Celebrated on March 8 in countries around the world, International Women’s Day is a busy, hardworking day. Half celebration—recognizing women's political, economic and social achievements. Half protest—against sexism, violence against women and online and workplace harassment. 2017 showed us how far we’d come—and how we still stumble.
We know that in the early struggles for universal suffrage (aka the right to vote), suffragists believed that voting rights should belong to more than just “all white males”. But the word suffragette was used to (negatively) describe a specific type of suffragist: an outspoken, unruly—and always female — protestor. But like the “pussy hat”, “Nevertheless, she persisted” and “nasty woman”, suffragettes came to embrace, even own, the word. In short, women knew they had strength but discovered they had power and the will to see their desires made real.
It’s happening again. Women (and their allies!) erupted with a roar in 2017: from the Women’s March held in Washington, D.C. in January (with sister marches worldwide) to the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns, women have once again mobilized to use their power to push for further progress.
And it’s needed. In a PPRI/Atlantic Poll of American voters during the 2016 presidential election, nearly 40% of respondents believed that society was better off when women “stuck to the jobs and roles they were naturally suited for.” In the very same poll, 68% of those surveyed disagreed that discrimination against women was “a thing of the past.” We seem to know we have a problem, but are divided on how to fix it.
Both the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are strong indications that the tide is changing and rapidly. But acknowledgement of the unnecessary obstacles women face and punishing those who have abused their powers in the past will only take us so far, though bad behaviour absolutely should be called out. Accountability, personal responsibility and ownership of actions will need to become part of the story moving forward in order to create a culture where imbalances aren’t systemic. Normalizing the roles women actually have in society via all media, including advertising, film and tv is a start. Show women as political and business leaders, as farmers, police officers, engineers and lawyers. Show women as caregivers, nurses, healers but also doctors, surgeons and hospital administrators.
Gender equality isn't just about women—it's about men too. Studies have shown that there are a number of benefits when men are more involved in childcare, including a decline in violence against women. So we need to show men as they already are as well - as advocates of women, competent dads of daughters and sons, as caregivers, as supportive colleagues and employees of women leaders. The movement #AskMoreOfHim launched ahead of the Golden Globes, asking men to use their power and privilege to make it clear to other men that sexism and sexual harassment are never acceptable.
Women didn’t spend 2017 just knitting pink hats and marching. Twice as many women are running for political office in 2018 than 2016. Emily’s List, a US-based organization that helps pro-choice Democratic women run for office, was contacted by 902 women in 2016. In 2017, that number grew to 30,000—a staggering 3225% increase. If diversity is good for business, it should be good for governance.
Over the past 100 years, the world really has visibly changed for the better. #MeToo and #TimesUp clearly showed us what we couldn’t acknowledge or wouldn’t see, what hadn’t changed. We have work to do.