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2020 International Women’s Day: A Call To Take Individual Reins On Collective Equality

On March 8th, we again approach International Women’s Day, since 1911 a day for celebrating the achievements of women across social, economic, cultural and political spheres and for calling for accelerated actions towards gender parity. 

The theme for the 2020 event is “An equal world is an enabled world” – and the campaign hashtags are #EachforEqual and #IWD2020. Supporters are asked to strike the campaign ‘hands out equal pose’ on social media in order to spread the word for a stronger call-to-action globally.

As theglasshammer pointed out last year, both the celebration of achievements and shedding light on overlooked issues are valuable. But while one day of talking and hashtagging and ‘striking a pose’ creates salience and hopefully momentum, change asks for something less visible, less glib and even closer to home. The substance is in the message.

It’s not only about advocacy for systems and organizations and political bodies to change. It’s not only in the PR and action-based global campaigns. The call-to-action might both feel full circle and also frustrating, but it remains a big part of how change happens – especially in the places of privilege: We each have a daily, personal responsibility to create equality.

Beyond what we ask of governments or organizations, we can each work to advance the practice of equality in our own thought processes and actions. We can wake up more to the ways we each, on a daily basis, are often reinforcing the very discrimination and inequalities that we advocate against.

Gender Gaps Persist In Power and Visibility Across Spheres of Influence

A categorized breakdown by UNWomen.org highlights the immense gap between current reality and gender parity across several important fields of influence. 

It has taken 25 years for political representation of women to double to women holding still only 1 in 4 global parliamentary seats. The Fortune 500 reported a peak in Women CEOs in June 2019, but that milestone “peak” is less than 7% of 500 CEO seats. To date, only 53 of the 900 Noble Peace Prize winners have been women, with only 19 winners in the categories of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine. Only 30% of STEM current researchers are women, and only 35% of STEM students are.

When it comes to media representation, the creative engine of our cultural narrative, women are one third as visible as men. A global media study across 20 years and 114 countries showed that “only 24 per cent of the persons heard, read about or seen in newspaper, television and radio news are women.” Women are also only 26% of persons covered in digital media and a decade-long stagnant 37% of news reporters. Only a pithy 4% of total stories challenge gender stereotyping. 

Entertainment, it seems, reflects reality in the relative skewed representation towards men’s voices and men’s experience. A popular films analysis across 11 countries found that only 31% of all speaking characters were women and only 23% had a female protagonist, perhaps not shockingly mirroring that 21% of filmmakers are women.

Women are not only scarce in positions of power and influence. We are simply less present in the cultural feed that influences so much of our conditioned perception.

UN Women “Generational Equality” Campaign Also Iterates Individual Agency

As stated on the campaign site, #EachforEqual is calling for ‘Collective Individualism’: “Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements.”

The UN International Women’s Day 2020 campaign also reflects the ‘collective individualism’ theme: “I am Generational Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights,” with a continued focus on uniting all advocates for equality – regardless of race, age, country, gender, religion, ethnicity etc – but especially across generations.

2020 represents 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action at the UN’s Fourth World Conference on women, which is “recognized as the most progressive roadmap for the empowerment of women and girls, everywhere” and set out to achieve global gender equality across 12 critical areas.

According to UN Women, this is a pivotal year for taking worldwide stock of progress made on women’s rights, and accelerating gender equality now.

The organization reports, “The emerging global consensus is that despite some progress, real change has been agonizingly slow for the majority of women and girls in the world. Today, not a single country can claim to have achieved gender equality. Multiple obstacles remain unchanged in law and in culture. Women and girls continue to be undervalued; they work more and earn less and have fewer choices; and experience multiple forms of violence at home and in public spaces. Furthermore, there is a significant threat of rollback of hard-won feminist gains.”

What Could Collective Individualism Look Like? 

“We are all parts of a whole,” iterates #EachforEqual. “Our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society.”

In resonance with #EachForEqual, UN Women states that change “isn’t just about big headline moments, legal victories and international agreements: the way we talk, think, and act every day can create a ripple effect that benefits everyone.”

On this point, the UN Women campaign has introduced “12 Small Actions with Big Impact for Generation Equality.” These include: share the (domestic, unpaid, parenting) care, call out sexism and harassment, reject the binary, demand an equal work culture, exercise your political rights, shop responsibly, amplify feminist books and movies and more, teach girls their worth, challenge what it means to be a “man”, commit to a cause, challenge beauty standards and respect the choices of others.

Hira Ali in Forbes also offers up four suggestions for activating #EachForEqual: create awareness about generation equality; support non-profit organizations for women; celebrate, support and collaborate with other women; and start mentoring girls early.

Most of all, when it comes to all belief constructs, we need to challenge where we’ve swallowed the story ourselves. While we cannot control or choose every thought that crosses the pasture of our minds, we can wake up to realizing that our thoughts, instincts, feelings, etc are unconsciously biased by internalized societal gendered conditioning. And we can know that this is further reinforced by systemic bias, so we’re often more supported to go down the well-trafficked path of bias. 

Paradigms are hard to shake. Often we neither realize insidious bias is in play, nor how it permeates our thoughts, our fears, our assumptions and our actions. As theglasshammer CEO Nicki Gilmour recommends, “Test assumptions for best results.”

This is part of why Catalyst’s #BiasCorrect Campaign, launched in 2019, actively focuses on helping “individuals identify and mitigate the biases that exist in our workplaces and within each of us.”

The overall IWD campaign message of 2020 seems to boil down to this: Call yourself to action, for the collective change. Anything that is systemic will eventually falter if more and more individuals no longer acquiesce, consent, conform or comply – in the many conscious and unconscious daily ways we do – to support the status quo.

This year’s IWD2020 theme is iterating that agency for change begins with intentionally becoming more equality, inside and out, in how you perceive and show up in the world.

Authors Bio: Aimee Hansen is a freelance writer, frequent contributor to theglasshammer and Creator and Facilitator of Storyteller Within Retreats, Lonely Planet recommended women’s circle retreats focused on self-exploration and connecting with your inner truth and sacred expression through writing, yoga, meditation, movement and ceremonies.