International Women's Day

Floor Speech

Date: March 8, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. PLASKETT. Madam Speaker, last week I shared a series of historical facts for Virgin Islands History Month, which falls in the month of March. Today, in celebration of International Women's Day, I proudly recognize the indomitable spirit of women from the Virgin Islands.

This year, the theme of International Women's Day is centered around the bold hashtag ``Break the Bias.'' For decades, women have worked to break the bias in communities, workplaces, schools, universities. We learn about different historical figures in history, but often we forget to give recognition to the lesser-known women whose stories and contributions help to propel the historical narrative.

First on my list, I want to recognize the most influential and enigmatic writer of Harlem Renaissance, Nellallitea, or as she was more commonly known, Nella Larsen. With a father from the Danish West Indies, what is now the Virgin Islands, while working as a nurse and librarian, she wrote two instant success novels, Quicksand in 1928, and Passing in 1929, which made its screen debut on Netflix in 2019. Nella was the first African-American woman to receive the prestigious Guggenheim fellowship award for creative writing.

Also on my list is an individual who has a series of firsts for Virgin Islanders, Ruby Rouss. Ruby Rouss was a Crucian known for breaking the bias throughout her short life journey. She broke the mold for what was considered possible for women during her time and was the first of many things:

She was the first female member of the drill team at Fort Dix in New Jersey.

She was the first Black woman to be permanently assigned to the staff of General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Parole officer, probation officer, legislator, leader, Ruby Rouss was a woman who advocated for those most in need, spoke out against injustice, and was true to her belief that women belong in politics.

My very own chief of staff, Angeline Muckle-Jabbar, comes from a long lineage of powerful women from the Virgin Islands. One such woman in her family was Ann Marie Shrader from St. Croix, who was at the forefront of pivotal changes that were taking place in the 1970s at the FBI National Academy. She was one of only two women to graduate from the academy in 1972.

And, of course, bringing it forward, I would be remiss if I did not include the Virgin Islands' very own Aliyah Boston who, through her excellence in the NCAA women's basketball league, continues to break the bias. Aliyah posted a record-breaking 23 consecutive double-doubles this season. Miss Boston's team, the South Carolina Gamecocks, are currently the number one overall seed for the upcoming NCAA tournament.

All of these women faced deliberate or unconscious bias, and yet they prevail. As a Black woman, I think about my own mother and all the mothers who, every day even when it wasn't common to work, they sacrificed, occupied spaces where they were underrated, underappreciated, marginalized.

Women continue to face tremendous obstacles across a number of spheres. For example, managerial and leadership positions continue to be male dominated, with women holding approximately 27 percent of managerial roles. In the business world, on average, women hold 19.7 percent of corporate board seats. Of that number, 6.7 percent are chairs, and only 5 percent are CEOs.

The importance of representation for women in leadership, politics, law enforcement, and across every sphere is evident. In politics alone, evidence shows that more women in public decision-making and public policy produce policies that benefit women, children, and families in general. Loans given to women's businesses exponentially support families and communities. We need women.

On this International Women's Day, I pay homage to the women who have come before me and the ones who stand beside me, and I send special prayers and strength on International Women's Day to the women of Ukraine, those fighting on the front line, those bringing support and comfort to children and elders and bringing them to safety, all of the women in Ukraine, especially today.

Let us all continue the great work to break the bias and advance the cause of women's rights in our communities, our government, and our world.