International Women’s Day was on March 8th. It was a day to engage in conversations on matters of importance to women, and to support, feel inspired by, and to acknowledge the strong women around us.
As Queen’s graduates, this day reminds us of the pride we have in our institution. “Queen’s was the first university in Canada west of the Maritimes to allow women into its’ classrooms, and was also early in doing so in international terms. Professor Clarke Murray started the new era at Queen’s in 1869 when he offered special English classes for women.” This was almost a decade before the University of Toronto or Oxford University in England held classes for women, and well before most American universities followed suit.
In reflecting on International Women’s Day this year, I noted countless women who inspire me and who have paved the way for many women in our society:
BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE – Art and Activism
Voicing what you believe in
Few artists have combined art and activism as effectively and deeply as Buffy Sainte-Marie. Her passion for protecting Indigenous intellectual property and her efforts to overcome the stereotyping of Indigenous people in the media and education has kept her in the forefront of activism in the arts. She has shed light on Indigenous self-determination through songs such as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. She continues to advocate for Indigenous values with songs like No No Keshagesh, addressed to those destroying the Earth and environment. Her song Universal Soldier became an anthem for the anti-Vietnam War movement and her voice continues to passionately support those around the world who are also fighting for Indigenous and environmental rights.
WENDY SEARLE – Woman. Mother. Adventurer.
Taking risks and choosing your path
Antarctica is roughly twice the size of Australia and is fully covered by ice. It is the only continent that is not inhabited by permanent residents.
Wendy Searle has four children and a fulltime job. She is also set to ski 700 miles solo, unassisted and unaided, across the frozen continent through the unforgiving winds in order to break the women’s record for the fastest coastline to Pole journey. She says, “I can’t have any outside assistance and I have to take everything with me in a special sledge called a pulk: all my food, my fuel, my supplies, everything. I can’t have any food resupplies or medical help. I cannot even accept a cup of tea. I’ll be completely alone and, in all likelihood I won’t see anybody else.” She is determined to follow her dreams and be an inspiration for the next generation. “I want my children to think: if you pursue things with a passion, you will achieve the results you want to. I want them to see that it’s OK to pursue something with a white-hot passion in a single-minded way and focus on a goal.” Wendy reminds myself and all of us that nothing stands in the way of relentless pursuit of your goals and that anything is possible.
MAGGIE DOYNE – A 23 year old that raises 50 children
The power to create, nurture and transform
One day as Maggie was visiting Nepal as a tourist, she came across Lacora, an orphan little girl. Lacora worked carrying loads of goods back and forth from the bus park to the villages everyday, only to earn $1-2 a day. This encounter was deeply moving for Maggie. She says, “I was devastated. What have we done as a human family that our children are living this way!” During her visit to this remote Himalayan village, she met many other homeless orphan girls and pledged to make a difference in their quality of life. She decided to buy a piece of land in Nepal using all her life savings earned from babysitting and with the help of donations. With this property, she built a home for 50 orphan Nepalese children. Maggie says, “I think the beauty of all of us is that we have talents, and we have gifts, and the world will change when we all find that for ourselves when we use our body, and our mind, and that sense of, ‘I can do anything!’ ”
MAI BHAGO – 1600s Fearless Warrior
A story of heroism & strength
During the 1600s the Middle East suffered under a fanatical, oppressive regime. Prior to this regime’s widespread governing, Mai Bhago lived in a kingdom where people felt free to practice their own religion, men and women had equal rights, and everyone earned an honest living and shared their earnings with those in need. With the ideology of “defend but do not attack” a battle was fought between her kingdom and the growing oppressive regime. Mai Bhago provided the opportunity for an entire way of life that had been created over 240 years to carry on free of oppression. A life where equality, freedom and social justice mattered.
Buffy Sainte-Marie pushes us to pursue our creative challenges, to connect deeply with our surroundings and nature, and to protest against war, violence, and environmental negligence.
Wendy Ferguson exemplifies that it is okay to pursue a dream, even one that as previously seemed impossible or unachievable before you. She inspires us to see challenges that are to be conquered, not barriers; to get out in the world, choose your own path, face the wind and the mountain ahead with broken nails and sweaty hair.
Maggie Doyne shows how women are undoubtedly innately good at sensing others thoughts, feelings and pain, deeply and fully. She exemplifies how women are also able to use negative emotions and circumstances as fuel to create new beginnings and opportunities. Having accomplished so much at such a young age, she also shows the right moment to act and make a difference is right now. Trust your intuition, what you have is enough!
The story of Mai Bhago is a testament to the courage and strength of women to stand against injustice and advocate for an equitable world where everyone can thrive. She exemplifies unwavering resilience in the face of oppression.
These stories encourage me to continue to allow myself to carry on my life as a strong woman, and to support the women around me to do the same.
Who are your female heroes? Sometimes, these women are our grandmas and our mothers, who provide us with simple acts of love and sacrifice such as cooking for us or lending a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes it’s our friends who are quick to notice when something is off when we’re not feeling quite right and who lend a helping hand no questions asked. Sometimes it is our professors who are disciplined and fearless in the pursuit of their goals and making a difference in others’ education. And sometimes, it is our superhuman colleagues who balance being a mom and a partner and a student all at the same time.
Look around you and take note of the women, past and present, whose lives you can take as a lesson to make yourself better in the future.