“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we might fear less.” — These words were spoken by Marie Curie, the Polish scientist credited for the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium, which became instrumental in the development of x-rays and cancer therapy. Her thirst for higher knowledge brought her to Paris because, as a woman, she was not allowed to attend the university. In 1903, she became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (Physics) and the first person to win a second Nobel Prize (Chemistry) — the only person by far to win the prestigious award in two different branches of natural science.
Five inventions and landmark policies that empowered women the most
The road to success indeed was not easy for us, women, to pursue. Other than our sheer commitment and dedication, there were also five major changes that allowed us more time to think about what we want, go after our wildest dreams, and be respected for doing so.
1. Modern contraceptives. It was not until the use of diaphragms and condoms in the 1800s that birth rates started to decline. At the same time, women married and had children at a latter age. Modern contraception allowed women to delay pregnancy under the principles of birth control, which was earlier termed “voluntary motherhood”.
In the US, Margaret Sanger established the first birth control clinic and was arrested several times for doing so as it was then prohibited under the Law. In France, the 192o Birth Law likewise prohibited access to birth control. It was not until the 1960s to early 1970s when prohibitive laws were reversed, favoring the wider distribution of birth control pills and devices.
2. Equality in the workplace. Before equality and non-discrimination in the workplace became a norm in modern societies, women were forced into slavery, some work for less compensation doing the same work as their male counterparts who earned more for the same level of effort, and women could not take on higher posts because they were not allowed to attend institutions of higher learning.
The founding of institutions that advanced women’s rights, such as the National Women’s Trade Union League in the US, then later, international institutions that advanced workers’ rights, most especially the International Labour Organization of the United Nations, set the standards for women to be able to access decent forms of employment that did not discriminate based on their gender. The subsequent attendance of women to earn university and post-graduate degrees later allowed them to move up to become leaders in their respective organizations.
3. The right to vote. In the US, women’s right to vote was not granted until 1920. In the Philippines, following Independence and consistent with the 1935 Constitution, women were granted this right. Beyond being given the responsibility of choosing a leader, women could freely express their opinions. Soon after, women also pursued election for political office.
4. Trousers by Coco Chanel. Trousers have been worn by women throughout ancient times but, it was Coco Chanel who popularized the use of trousers in modern societies, following the war. Chanel made trousers fashionable, and it became a style staple for working women. Trousers allowed women the freedom of movement. She was once quoted as saying in reference to pants, ”I gave women a sense of freedom. I gave them back their bodies: bodies that were drenched in sweat, due to fashion’s finery, lace, corsets, underclothes, padding.”
5. Participation in the Olympics. Though the exact date when women were allowed to join the world games is still widely debated, it wasn’t until 1900 in Paris when Olympic events, particularly in croquet, were opened to women.
A toast to women: International Women’s Day
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we celebrate the contributions of women to the world: from creating humble homes, raising respectable children, serving in wars and changing the course of history, women were in the midst of it all. Women worked behind the scenes, and were forced to exert more effort to become successful in their chosen fields because, in many parts of the world, women faced discrimination, many still do today.