Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”
With the passing of avid women rights activist Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020, impactful women leaders are even more critical than ever. Fortunately, internationally, nationally and locally, women have persevered through the challenges of this year including gender stigmas and racial inequality.
From the first female vice president to the Westlake High School Girls in STEM President, women have made significant impacts on their environment.
Jacinda Ardern is the youngest female leader in the world and the youngest prime minister of New Zealand in 150 years at 40 years old. In 2020, she has fiercely combatted COVID–19 and successfully decreased it in both waves in New Zealand.
“She is seen abroad as this inspiring figure because of her approach that’s so different to what’s happening in a lot of other places,” said Tom O’Brien, a former official in the New Zealand Ministry of Health to NBC News.
Unlike other countries, Ardern implemented a strict lockdown in New Zealand in March by only allowing pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations and hospitals to remain open. She closed New Zealand borders on March 15 when it only had 100 confirmed cases and no deaths.
“We must go hard and we must go early,” said Ardern in a government message.
In June, Ardern had eliminated the virus from New Zealand for 102 days without infections in the community. Although COVID–19 did return in August, Ardern placed the city of Auckland again into a two–week lockdown. Currently, New Zealand has had only six new cases and no new deaths with only 54 active cases, according to The Worldometer.
Ardern said to The Guardian, “But it’s not just whether you have cases, it’s how you choose to deal with them as a nation, and I am personally very proud of how New Zealanders have taken to the battle with COVID-19.”
An epitome of firsts, Kamala Harris, the current vice president of the United States, is the first woman and first woman of color to hold the office of vice president of the United States. She was also the first Indian–American in the U.S. Senate, the first African–American and the first woman to hold the office of the attorney general in California. Especially after the Black Lives Matter movement in June, Harris’s election has impacted racial injustice in the nation.
“There is no vaccine for racism,” said Harris during her vice presidential acceptance speech according to USA Today. “We’ve got to do the work for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor and for the lives of too many others to name.”
Harris is the daughter of immigrant parents: an Indian mother and a Jamaican father. This fact has impacted her view on immigration by stating during her campaign that she will be protecting undocumented immigrants. Her goal is to have the U.S. immigration policy display American ideals.
In a reflective moment during her victory speech on Nov. 7, Harris remembers her mother who immigrated to California at the age of 19: “Maybe she didn’t quite imagine this moment, but she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible.”
In the vice presidential debate during the 2020 election, Harris asserted her power by not allowing former vice president Mike Pence to cut off her responses. This assertion caused a positive response from her followers who created various merchandise with the words “I’m speaking” printed on them.
Addressing the fact that she is the first female and woman of color vice president in the United States, Harris said, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”
Jennifer Liu ‘22 is the president of the Girls in STEM club at Westlake High School that brought back the club after its break last year. Her goal is to collaborate with elementary school girls to bring the world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics to them and motivate them to pursue their dreams.
Liu has been in the club since freshman year as an officer but felt that it didn’t reach many people and didn’t create many opportunities for the members. In her sophomore year, she was told too late that the club was not renewed, so she knew from that point on that she would take charge and bring the club back.
“I knew I wanted to bring [the club] back next year,” said Liu. “I’m trying to make it as interactive as possible even though now it might be even harder than before since [the club’s] online.”
Liu hopes to collaborate with FemSTEM in the future, an organization that helps girls navigate their passions in STEM–related fields, to bring a volunteering aspect to the club. Her original plans for the club pre–distance learning were to either go to elementary schools and do experiments with girls or have them come to campus as well as bringing guest speakers into club meetings to talk about their STEM experiences.
“I’m just hoping to inspire more girls to pursue a career in STEM because it’s such a male–dominated field,” said Liu. “The whole message of the club in the first place is to bring more girls into the field and have that gender gap be filled a little.”
In her personal life, Liu looks up to her mom and family friends who are in the STEM field. Her mom is a pharmacist that does quality control and some of her family friends are in medical school. Her current career goal is to become an anesthesiologist or pursue another medically related profession.
“I’m not sure of anyone that’s well known, but I have a lot of people in my life that I look up to,” said Liu. “I see how hard [my mom] works and that inspires me … seeing [people go through the STEM field] in real life is also cool.”
Although personally, she has never gone through this, Liu knows how much women are affected when others put them down for their gender and base opinions on gender instead of ability. Liu thinks society has come far since the 18th or 19th centuries when women did not even have the right to vote, but she believes there is still more work to be done.
“Just follow your interests,” Liu advises girls who are trying to impact the world. “There’s a lot of people on the way who are going to tell you that ‘You shouldn’t do that’ or ‘You might not be good enough for that,’ but if it’s something that you’re passionate about and it’s something you want to achieve, you should just go for it and not be held back by anything people say.”