Sixteen-year-old Prasidha Padmanabhan is a rising junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. She recently founded the Women for Education, Advocacy and Rights (WEAR) organization which is a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for the rights, equality and representation of women.
“I founded the organization in the summer of 2020 and started our work through a petition to integrate more women’s history in the FCPS education,” said Padmanabhan. “At first there was a lot of backlash because people questioned the need for such an organization, and the need for more women’s history education. Many people did not understand why it was important, but I never backed down.”
Padmanabhan is joined by seven other Fairfax County Public School students on the WEAR executive board. Together, they lead the nonprofit group and focus on diversifying education, providing events and webinars, using social media to spread awareness about women’s issues and rights and providing for women through various initiatives like creating care packages for local shelters.
“I have always enjoyed being an FCPS student, and with FCPS being one of the largest counties in the nation, I wanted to make sure WEAR would be able to reach and help as many students as possible as we address the lack of diverse women’s history in education,” said Padmanabhan. “I wanted WEAR to also support school districts like FCPS whose mission is to promote equitable and inclusive curricula.”
Padmanabhan is working hard to make sure women’s history is included so students can learn about women who look like them. “Curriculums across Virginia, and the entire country, have had a lack of women’s history and especially diverse women’s history for decades,” said Padmanabhan. “I want to see us writing women back into our textbooks, and finally having equal representation of all women in every lesson we learn.”
The TJ student presented her work with WEAR at the FCPS Social Studies Summer Institute Professional Development in June. Padmanabhan and WEAR provided teachers around the county with resources and a guide to teach 6th graders about diverse women in history during the Civil War and their roles.
WEAR has also gained support from top leaders in the county as they aim to create more diverse lessons. “FCPS School Board member Rachna Sizemore Heizer agreed to be one of WEAR’s advisory board members last year, and we began brainstorming ways to highlight the movement for more women’s history in FCPS curricula,” said Padmanabhan. “Through our correspondence, Dr. Deborah March, Culturally Responsive Pedagogy Specialist with FCPS, reached out to the WEAR executive board and we worked together on creating resources for teachers across the county.”
Despite the focus on FCPS, WEAR is open to all students who are passionate about women’s rights. The nonprofit has more than 150 members, ranging from students across the United States to students internationally. With the help of technology, general member meetings and working on initiatives is possible for members who are not local to FCPS.
Looking to the future of WEAR, the group is hopeful. “I hope WEAR will continue this momentum and will be able to work on writing diverse women back into history curricula across the state and the nation,” said Padmanabhan. “Continuing to make an impact, diversifying history education and furthering our other initiatives focused on the rights and overall equality for women are the biggest goals that WEAR has for the future.”