What is Women's History Month, and why do we celebrate it?

March 1 marks the beginning of Women's History Month, which takes on extra significance in 2021 because many of the centennial celebrations in 2020 to mark women's suffrage were curtailed or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inequalities women face were laid bare by the coronavirus -- from pay disparities, where statistics show women still make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, to domestic threats, as one in every three women will face gender violence in her lifetime.

The fight to protect and support women continues, but also, all March, we are taking time to celebrate women and to reflect on our past and examine the path forward.

"I think it really is about that history does not operate in a straight line, and that it's about persistence," said Jen Gaboury, lecturer with the Hunter College Department of Women and Gender Studies. "Understanding that women are leaders, but also that women have always been leaders."

Leaders, pioneers, homemakers, trailblazers -- women were essential to the founding of this nation and are essential on the path forward into its future.

Yet Women's History Month is a relatively recent observance.

"There's an awful lot of women's history that goes unrecognized and goes undocumented," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "And when our kids have their history books, women aren't very visible."

The United Nations first recognized International Women's Day, on March 8, back in 1975. And around that same time, historians came up with the idea for Women's History Week.

One of the first celebrations was in Sonoma County, California, in 1978.

"And then there was a push to encourage Jimmy Carter to recognize it, and so, in February 1980, that was when it began to be recognized and then picked up in different states," Gaboury said. "And then has turned into the tradition that it is today."

As with Black History Month, organizers for Women's History Month wanted to make sure future generations will inherit an accurate account of the contributions of women throughout history.

"What they knew is that there were all these stories not being told," Gaboury said. "That was true in the 1970s, it was true prior to that, and unfortunately, it's still true today."

They want those future generations to gain a true sense of self.

"And that's actually, in many ways, one of the most important aspects of Women's History Month," Walsh said. "By highlighting women who have made a difference in history, it opens up that world of possibilities to young girls."

Also this month, we'll be sharing inspiring stories to salute the countless women making an impact in their communities, their nation, and the world.
Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.