March is Women’s History month and March 8th is International Women’s Day, but as Maureen Costello writes in “The Trouble with Women’s History Month” there’s a problem in highlighting the past achievements of women in a month (or any group with a specially designated month) if it encourages the thought that the issues have been solved. As she writes, “the female heroes of yesterday are acknowledged, the debt paid and the slate wiped clean.”
Often in school, we hear about the same women too – Abigail Adams, Clara Barton, Amelia Earhart, to name a few, and while their lives should be highlighted and honored for their courage, the implication to students is also that they are exceptions to the rule, remarkable not relatable, necessary then but not now.
The reality of women in our present moment is as complex as ever, and one way to examine and celebrate the triumphs, struggles, and diversity of women with students is through the lens of immigration.
Here are some ideas to teach women’s history month this March a little differently by exploring today’s immigrant women and their contributions to U.S. society:
1. Analyze the facts
Use the following resources to analyze the demographics and roles immigrant women have in society.
Immigrant Women in the United States: A Portrait of Demographic Diversity (American Immigration Council)
10 Facts You Need to Know about Immigrant Women (2013 Update) (Center for American Progress)
Divide high school students into small groups and select a few areas from one or both of the first two reports to give them. Ask the following questions: what patterns do you see? what does this graph tell you about women immigrants? who could use this data and how? why is this data presented in bar or pie graph? what can you infer from the data about women immigrants? This also makes a great test-prep activity with real-world application.
Immigrant Women in the United States (Migration Policy Institute)
Have high school students read the report and ask them to select one data point such as “immigrant women were more likely than immigrant men to be U.S. citizens” and have them infer why they think this is true. Then, have students gather in small group to discuss their data and inferences. Encourage students to build on each other’s thinking by using discussion stems.
2. Highlight other stories
Immigrant women are some of our most vulnerable and inspiring people in our society.
See our book reviews for students at all grade levels to examine the immigrant experience from a woman’s or young girl’s perspective.
For a shorter read, check out The Washington Post’s “The Almost Americans” which profiles one immigrant woman’s experience to keep her family together and her children in school in the U.S.
3. Make connections
Working women have struggled to find balance between the demands of work and family. While some women have resources to assist them, many do not. In this lesson, students interview a female relative and then make connections to the dreams and values held by many immigrant women.
Photo Credit: keithreed01 on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).