It’s important to celebrate the contributions women have made to society for centuries – whether its the scientific breakthroughs of Marie Curie or the advancement of community needs like the Guam Women’s Club urging Guam’s earliest policy makers to start a solid waste program on island.
For Guamanians like Juanita Blaz and Emma Mae Sheedy – two women who have inspired and empowered many others to work to become the best version of themselves and to chase their dreams – that celebration shouldn’t be contained to one month.
March is Women’s History Month. The annual proclamation celebrates the contributions of women in Guam and the nation and recognizes the achievements women have made in a variety of fields.
Blaz is the program director of Island Girl Power, an organization that – at its heart – aims to teach young women that they are amazing and special and have the capability to change the world for the better.
“Observances such as Women’s History Month is to make sure there is a proper foundation, that (women) weren’t just the silent, obedient, non-voting type,” Blaz said.
“There were women in our history who have made advancements in science and technology; there is so much women have accomplished.
“All Island Girl Power has asked for is equality – Island Girl Power is about bringing women and girls up to be considered as equal and have someone to look up to,” she added.
Island Girl Power’s Girl’s Clubhouse dates back to 2002. It’s here that Island Girl Power creates a supportive environment for young women by providing activities that teach life skills like cooking, sewing, and changing the oil in a car, as well as physical health programs like jump roping and capoeira.
The organization brings volunteers who also serve as role models and discuss what it means to grow up as a young woman in today’s world and how respect needs to be at the center of how we treat ourselves and each other.
Blaz said the CHamoru culture is matrilineal and women have an important role in safeguarding the traditions and values of the people and passing them down to the next generation.
Much of the activities stem from Blaz’s own experience as a mother and a proud CHamoru woman. Blaz said at the roots of her heritage is the importance of being a role model in strength and kindness. Her own mother, Juanita Simona Cushing, taught Blaz how to be compassionate and hardworking.
“Everybody can be a role model. But being a positive role model, in your own family, is so important.” Blaz said, noting that change starts with young women and men understanding their worth as human beings and their responsibilities as members of a larger community.
Over the years, Blaz has added to the organization’s program, expanding its facilities to better the whole community.
Blaz said programs like Community Gardens and Earth Bucket are a reflection of those cultural traditions and values – that of growing food from land and nurturing the family and the community.
Be a positive influence
As a social media influencer, Sheedy takes every opportunity to connect with others and raise the women around her. Garnering a large audience at a young age, from winning beauty pageants and being Miss Earth Guam in 2018, Sheedy is able to share her story of the experiences and work she did in the community.
With the online influence she has among multiple platforms, she uses it to promote the importance of being a part of the community and giving back and accepting others with open arms.
Currently a student at St. Thomas Aquinas College, Sheedy works as a freelance digital marketing and public relations specialist and is professionally skilled in digital editing, content creation, and online marketing strategies. With her skills in public relation communication, Sheedy makes every effort to educate others in the importance of community, kindness, and hard work.
“I try my best to encourage the younger generation to strive for their goals, ask for help, and to not be afraid to fail.” Sheedy stated, detailing how the success of an individual is a community success and vice versa. “I don’t think one thing that I have done has given me the reputation I have, it’s a combination of who I am and everything I believe in.”
Sheedy publicly shares her goals, to include the path to success; from lifting herself up from failure to celebrating a win.
“As a young girl, my parents pushed me to dream big, with the understanding that working hard will allow me to achieve my goals,” she said. “With a supportive community behind me, those goals are even easier to reach.”
In the future, Sheedy hopes for more people to celebrate the women of the past and acknowledge what women bring to our communities every day.
She encouraged girls going through moments of doubt and discouragement to remember: “Think of a goal you’ve always wanted to achieve. What is stopping you?”
She said it’s important for everyone to “dream big and reach for your goals.”
She also acknowledged that sometimes society doesn’t make it easy for women.
“Don’t let being a woman stop you from being the best person you can be,” she said.
Sharing that same sentiment, Blaz noted that it’s not just the work of people in the past that needs to be celebrated. She said it’s important to be aware and to encourage the ongoing strides and efforts being made today.
“We need to acknowledge these women and men who are really making history now," she said.