Written by Mikaila Kukurudza
Since Women’s Day’s first observance on February 28, 1909—then known as National Women’s Day—women have made great strides towards equality.
Today, over 60 countries across the globe celebrate International Women’s Day each year on March 8th. And while the day is used to celebrate what women have accomplished in the last century, it is also a reminder that there is still work to be done.
The 2021 theme for International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge.” We spoke to the following women who challenge their industry norms and inspire change for generations of women to come.
Jonelle Lewis: Educator, Speaker & Yoga Instructor
Photo by Zoe Savitz @zoesavitz
Jonelle is a yoga instructor, spiritual practitioner, and co-founder of @radicaldarshan, a 300-hr YTT with social justice and collective care at its curriculum's core.
Jonelle began practicing yoga over 16 years ago while pregnant with her daughter and has completed over 1000 hours of teacher training in the last five years. But despite Jonelle’s natural passion and talent for teaching, she has not always felt welcome in the yoga community.
“What I saw in that teacher training was that it really was not for everybody,” says Jonelle. "It wasn’t for somebody who looks like me.”
Since then, Jonelle has been using her voice to lead public conversations regarding race and the wellness industry on her IGTV series and within private conference calls attended by dozens of yoga studio owners across the nation. Today, alongside three of her colleagues, Jonelle is developing the teacher training she wishes she had access to: Radical Darshan.
Dr. Jessica Shepherd: OB-GYN & Women’s Health Specialist
Photo by Ryan C. Brown @ryancbrownphoto
“I want women to know their health matters and that they are heard,” says Dr. Shepherd, board certified OB-GYN, founder of Sanctum Med + Wellness, and the first chief medical officer of Verywell Health.
“I have learned as a woman and mother that our health also includes emotional, mental, and sexual health,” says Dr. Shepherd. “They are all important.”
Dr. Shepherd is dedicated to being a lifelong ambassador of wellness. Along with sharing her expertise on GMA, The Today Show, CNN, Dr. Oz, The Talk, and ABC, she shares women’s health information you need to know on her Instagram accounts daily (including why getting your PAP isn’t just important, it’s the ultimate form of self-care for down there).
“IWD means a celebration of so many successes and strides that we have made as women,” says Dr. Shepherd. “But it also signifies that we have more work to do because there are still strongholds that continue to suppress women globally.”
Georgene Huang: Women’s Career Advocate
Photo by FairyGodBoss
Georgene Huang was two months pregnant and interviewing for new jobs when she felt called to develop Fairygodboss, a community that millions of women turn to for hard-to-find intel about how companies treat women.
“I wanted to ask certain questions around benefits and policies, like maternity leave and work-life balance,” says Georgene, “but feared being judged as less than fully committed to my career if I asked.”
Since launching in 2015, Fairygodboss has raised $14 million dollars and established relationships with 150 corporate partners who are committed to improving gender diversity in their workplaces.
In the thick of the pandemic, women are struggling to find balance in their career and home life. “It’s more important than ever to advocate for gender equality in the workplace,” says Georgene.
“I believe that women shouldn’t have to choose between building a family and a fulfilling career. By creating more transparency about benefits and how mothers are treated in the workplace, I hope fewer women have to make that choice, but instead, can have and succeed in both.”
Chloe Abbott: Pro Athlete & Singer
Photo by Devin Christopher
Chloe Abbott is a unique triple threat. The 22-year-old is an elite 400m Team USA Olympic hopeful, an aspiring actress, and a singer who has recently released her first single entitled “Slim Thinn,” which centers around self-love and commemorating Black History Month. You may also recognize her as the newest face of On, the high performance Swiss sportswear brand that is quickly dominating the global market.
Gaining recognition in both the sports and entertainment industries has not been without its challenges. “Politics play a big part in an athlete’s success on and off the field,” says Chloe. “Specifically in women's track and field, if you're fast, but don't fit “the look” or mold of what the world wants you to be, you will most likely be overlooked as an athlete.”
Chloe hopes to see more resources that help prepare individuals entering professional athletics for what happens behind the scenes.
“International Women's Day reminds the world of how strong and resilient women are in their everyday lives,” says Chloe. “Through examples of successful women in sports, world leaders, in the entertainment industry, we are reminded that we can achieve anything we set our minds to.”
Dr. Stephanie Estima: Women’s Health and Hormone Specialist
Photo by Colin Steingard
“As little as 100 years ago, women had no right to vote, nor any legal rights to her children,” says Dr. Stephanie Estima, author of The Betty Body. “IWD is also a time to think about how we can actively shape our future.”
Dr. Estima has dedicated her career to teaching women about intuitive eating, balanced hormones, and transformative sex. Her recent book is a comprehensive guide on how to feel amazing in your skin despite society’s contradicting messages, a topic she speaks about daily on her Instagram.
“There is deeply baked societal, cultural, and religious conditioning that encourages women not to discuss menstruation,” says Dr. Estima. “Women end up accumulating a lot of shame and guilt around what is essentially a vital sign for their hormonal health.”
Photo by Masha Zvereva
“STEM fields need more diversity in order to become better at solving problems,” says Masha. “Diverse backgrounds, upbringing, and experiences make us understand the world from different points of view and be more inclusive in terms of issues that need to be addressed.”
Originally, Masha created Coding Blondie to share her journey of learning how to code, but it has since evolved into an online resource aimed at empowering women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Masha was able to leave her position at Google and pursue her own business full time.
“The moment I adopted the community-over-competition mindset, it opened up so many opportunities with women who I'd normally perceive as competitors,” says Masha. “Instead of competing for a slice of the metaphorical pie, let's make that pie bigger for everyone.”