On International Women’s Day this past Thursday, people across the world focused on the need for greater progress, capitalizing upon popular movements such as #MeToo, #TimesUp and #PressforProgress which serve as powerful forces that drive global activism in pursuit of women’s equality. In the Berkshires, communities have come together to promote gender rights and support the advancement of women in a number of social sectors, including health and politics.
On Jan. 29, The Brien Center in Pittsfield, Mass., in partnership with Berkshire Health Systems, unveiled a recovery shelter specifically for women. With the ongoing opioid crisis in the Berkshires, the new Keenan House hopes to overcome the historic lack of aid in the region.
The House will serve women recovering from addiction during the early stages of rehabilitation and will also offer services for pregnant and postpartum women. The House also hopes to create a caring community by organizing group discussions about relapse prevention in which women are encouraged to support and heal together.
On a larger scale, Indivisible Pittsfield, an organization that embraces diversity, justice and equality while combating racism, misogyny and homophobia, was inspired by the Women’s March to build on a progressive movement in the Berkshires. On Jan. 20, as millions of people marched in the 2018 Women’s March, Indivisible Pittsfield held a forum on improving economic equity, health care and education as well as ensuring safe and welcoming environments for all community members. The discussion not only promoted support for the underrepresented, but also encouraged community members to take a stand for equality and justice.
The “Vote For Susan” project, along with the Adams Suffrage Centennial Celebration Committee, hopes to encourage voter participation in Adams as part of the anniversary of the 19th amendment. In addition, the year 2020 is the bicentennial of the birth of Susan B. Anthony, an Adams native who dedicated her life to advocating for women’s rights. The project has created promotional buttons and ribbons to remind residents to register to vote by April 17 and, if they are interested in running for office, to return papers by March 19. The buttons and ribbons are yellow, white and purple, the official colors of the women’s suffrage movement in America during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Recent events have also forced the Berkshire community to reaffirm its commitment to trans rights. Earlier this year, on Jan. 5, Miss Trans America founder Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien was found dead in her home in North Adams, Mass. Her husband of less than a year was charged in her murder, and he ultimately pled guilty.
Steele-Knudslien had advocated for her community by working with groups to found local and national transgender beauty pageants. Her tragic death has sparked conversation around topics of isolation, rejection, poverty, addiction, police harassment, lack of health care and marginalization that plague the LGBTQ community. This is especially true for women of color; transgender women of color, for example, are at greater risk for abuse, depression and suicide. Because Steele-Knudslien was the first transgender person to be murdered in the U.S. in 2018, trans rights activists have worried that 2018 will hold even more violence against
In light of all of these recent events, the Berkshire community has taken necessary actions to continue promoting and advocating for the rights of all women-identifying people.