Today is International Women’s Day, and while there is a lot to celebrate, it is also a reminder that there is still so much work to do to promote women’s full and robust participation in all aspects of human society.
So, to that end, I’d like to invite you to reflect today on a very simple but important question:
in your work, in your life, in your sphere of influence, regardless of how big or how small, what are you doing to actively champion and support women?
And if you are a man who holds authority and power, please hear this question directed most pointedly at you. I have been thinking about this a lot as the disheartening news around New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unfolds out of New York, and I have been so disappointed as the accusations from multiple women continue to roll in. I mean, again? Another powerful man? Another public figure? How many is this now? I’m feeling very cynical and starting to wonder if there is some kind of secret oral initiation that takes place whenever a man reaches a certain level of power whereby he learns that in his new role he gets a driver, a corporate credit card, and implicit permission to put his hands on any woman in his sphere of influence. Do we really have to keep saying that power is not license for exploitation and harassment?
And what about the situation in other countries? On March 2nd, The New York Times reported that three women working for a news organization were gunned down on their way home, and a fourth woman was wounded. Their crime was working; having a job outside the home.
Alicia Keys, in her song, “Underdog,” has this powerful line that describes a woman “on the run from a country where they put you in prison for being a woman and speaking your mind.” Sadly, all around the world, that is neither a metaphor nor an exaggeration.
So today, of course, let’s celebrate all of the strong women who have been leaders, mentors, mothers, lovers, and pillars of strength for us and our communities–sometimes against incredible odds. Let’s celebrate the Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States, Jennifer Doudna, Nobel Prize winning biochemist, and Angela Merkel the Chancellor of Germany. Let’s applaud Meera Dasgupta, National Youth Poet Laureate, Christine Lagarde, the head of the European Central Bank, and Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Let’s lift up Serena Williams, Beyonce, Malala Yousafzai, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [check out this list for others: https://www.forbes.com/power-women/#291ba4e25e25]. These are amazing women who are setting the course for a different, better world for us all.
Women, and those who identify as women, should be able to look at the world around them and see that there is nothing they can’t do, nothing they can’t be, because other women are already doing it. No girl growing up today should have to imagine a hypothetical future for herself; she should be able to see it embodied before her: a life without abuse, a life with a partner of her choice, a life with as much education as she desires, a life with a family or without, success in any profession she chooses.
But for this to become a reality, it is going to take all of us, together, to continue to work to break down the barriers that prevent women and girls, especially women and girls of color, from dreaming big, and then achieving those dreams. We need to actively help them open doors, and when those doors stick, we need to be willing to kick them in.