International womens day banner 1

International Women's Day 2021:
Women in Leadership

Combined ShapePathNews and EventsPathNews

International Women's Day 2021: Women in Leadership

by The Ven Angela Webb | Archdeacon of Perth

International Women’s Day was first celebrated in March 1911 when a million women and men rallied in support of women’s rights in the United States of America.

In the following year, a textile workers strike in Massachusetts became known as the Bread and Roses strike with the slogan of bread and roses appealing for both fair wages and dignified working conditions for a largely female workforce.

The slogan, Bread and Roses can be attributed to the 3rd century Roman physician and philosopher Galen of Pergamon who wrote:

If thou hast two loaves of bread, sell one and buy flowers, for bread is food for the body, but flowers are food for the mind.

Image: The Ven Angela Webb, Archdeacon of Perth

Angela Webb IMAGE head shot International Womens Day

In the same year as the Bread and Roses strike, James Oppenheim used this term in a poem:

Bread and Roses
As we come marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill-lofts grey
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing, "Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses."
As we come marching, marching, we battle, too, for men—
For they are women's children and we mother them again.
Our days shall not be sweated from birth until life closes—
Hearts starve as well as bodies: Give us Bread, but give us Roses.
As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient song of Bread;
Small art and love and beauty their trudging spirits knew—
Yes, it is Bread we fight for—but we fight for Roses, too.
As we come marching, marching, we bring the Greater Days—
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler—ten that toil where one reposes—
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses.
James Oppenheim, 1911

The United Nations first celebrated International Women’s Day in 1975 and in 1977 officially supported an annual day in support of women’s rights bringing attention to the social, political, economic and cultural issues that women face.

The global UN Women theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021 is ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’.

Bread and Roses image

Two great examples of women in leadership in the Anglican Church are:

Edith Cowan

In March 1921 Edith Cowan was elected to the Western Australian Parliament becoming the first woman to be elected to a parliament in Australia. Cowan did not have an easy life. She was only 7 when her mother died in childbirth. Her father remarried and sent his daughter to a boarding school in Perth. When she was only 15 her father shot and killed his second wife while drunk. He was hanged for his crime, leaving Cowan orphaned.

Cowan overcame these personal tragedies to help form the Women’s Service Guilds in 1909 and become a co-founder of the Western Australia’s National Council of Women. She believed that children should not be tried as adults – something we take for granted today – and she founded the Children’s Protection Society.

Edith Cowan believed that if you really wanted something changed, you had to run for parliament. So she did and at the age of 60, she broke existing gender stereotypes by becoming Australia’s first ever female parliamentarian, winning the seat of the incumbent Attorney General, Thomas Draper. By becoming the first woman elected to an Australian parliament, she paved the way for a more democratic and representative parliament.

Cowan was a faithful Anglican and when she was elected to the Perth Anglican Synod in 1916, she was in the first group of women to be so.

Image: Edith Cowan

Edith Cowan

The Revd Dr Canon Emily Onyango

Dr Emily Onyango will be the first woman to be consecrated a bishop in the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) in the Diocese of Bondo on 27 March 2021. Our Partner in Mission Diocese, Eldoret, was the first Diocese in Kenya to vote at its Synod that all Orders of Minister were open to women.

Rev Canon Dr Onyango is currently a lecturer at St Paul’s University where she works alongside Professor Esther Mombo. Emily holds a PhD in History from the University of Wales.

ACK, a predominantly conservative church, has been reluctant to appoint women to senior positions. Some members of the church are said to have been opposed to such a move saying it would need more consideration saying women are expected to be confined in their feminine roles.

Dr Onyango is the author of Gender and Development: A History of Women’s Education in Kenya. In this book, The Revd Canon Dr Onyango has brought to light women’s agency in navigating layers of systems that first affirmed them in community life and then excluded them from being heard in education. Education has been and continues to be an important factor in empowering women to be key leaders in society.

Image: The Revd Dr Canon Emily Onyango

The Rev Dr Canon Emily Onyango

After the past few weeks of allegations emerging from our Federal Parliament, one might be moved to ask what has changed for women in the last 100 years since Edith Cowan was elected? International Women’s Day continues to shine a light on the inequalities and challenges women and girls face across the world.

It links to the fourth Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion - To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.

May International Women’s Day 2021 be a day of Bread as food for our bodies and Roses as food for our minds.

In other news...