When most think ‘women,’ gender is the first thing that comes to mind. There exists a contradiction: women are defined too often by their sex—yes, sex is the fundamental difference between being a woman and not, but womanhood is so much more. The Women of Washington exist, loudly. Our presences are known. We are kind, intelligent, and compassionate. We actively work to inspire change in our communities, to enable and empower fellow women, to be the role models we never had. But we are not just women: we are people, too—complex, with hopes and dreams. And that is what Women of Washington is all about: celebrating us as women but also shifting the perception from our gender to our hearts, towards who we truly are.
Helen Zou is currently the librarian at Washington. She recently moved back to the Bay Area after living in New York City. “It’s a lot calmer,” she says. “It’s taken some adjustment. I live in Oakland, which causes a long commute–it’s soul crushing.” In her free time, she enjoys hiking in the redwood groves, watching movies, baking, and traveling. She once taught students English in a small fishing village in China. “My students would give themselves English names like “Water Cycle,” “Blueprints,” and “Survivors.” I also hid from them that I knew Chinese, so they would say everything in English.”
Being a woman in her job gives her the chance to be more thoughtful about why she does the things she does and learn bravery.
Throughout her life, books have always been important. “Books have helped shape how I view the entire world,” she says. “[The library] is meaningful because it’s given me a place to grow up, it’s a place where you can get amazing things for free.” She loves everything about libraries, being around books, the smell of books, and the quiet and peacefulness of the space.
Reading books about women allows for people to view women and the world differently. Some recommendations she has for books about women are Jane Eyre, old but still refreshing because Jane is such a strong character. The Golden Compass series features Lyra, who is smart, disobedient and brave.
“To me, being a woman is being a human being that feels all the complex emotions and contradictions that all humans feel, but I do think that women in particular have had to bear the difficulties of society’s baggage around sexuality, pregnancy, child care, shame, and body image. I think all these things women struggle with only make them stronger.”
Ms. Danner-Vera is not only a Spanish teacher at Washington, but she is also the adult mentor for Women’s Empowerment Plus. Her passion for women’s empowerment began with her mother. From a young age, Ms. Danner-Vera went to events for women’s rights, working hard to make change. She continues this through the Women’s Empowerment Plus focus group.
It is important to recognize that WE+ is not a club but a focus group. Focus groups support a specific group of students; however WE+ is open to all students. “We want to encourage our students to seek higher academia, to seek empowerment, to seek feminism, and to create change at this school because of what they learn at WE+,” says Ms. Danner-Vera. Focus groups such as WE+, African American Male and Latino Male focus groups are not funded by the school; however, they’ve banded together with the Gay Straight Alliance and Black Student Union clubs, as well as the Special Ed. Program, and the English Language Development and Ethnic Studies classes to form “US”—the United Students. These groups give students opportunities to connect with other students like them.
“The focus group teaches feminism and the importance of learning about women’s contributions to each area of education,” Danner-Vera says. “We want students to question what they’re taught in all of their classes, and not only ask aloud why there is an absence of women in the curriculum, but rather to challenge their teachers to focus on women in the subject taught. So, patriarchal archetypes of education become obsolete and we can get to a place of gender equality. It’s Women’s History Month and when I asked my students to name 10 notable women living now or in history, many could not even name 1! Something is wrong with the system if that is the reality in 2022!”
The WE+ focus group has big plans for later in the year. They are going on a college tour to meet with ethnic studies professors and will also be doing the Smile Project.
Ms. Danner-Vera has her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and three teaching credentials. She finds that it is difficult for women to get into a position of power, even with education. It is important to persevere and not get discouraged. Eventually you can make real change and impact lives, as Ms. Danner-Vera has.
Deshna Kankaria is a freshman, who is involved in many things here at Washington. She is a part of the National Honors Society, Band, and the Washington Girls Lacrosse team, to name a few.
Deshna is also a member of the Girls Who Code Club. She has a passion for computer science. To Deshna, it is extremely important to build interest in STEM and to encourage girls to enter STEM fields such as coding, especially since there tends to be fewer women in these professions. “I think these sorts of clubs help women find their interests,” says Deshna. They give young girls opportunities to explore a variety of fields. These girls can then discover what they are truly passionate about.
Deshna is part of the Women’s Empowerment Plus focus group as well. “There’s subtle ways where misogyny and the patriarchy still exist and people just don’t really notice it,” says Deshna. “And in this group we bring that to light and it’s a lot easier to see it.” The focus group is truly a safe space for many students at Washington, and it offers a platform to discuss important topics such as gender equality. Deshna feels there is so much that you can learn from those around you.
“I don’t think there is a definition for what being a woman is,” Deshna says. “I think we’re always changing, and that’s the biggest thing. There is no definition because women can be anything.”
Smriti Jha, a senior at Washington, says being a woman “is a big part of my identity and it’s empowering. I feel like there’s an unspoken sisterhood with others which makes me feel so comfortable!” In 2020, Jha began to help other women, inspired by the stories her mother told about not being able to go to school because she wasn’t able to afford thicker pads. Although the stories happened many years ago, it’s been a huge problem in underprivileged areas. To help, Jha created WHS’s Days for Girls (DfG) club in her Junior year, which is a chapter of the global non-profit organization DfG International. DfG International increases knowledge on menstrual health and access to menstrual products as a solution to help those who miss days of school because they can’t afford menstrual products. Jha holds a position on DfG International’s Global Advocacy team working with the SF Peninsula Chapter and is certified by its Ambassadors of Women Health Training. Her club’s work parallels DfG’s larger mission within the Bay Area by teaching others about menstrual health topics and packaging menstrual kits containing hand sewn cloth pads and liners that are donated to Bay Area shelters. Aside from DfG, she manages the non-profit organization she founded called Periods for Power (PFP) “to do more menstrual related advocacy and service projects.” Through her organization, she helped create a resolution passed by the Alameda County Democratic Party to make menstrual products available in school bathrooms. Although she has already made a huge impact, she remains on the lookout to help more women in the future. She states that she is “currently planning a trip this summer to visit an international location (Brazil or Ghana) to donate about 300 kits to a youth shelter.”
