Women’s History Month

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

This 2021 Women’s History Month we will witness celebrations and highlights of how far women have come, while also highlighting the future for women in the United States and around the world.

I started my career in a traditionally female path as a schoolteacher.

The inspiration and support of my family, as well as my own determination and drive, quickly developed from teacher to principal and owner of a small school.

I could have been content as a teacher as it continues to be one of my passions, but I saw a need for more; and pursued it.

No one in my family had ever been a politician and when we ran my first campaign for the Florida House of Representatives, we had no idea how to even begin.

My dad and I attended a course on how to run a campaign, and we did everything we were told that made any sense to us.

The most important thing we did was to think about what would influence us the most as voters ourselves.

The answer was: a face-to-face visit by the candidate.

We analyzed the streets and residences and decided we could cover the entire district if I walked for six months straight, five days a week.

That hard work paid off and I became the first Hispanic woman elected to the Florida House of Representatives.

I learned a thing or two in my four years in that Chamber and in 1986, I ran for the Florida Senate and became the first Hispanic woman elected to that body.

In 1989, a seat in Congress became available and once again, with the help and support of my family and community, I was elected as the first Hispanic woman to serve in the U.S. Congress.

Every day that I served in Congress I would look at the Chamber and that beautiful Capitol dome and remind myself that it was real.

A refugee who did not speak a word of English when she arrived in the U.S., had the privilege of serving in this legislative body.

When I arrived in Congress in 1989, I was one of only a handful of women members.

I did not let that intimidate me and I worked hard and learned from my colleagues.

In the nearly 30 years that I was privileged to represent our beautiful and diverse South Florida community, I was glad to see more and more women running for office and joining the ranks of elected representatives across city, state, and federal positions.

Every day, we witness women removing more and more barriers, and blazing the trail for future generations.

Girls and young women can look at every sector of society including business, technology, politics, and our armed forces to see a world full of possibilities.

However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that more and more women seek higher education and secure jobs in every area.

We must each do all we can to encourage young women everywhere to pursue the career of their choice and dreams.

Each one of us has the responsibility and privilege of mentoring, inspiring and encouraging young women to become involved in their communities around the world.

One person can make a difference.

We can all be leaders and changemakers; no fancy title required.

In today’s global economy, we must each do more to empower women from every corner of the world to follow their dreams, provide the tools needed for them to succeed and continue to break glass ceilings and barriers.

Working toward gender equality can bring about transformational change across a wide variety of sectors.

We must come together and continue to fight for women’s rights and inclusion at every level of decision making to inspire future generations of women.

We can all be heroes and sheroes if we accept the challenge to work day in and day out to continue to motivate, mentor and prepare the next generation of leaders.

I encourage you – all of you but especially women among you – to accept this exciting challenge.

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