Today marks International Women's Day, when people across the globe celebrate women's achievements, advocate for gender parity and raise awareness about civil rights.
You don't have to travel far to find women in leadership positions. Western Kentucky is full of female politicians, business owners, nonprofit directors and educators -- all dedicated to building a better world in their own unique ways.
Advocate: Christa Dubrock
Christa Dubrock's volunteer work can be challenging: It centers on gun violence, a hot-button issue that Dubrock says opponents often misrepresent. But the friendships she's formed with those she calls "real-life wonder women" make the difficulties worthwhile.
"I've never seen so much courage gathered in one room," Dubrock said. "Without hesitation, the most rewarding aspect of being involved with Moms Demand Action has been the bonds I've formed with the remarkable women I've met. We begin each meeting introducing ourselves and allowing time to share our stories related to gun violence, sharing why we are there. Women -- and men -- at our meetings trust each other with stories of tragic losses."
Dubrock, a Carlisle County native, serves as the organizer for the Paducah chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a branch of Everytown for Gun Safety. She helped found the local chapter in 2018, when state chapter membership lead Betsy Roup approached her about forming a group in the area. Dubrock agreed, and was surprised when a couple dozen people showed up to the first meeting. The group has only grown from there.
Advocating for gun legislation, like universal background checks and licensing for concealed carry, can be rocky in Kentucky, where hunting and shooting are popular traditions and, in some cases, necessities. Like most people she knows, Dubrock grew up in a household that owned guns. But she's also seen the devastating impact gun violence has had in this area, from school shootings to suicides and homicides.
"There are many who wish we would just stop shining a light or speaking out about gun violence," Dubrock acknowledged. "But these are our gun violence stories. … They come from right here in western Kentucky, so, no. We won't stop telling them."
Dubrock sees a direct link between her advocacy for gun safety and the theme of this year's International Women's Day, "Balance for Better."
Gender imbalances can be seen even in the issue of gun violence, she says, as some data show women in the United States are 16 times more likely to die of gun violence than women in other developed countries. When it comes to domestic violence situations, the presence of a gun in a household can increase the risk of female fatality by 500 percent, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states.
"Don't let anyone kid you: Gun violence is a deadly serious women's issue. Until we get a handle on the gun violence epidemic in this country, we will not see a balance for better," she said.
Physician: Dr. Jena Ruxer
Dr. Jena Ruxer, a Paducah physician and business owner, knows firsthand what it's like to be a single, working mother.
Her familiarity with those day-to-day challenges is part of what led her to a calling she hadn't imagined when she earned her medical degree from the University of Louisville in 2010.
"I didn't realize just how rewarding it would be to get to know this side of the community and the women here, and to see what this industry can do for women," Ruxer said.
Ruxer recently took ownership of Medical Spa Seven, where she also serves as a physician, making her practice unique in the Paducah area. She also owns Jena Ruxer, MD Medical Spa Services, located inside Revive on Village Square Drive.
Although she began her career as a hospitalist, and still works in that capacity part-time at Baptist Health Paducah, she's found cosmetic services to be a better fit for her than she expected.
"Everyone I see works really hard -- moms and nurses and teachers, business owners, everyone giving, giving -- it's kind of their outlet, or their way to reward themselves," the physician said of the services she provides.
Many people, including first-time clients, tend to believe women receive these treatments in order to compete with one another, Ruxer said. They'll even apologize during their first appointments for appearing "vain."
"A lot of people think we're trying to keep up with each other and look good," Ruxer said.
But the physician's five years in the industry have shown her that women feel better when they look better. Clients often come to her as a way to practice self-care, she said.
"We can't slow our lives down. We can't work less if we need the money. But we can now do things to age a little more gracefully, or help us feel a little better. I've had women leave here in tears because they've felt so much better," she said.
Some of Ruxer's clients have been women who've come to her with injuries from physical abuse, she added.
"I was able to correct those damages. It was more rewarding than I ever would have anticipated. It's not about keeping up or comparing, it's about being there for each other," she said.
The cosmetic side of medicine has allowed Ruxer to be a better mother to her 14-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, she added. She loved shift work at the hospital, but found it difficult to miss out on picking her kids up from school or attending their extracurricular activities.
Now, she can schedule directly with clients, most of whom understand her drive to live a balanced life.
"To be a good mom, to be a good physician, to be a good friend, I have to take care of myself," Ruxer said. "Living this life allows me to be so much better."
Women in leadership roles can be found everywhere in western Kentucky, from Paducah's City Hall to regional libraries, nonprofits and ministries. Women run construction companies, work in law enforcement and volunteer their time on issues ranging from child advocacy to homelessness. In honor of 2019 International Women's Day, here are six more outstanding women who've made headlines in the past year.
Lakilia Bedeau, Director, Tornado Alley Youth Services
In addition to helping youth at Paducah Tilghman High School, Bedeau is the founder of the RESPECT Conference, which supports educational professionals, and of B. Dynamic Inc., a company that helps youth and families with basic life skills.
Sara Bradley, Freight House
Local chef Sara Bradley earned local recognition as the proprietor of Freight House, and the Kentuckian is now working her way to national recognition on this season of "America's Top Chef."
Betty Dobson, Hotel Metropolitan
Dobson is a longtime advocate for the historic Hotel Metropolitan and a founder of the Upper Town Heritage Foundation in Paducah. Her educational performances as the hotel's founder, Maggie Steed, earned her the 2018 Sallie Bingham Award last August from the Kentucky Foundation for Women.
Sarah Stewart Holland
A former Paducah city commissioner, Holland appeared recently on the national talk show "Morning Joe" to discuss the book she co-wrote with Beth Silvers, "I Think You're Wrong (But I'm Listening)," a guide to grace-filled political conversations.
Ines Rivas-Hutchins, INTEC Group
This Venezuela native has made Kentucky her home, working her way up through the construction industry for the past 20 years. She's currently representing Paducah at the annual Women Build America conference in Washington, D.C. She started INTEC Group, based in downtown Paducah, three years ago, and will be featured in an upcoming edition of the Sun's Business Journal.
Christine Thompson, Livingston County School Board
Thompson, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, made history in November when she was elected to the school board, becoming the first Latina elected in Kentucky.