Ms. Schrenk is the transition counselor at Washington High School. She helps eighth graders transition from middle school to high school. To her, being a woman is “being able to be compassionate, kind, fierce and strong, and just holding those two dichotomies together most of the time.” She showcases these qualities in her career as she supports transitioning eighth graders with kindness while teaching them to be resilient. Once she sees those eighth graders as ninth graders, she says “I think that there is a sense of security built into them in high school because it can really be an overwhelming place and difficult spot to be in, so I think that creates a lot of stability and comfort.” Ms. Schrenk always helps her students get back up by helping them feel more confident in their new environment with her kind and charismatic personality. However, this kindness was not born in the absence of hardship. High school was a tricky point in her life; she felt a lot of pressure from her conservative family. This difficulty made her want to explore something unconventional: taking American Sign Language classes for four years throughout high school and pursuing the language as her major in college. In her first year college dorm, she lived with deaf and hard-of-hearing people, and she says that experience “became a really cool safe haven for me. Within that community, I was able to learn a lot on how to be an ally to all marginalized groups and stand in my own voice and my own power. So, sign language really opened up a lot of doors for me in my life that I’m really really grateful for.”
Neha Bhardwaj graduated from Washington in 2016. She is currently a senior nursing student at San Jose State University. To her, being a woman means being strong and resilient, but also compassionate and nurturing. She says that “It’s about empowering other women and striving towards your goals.” She chose to pursue nursing as a career because it is challenging, fast-paced, and rewarding. She likes that it allows her to make a noticeable change in a person’s life and be a part of their healing process. “What I love about nursing is the diversity,” she explains. “There are many specialties, and roles you can work in. You can take leadership roles, such as case management, or patient-centered positions. If you enjoy traveling, you can work as a travel nurse. The possibilities are endless.”
A woman who inspires Bhardwaj is her friend Priyanka Patil, who is a nurse practitioner and professor. She explains that Patil is “a very well-rounded individual who is able to balance her personal and professional life. She exemplifies strong leadership qualities that, as a woman, are important.” Bhardwaj emphasizes how important leadership is for women at Washington. During her time there, she noticed that many of the class and club presidents were led by women. “Seeing women take on these leadership roles is motivating,” she said. “I hope to see more women in positions of power.”
In her free time, Bhardwaj loves going on hikes. “Being stuck in a room all day is no fun, so I try to go outside as much as I can,” she says. Her goal is to go on at least one hike each month.
Mahrosh Burhan is a sophomore at Washington. She enjoys playing badminton and doing photography. To Burhan, being a woman means being persistent against the sexism and stereotypes that are set for them, along with working hard in life to prove that women are equal to men in society. “It means to have a strong voice against injustice and inequality,” she says. “It means to also prove that daughters are not any less than sons, and that they should receive the same opportunities, attention from parents, and have the same chance for success. It means that I can prove that women have more in their life than just marriage, housework, bearing and taking care of children in the future.”
At Washington, she has seen a lot of sexism towards women, especially when it comes to sports. “I was thought of as ‘not strong enough’ or ‘not capable enough’ to take on the same roles as males,” she said. “I had to also do less exercises then the males, [due to] the mindset that women are weak.”
Burhan’s mother is someone who has inspired her. She explains that “the sexist ideas in our family that she had to face as a young woman from elders inspires me to stand up for women’s rights within my family and culture—which is something that she was not able to do.” To help other women in her community, Burhan emphasizes the importance of education regarding women’s rights and injustice towards women. She is a leader of Women’s Empowerment here at Washington, where she holds presentations and discussions, with the goal of inspiring students to be adversaries of this behavior in the future. “I educate people so they know when they are in a situation of injustice so they can respond justly,” she says.
Jayla Farrington is a junior at Washington High School. She was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, but moved to California in early 2016. This will be her first year with the Hatchet. Jayla plans on covering controversial topics such as mental health, entertainment, and racial discrimination. She enjoys anything to do with art, traveling, and music. Her future plans involve becoming a psychiatrist and therapist because mental health is a really important topic to her.
Vanessa Shimizu is a senior at Washington High School. She was born and raised in Fremont, California. This is her first year with the Hatchet. In her articles for the paper, she is most excited to improve her own writing and discuss current global issues. In her free time she loves to eat, sleep, do any arts and crafts, play Genshin Impact, and listen to Kpop and lo-fi. Her future plans include getting a dog, getting into one of the UC’s, and pursuing a major in the STEM field.
Harini Sivakumar is a senior at Washington High School. She was born in Chennai, India and moved to the Bay Area when she was four. This is her first year at the Hatchet, and she is interested in biomedicine, forensics, and issues regarding HIPAA compliance. Her hobbies include playing with her dogs and watching anime. She hopes to study optics in college, and lead a career in ophthalmology and visionary science research in the future.
Nishika Datla is a freshman at Washington High School. She was born in Hayward, but has lived in Fremont her entire life. This is her first year with the Hatchet, and she looks forward to having a great time. She is interested in covering stories about the arts, activism, and important events in both the Washington community and the world. Nishika enjoys drawing, baking, and hanging out with her friends. In the future she hopes to go to college and become a scientist.