Rockford — International Women’s Day is observed March 8 around the globe, and although it’s only recently entered the zeitgeist of everyday Americans, now serves as a focal point for Women’s History Month.
In recognition of both, four student leaders from the high school’s Women’s Awareness+Empowerment Club (WAE) gathered to talk about their hopes for improving the cultural climate for themselves, their fellow students and their generation.
The club is at least 10 years old, says sponsor and psychology teacher Christina Purvis. The focus is on bringing awareness to issues like teen dating violence, harmful gender stereotypes, body positivity and wage inequality.
‘I’m very passionate about empowering women at my school because (high school) is a time in all of our lives that we feel very unsure about ourselves and may be too scared to express our opinions or ideas.’– Celia Laufersky
Student leader Maddie Jenema says the group is inclusive for any student in the school.
“Anyone can join WAE and will feel included and supported,” she says.
“Educating people about women’s rights, suffrage history, sexual assault, dating violence and intersectional feminism, etc., can help create a world where we can understand each other in order to work to construct a better future,” says Jenema.
Citing historical examples of efforts to diminish women’s voices, senior Claire Newman says it’s especially important to support young women today.
“Empowerment allows us to have confidence in ourselves, which in turn helps us to keep fighting for what we deserve,” she says.
School News Network asked these young women to respond to a series of questions about being a female in today’s world:
- Maddison Jenema and Celia Laufersky, 11th graders
- Liberty Molde and Claire Newman, 12th graders
Here are the questions and their answers.
Why are you personally passionate about empowering women, especially at RHS?
Celia: I’m very passionate about empowering women at my school because this is a time in all of our lives that we feel very unsure about ourselves and may be too scared to express our opinions or ideas.
Liberty: In high school culture especially, there is a lot of judgment and gossip going around, greatly including the women. This creates a world with constant competition, and hurt feelings. In WAE, we really try to push the idea of women supporting women, which I believe is especially important for women still growing and learning.
Claire: People think women’s empowerment, even feminism, is radical and unnecessary. As a girl in many Honors and AP classes, the discrepancies between the numbers of boys and girls are noticeable. I’ve been silenced or dismissed by many of my male classmates. Through WAE, I hope that we can empower the girls at school to stand up for themselves and take initiative.
Q: What woman (or women) has empowered you here at RHS? It could be a teacher, coach, mentor or a fellow student.
Claire: Mrs. Purvis, the teacher advisor for WAE, and Mrs. Lombardo have probably been the women who have empowered me the most at RHS. Mrs. Purvis has been nothing but supportive of all of us during WAE and is so involved in all of our activities and ideas. Mrs. Lombardo has always been unapologetically herself and has some of the most self-confidence I’ve seen in a female teacher. She encourages her students to do the same, and I can tell that I’ve grown as a person and woman by being in her class and learning from her.
Q: The theme of this year’s Women’s History Month is “Celebrating Women Who Tell our Stories.” If you could throw a party to celebrate a current female writer, influencer, artist, broadcaster or other communicator, who would it be, and why?
Celia: I would throw a party for Taylor Swift because of the many people, especially women that she has influenced. Taylor has been very vocal and open about how important it is to empower women and to not let others bring you down. Her music describes many obstacles and challenges that women have to go through. Talyor has helped bring women together and brought awareness to some of the gender based discrimination that we face today.
Q: What kind of world do you hope to create for women to thrive in the future?
Maddie: I hope to create a future where no woman has to be scared when she is alone, wondering who might assault her next. I hope to create a safe place where women can talk about their struggles without being judged for their actions. But above all, I want to cultivate a future where women are empowered and strong, united with a common goal of equality.
Liberty: In the future, I want women to keep fighting for themselves, and empowering others along the way. The end goal is complete equality, but until we get there, we need to keep pushing for our rights no matter what stands in our way.
Q: How do you hope your generation (including you!) changes our culture so that women can thrive?
Maddie: I hope that my generation continues to be a leading voice in the fight for awareness about women’s rights. Learning and understanding wage inequality, sexual assault statistics and unfair stereotypes about women is essential to improving our culture.
Q: If you could tell one thing to your younger self to empower her or give her more confidence, what would it be?
Liberty: I would tell her to always believe in yourself. This might sound cliche, but it is completely true. Trust your gut, and fight for what you think is right. If you are being treated poorly, or you see someone else experiencing that, don’t let it slide. Stand up for what is right, even if everyone else is against you.