I have been thinking about Women’s History Month and how to mark its passing for a while. This month has always been a time of reflection, a chance to look back on all that women have accomplished for themselves and the contributions they have made to American history.
Which is why I jumped at the opportunity to sit down with four inspiring women DNC Caucus and Council Chairs at the DNC’s Winter Meeting and discuss what Women’s History Month means to them. Bel Leong-Hong, Iris Martinez, Betty Richie, and Virgie Rollins have been working for American women from all backgrounds and walks of life for decades, and they are happy to share their war stories, with much humor, with the next generation.
There’s no doubt that “we haven’t come as far as we think,” DNC Rural Council Chair Betty Richie explained to me. Whether in boardrooms or at the ballot box, the barriers that women still face are on her mind.
Bel Leong-Hong, DNC Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Caucus Chair agrees. “We are just beginning to get a seat at the table. We have to remind our youth that the world is theirs” if we want to continue making gains in leadership positions.
Of course, a great opportunity to bring young women into the fold is coming up in 2016, as Virgie Rollins, DNC Black Caucus Chair, reminded us. “2016 should be exciting for women,” she said.
The next rising star political woman could come from anywhere – just ask Illinois State Senator Iris Martinez, Chair of the DNC Hispanic Council. She got a job in the mailroom of the Mayor’s office not because she wanted to run for office but because she needed a job.
So this year, with these words of wisdom to guide me, I am embracing Women’s History Month as a call to action to continue the fight for women’s rights and political participation.
Young women can’t assume that the women who came before us have already fought and won on our behalf. Rather, young women everywhere should be inspired by their example to do more and better for ourselves and generations to come.
Here’s one final question that I asked the group: What advice would you give to women looking to succeed in male-dominated fields?
“Never give up.” – Bel Leong-Hong, DNC AAPI Caucus Chair, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence, and Maryland Democratic superdelegate.
“¡Sí se puede! Yes you can!” – Iris Martinez, DNC Hispanic Caucus Chair and Illinois State Senator, first Hispanic woman elected to the Illinois State Senate and to serve as Assistant Majority Leader.
“Just be yourself, be prepared…and break down the door!” – Betty Richie, DNC Rural Council Chair, DNC Women’s Caucus Secretary, 2008 Texas Democratic superdelegate.
“Don’t be afraid, you cannot be afraid! Just go out and be a leader.” – Virgie Rollins, DNC Black Caucus Chair, former President of the National Federation of Democratic Women, first African American woman to Chair the Michigan Democratic Women’s Caucus.
Happy Women’s History Month!
Bridget Hebbard is the Mame Reiley Fellow at the Democratic National Committee.