay contest. The 17-year-old Kaua‘i High School senior wrote about the most important women in her life, “pretty much every woman in the world,” because they made her who she is today, she said.

“I learned so much from them,” said Martin, adding she thinks the importance of observing Women’s History Month is to teach or show people how strong women are.

Kapa‘a High School’s Kirra Lindman and Kaua‘i High School’s Mosiah Bautista took second and third place respectively in the same contest last year, when they were seniors.

Kirra Lindman

Lindman wrote a compelling essay about her grandmother.

“Without her, I would not be the woman I am now. Now I am ready to face the world,” Lindman wrote on her essay.

Bautista wrote about Professor Solita Monsod, of Philippines, who lectured about honor before excellence.

“Her speech about honor and excellence resonated within me and inspired me to be a positive influence on my family, community and country,” Bautista wrote on his essay.

Committee on the Status of Women Chair Regina Carvalho said committee members are doing the contest again this year — open to all high-school students of any gender — to build awareness for Women’s History Month. The main rule is that students have to write an essay about women who inspire them. There is also a cash prize for the winners.

The seed for Women’s History Month was planted in 1978, when the school district of Sonoma, Calif. organized a weeklong celebration of women’s contributions to culture, history and society. There were school presentations, student essay contests and a parade in Downtown Santa Rosa. Over the next couple years, the idea spread to other districts throughout the country. So, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the week of March 8 as National Women’s History. The following year, Congress passed a resolution establishing Women’s History Week, and in 1987, Congress declared March as Women’s History Month.

Darian Martin

Laycie Love, secretary of Zonta Club of Kaua‘i, said most of the ladies at Zonta — a women’s advocacy group founded in 1919 in New York — would say they observe Women’s History Month every month, because they’re all women’s advocates.

“But specifically for March, we are starting our fundraising for scholarships. Every year, the Zonta Club of Kaua‘i offers scholarships to young women that are going into community college, and also seniors in high school, and that just helps them with whatever they need,” said Love, adding Zonta is doing an online auction starting in March, featuring several items donated by local businesses and private citizens. The auction will end on Mother’s Day.

YWCA of Kaua“i Director Renaé Hamilton-Cambeilh said observing Women’s History Month is important due to the simple fact women don’t have equity in our country yet.

“Often, our history books have left out the accomplishments of women, and Women’s History Month is an opportunity to bring those forgotten stories to light,” Hamilton-Cambeilh said. “Hawai‘i’s wahine are such a rich, diverse, multi-talented group.  Women leaders in the past have blazed many trails that today’s women benefit from, ground-breaking work continues in every community around the world and won’t stop until there is true equity for women and girls.”

YWCA USA, Hamilton-Cambeilh said, is sharing “wonderful stories” of pioneer women during the month of March.

Mosiah Bautista

“They are putting a special lens on women of color since it’s also Black History Month,” Hamilton-Cambeilh said. “The women’s stories are shared on YWCA Facebook page and the YWCAUSA Facebook page.”

The fact that Black History Month is also celebrated in March puts a special flavor on this year’s Women’s History Month — for the first time in history, the U.S. has a vice-president who is a woman and is of color, Kamala Harris.

Love said the vice president, along with the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have inspired women to find the courage to have a voice in the right capacity.

“I don’t know if girls and women still feel like they can’t achieve anything,” Love said.

Months ago, Love got into a car accident. A young woman helped her at a rental car agency that services local insurance claims. That young woman had been benefited by a Zonta scholarship.

“Her mom was a single parent, and she hardly had anything, they had to scrape by,” said Love, adding the Zonta scholarship helped the young woman to get an education on the Mainland, come back to Kaua‘i and secure a job.

“She is actually able to help her mom now, because of the scholarships she applied for,” Love said.

Autumn Lee

Love said one of her inspirations is the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta, often quoted with saying that if you want to change the world, “go home and love your family.” But mostly, Love said the women who have inspired her and continue to do so are normal, everyday people. Her heroes, she said, are the ones who show up every morning, and even though people may be judging them, they are still doing the right thing.

Hamilton-Cambeilh said she would like to tell women who may feel disenfranchised because of their gender, that they should be encouraged by all the courageous women who have come before them, and draw on their strength and accomplishments.

“Find a supportive sisterhood that can understand the challenges and struggles that remain for women and girls, together women can rise up to meet any obstacles,” Hamilton-Cambeilh said. “The young women of today give me so much hope and inspiration, they truly are taking the lead in making this world a more just place for everyone. Keep up the good work, it’s your time to do the impossible.”

To Martin, participating in the Committee on the Status of Women’s essay contest taught her to not stress about writing, and just do it. She had a message to other young women.

“I am beyond proud of you. Keep working hard,” Martin said.

The Sandra Mendonca-Galas Memorial in front of the YWCA of Kaua‘i office in Līhu‘e. Photo by Léo Azambuja

Lee said by participating in the essay contest helped her to believe a lot more in her writing, and also helped her to learn and appreciate the fact that words can hold so much emotion and meaning, as well as convey messages that occasionally need time to conceptualize. She also had a message to other young women.

“Believe in yourself, believe in your abilities, take risks, enter that essay contest that you never thought you’d come remotely close to winning in. Tell your crush you like them. Live your life for you, and not for anyone else. Live your life being unapologetically yourself. I mean, just find the beauty in the chaos of the world,” Lee said.

Visit www.kauai.gov/kccsw for more information on how to participate in the essay contest by the Kaua‘i County Committe on the Status of Women (deadline is March 22), www.zonta-kauai.org for more information on Zonta’s auction, and www.ywcakauai.org for more information on YWCA’s programs.

The Sandra Mendonca-Galas Memorial in front of the YWCA of Kaua‘i office in Līhu‘e. Photo by Léo Azambuja

 

 


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