Let These Two Middle Schoolers Tell You Why International Women’s Day Matters | News

Let These Two Middle Schoolers Tell You Why International Women’s Day Matters

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Middle-school students Laura Gonzalez, left, and Belen Willott, right, participate in an International Women's Day rally in downtown Durham. - SARAH WILLETS
  • Sarah Willets
  • Middle-school students Laura Gonzalez, left, and Belen Willott, right, participate in an International Women's Day rally in downtown Durham.

Laura Gonzalez and Belen Willott are no strangers to activism.

Gonzalez recently participated in the nationwide Day Without Immigrants strike. Willott is in a feminist book club. Both joined January’s Women’s March in Raleigh and a rally put on this morning by Action NC as part of International Women’s Day and a corresponding day of strike, A Day Without a Woman.

Both have also yet to finish middle school.

Gonzalez and Willott, on opposite sides of their respective thirteenth birthdays, attended Wednesday’s rally in downtown Durham with their mothers in tow—joining about eighty others—waving signs with the standard symbol for female, a picture of former First Lady Michelle Obama, and her words: “when they go low, we go high.” 


They came out to make some noise for accessible health and reproductive care, immigrants’ rights, and victims of human trafficking.

“I’m really fortunate and my family is really accepting and everything, but there are some people who get treated really badly, and I think that’s really unfair,” Gonzalez said.

“All the Trump policies are targeting minority groups, so we have to show up for the people who are unable to,” Willott added.

Gonzalez and Willott hope Wednesday’s events shed light on the small, often subconscious ways sexism and inequality manifest in everyday life—even at their school.

“Little things matter, small stuff,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just a sport, but like during gym guys only pass to guys because like because you’re a girl, you can’t catch. It’s only a small thing, but when they grow up …”

“They seem like small things, but they add up to a bigger culture of misogyny,” Willott said, finishing her classmates’ thought.

They spotted one of their Lakewood Montessori Middle School classmates at the march, but they said most of their friends who are attuned to women’s issues felt it would be a bigger statement to go to school wearing red, one way the organizers of A Day Without A Woman have asked people to show support for women’s rights even if they can't abstain from paid or unpaid work. (Organizers also called on people not to shop, except at local and women-owned businesses).

“I wasn’t that aware of this stuff until the presidential election last year and I started paying more attention to it and it connected with me a lot,” Willott said. “Also we talk about it in school. We have a feminist book club where we talk about issues like this and the day after the election we talked about it at school. … We just finished our first book, 33 Things Every Girl Should Learn About Women’s History. There was a story called ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ that really stuck with me that was written in the eighteen hundreds about how women were oppressed then and couldn’t really tell about it. It was really telling about the time.”

The group planned to spend the rest of the day sending postcards to North Carolina’s representatives in Congress urging them to take action to protect immigrants and the Affordable Care Act.

Gonzalez’s mother, Africa Dutor, was able to get the day off from teaching kindergarten at Durham’s Southwest Elementary School. The school system remained open Wednesday, while Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools closed because so many staff members planned to strike.

Dutor, who is originally from Spain, said she attended the rally to be an example for her students and daughter. “We need to stand up. It’s not enough saying words, telling your girls, ‘Don’t let people do that to you.’ You need to show them how to do it.”

Willott’s mother, Holly Franklin, “kind of” took the day off from her job as a public health researcher. She was listening in on a conference call after the rally concluded, headphones in one ear.

“I’m running out of [paid time off] so I couldn’t take the day,” she said “I’m a single parent at the moment because my husband is in Africa working on reproductive issues.”

She remembered closely watching the progress of the Equal Rights Amendment when she was her daughter’s age.

“I was twelve, thirteen years old hoping that that would pass, and I was so disappointed when it didn’t,” she said.

The amendment, which would codify equal rights regardless of sex, was introduced to Congress every session from 1923–72, when it was finally passed. The amendment, however, was never ratified by enough states to be added to the Constitution. Just yesterday, the amendment was passed by the Nevada state House. If Nevada approves the ERA, it would be the first state to do so in more than thirty years.
Durham's CCB Plaza turned red Wednesday morning during a rally held as part of International Women's Day and A Day Without a Woman, a nationwide strike. - ALLISON HUSSEY
  • Allison Hussey
  • Durham's CCB Plaza turned red Wednesday morning during a rally held as part of International Women's Day and A Day Without a Woman, a nationwide strike.

During the rally, attendees heard about equal pay, paid family leave, and access to health care from organizers of Action NC and MomsRising. Michelle Laws, a minister and former executive director of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, rallied the crowd and announced that she was launching an exploratory campaign to determine if she should run for the Fourth Congressional District seat currently held by Representative David Price.

“Now is our time to be bold, to move mountains, kick through doors, open up windows, reach back in, and pull some other women with us,” Laws told the group. “But we have to keep on pushing and rising until we move and elevate North Carolina and our country to higher ground.”


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