March is Social Work Month. The White House officially recognized National Professional Social Work Month in 1984. That year’s theme was “Listen to the Children.” The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) selected an annual theme, on topics such as hate crimes, violence prevention, homelessness, and HIV/AIDS.
The 2019 theme is “Elevate Social Work” to “recognize the extraordinary contributions of the profession to our society.” The NASW estimates that there will be “more than 682,000 people expected to be employed as social workers by 2026.” Social workers are the “largest group of providers of mental health services in the United States and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs employs the most social workers with advanced degrees. For more than a century, social workers have helped people with issues such as voting rights, workplace safety, minimum wage and welfare programs, and equal rights for women, LGBTQ individuals, African Americans, Latinos, those with disabilities, and other groups.
Hidiya Hanim Barakat (1898–1969) was an Egyptian philanthropist and social worker who began working with a team of women in the 1920s. Her organization set up clinics, hospitals, schools, and orphanages in most of the major towns, and providing relief during epidemics.
She was the daughter of a former magistrate and palace official and had a privileged upbringing, educated at the French convent Nôtre Dame de la Mère de Dieu until she was thirteen. At twenty, she married Bahaieddine Barakat, a lawyer and member of the leading political family, and who later served as a government minister. Her in-laws used her welfare activities to disseminate Wafdist (nationalist) literature.
Through her court connections, Barakat helped a princess organize a group of philanthropic women, who set up medical clinics in poor parts of Cairo in 1908. Among them was Huda Sha’rawi, daughter of Muhammad Sultan, who created social organizations for women and protested British colonial rule.
In 1909, they named their organization Mabarrat Muhammad Ali (Muhammad Ali the Great Philanthropic Association), known as the Mabarrat. It worked to provide health care especially to rural areas and combat the high infant mortality rate. In 1919, Bakarat founded the Society of the New Women, to teach trades and child care, and establishing orphanages. As one of the leading figures of the feminist movement, Barakat also helped create the “Société de la Femme Nouvelle”, setting up girls’ schools across the countryside.
By the 1950s, the Mabarrat was the biggest, widest-reaching organization in Egypt, and after Nasser’s government was toppled in 1952, Bakarat was elected president of the Mabarrat. Several Egyptian institutions SUCH AS are named after her.
A few days before she did, she was given the highest decoration for organized a clinic, dispensary, and hospital in nearly every major Egyptian town.
Gwendolyn Margaret Lizarraga, MBE (11 July 1901 – 9 June 1975) was Belize’s first female cabinet minister.
Belize is located in Central America, between Guatemala and Mexico and bordering the Caribbean Sea. Its earliest known inhabitants were the Mayans, between 250 and 900 CE, reaching its peak around the 8th century. The numbers declined by the 16th century when the Spanish arrived, and many of those who remained died of diseases the Spanish introduced, or were sent to Guatemala.
The Spanish moved out of the area, and the British moved in the 1670s. The British began cutting logwood to export to Europe, going further inland to cut mahogany and cedar. The Spanish and British fought for control, until the Spanish lost in 1798. Nearly fifty years later, the Mayans revolted against the Spanish in what is now Mexico and Mayans, dissident Spaniards, and Mestizos (those of mixed Spanish and Mayan ancestry) refugees fled to what is now Belize. To resolve tensions, the settlement requested to become a British colony and was renamed British Honduras in 1862. It became a colony in 1870.
In 1954, the first general elections were held. The People’s United Party (PUP) won. In February 1954, Gwendolyn Lizarraga formed the United Women’s Group (UWG), the women’s arm of the party, to advocate for social justice and empowerment of women. During the 1950s, before the Universal Adult Suffrage, only property owners were allowed to vote so Lizarraga assisted women in acquiring their own house and lot. There were 1,400 (UWG) members by May 1959.
Gwendolyn Lizarraga was the first woman to run for office in Belize. She ran for the Pickstock Division in 1961, one of five challengers. She won 69% of the vote. She became the Minister of Education, Housing and Social Services. She was elected for a second therm as Minister of Education, Housing and Social Services in 1965, and a third term in 1969. During this term, she became involved in improving housing conditions and providing youth education. During her time as Minister of Education, the first Junior Secondary School was established in 1968 which was later re-named Gwen Lizarraga High School. Lizarraga was also the first woman to be elected to the National Assembly and first female minister.
Despite the elections, it was not until 1864 that British Honduras became self-governing. The government seat was moved from Belize City to Belmopan in 1971, and the country’s name was named to Belize in 1973. Belize finally gained its independence on 21 September 1981.
One of the few books written about social work is Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. I was lucky enough to get my copy autographed when Fadiman visited a friend’s English class, which her husband taught.