What’s next for the women’s movement?

After the success of the Women’s March, it’s International Women’s Day on Wednesday 8 March. Here, 15 influential women, from Lena Dunham and Nicola Sturgeon to Susie Orbach, nominate a crucial next step towards equality

Lena Dunham: keep on protesting

I think the activism and organisation that’s happening now is showing protest matters, calling your representatives matters, becoming involved in community organisations matters, sending your donations every month matters. It has never mattered more to show up with your money, with your body, with your time and with your voice than it does right now. Lots of people had valid criticisms of the Women’s March, but it was the largest global protest we’ve seen and that’s because every single person made the choice to take time off work, to give of themselves, to give their bodies and fill space and show they wanted to say no. That scares people and even if right now we’re not seeing the result we want, the government has been warned. They understand they are not supported. They are fighting an uphill battle against women and allies of equality in all of its forms.
Lena Dunham is an actor, writer, producer and director

Nicola Sturgeon: great childcare is where it starts

It’s a source of frustration that, decades on from legislation that was supposed to pave the way for equality of the sexes, too many gaps remain. I have made equality a key feature of my government, with a gender-balanced cabinet, one of very few in the developed world.

However, if there is one specific policy area which can permanently advance the cause of gender equality, I believe the answer lies not in the workplace itself, but in the early years. Delivering high quality childcare as widely as possible is, I believe, fundamental to achieving the kind of equal society that empowers women.

It is a simple fact that, for many women, the barrier to career advancement comes when they are faced with juggling the competing demands of a job and raising a family. And in too many cases, the lack of adequate childcare becomes a decisive factor in preventing women from continuing their careers.

Improving access and affordability in childcare is not an easy challenge – and of itself will not solve all gender equality issues. But it is a challenge which must be met if we are to deliver a society which truly has equality of opportunity for men and women.
Nicola Sturgeon MSP is First Minister of Scotland

Signs of the times: protesters on the Women’s March in London take a breather.
Signs of the times: protesters on the Women’s March in London take a breather. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Naheed Farid: introduce ‘bottom to top’ economic development

I represent women in the Afghanistan parliament, in a country that is one of the worst places to live as a woman. We suffer from violence, insecurity and lack of access to basic rights, such as education and health. We tried many things, such as investing in civil society organisations, education and democratic processes, but still Afghanistan stays the same. My analysis is that in order to ensure women’s rights and equality in Afghanistan, and generally all around the world, we need to involve women in the production process, empowering women economically. We also need policies to make sure that the process of development is “bottom to top”, completely the opposite of what is practised right now. Women’s inclusion in political, economic and social aspects of development can stabilise society by consistently empowering women and involving them in high-level decision-making processes.
Naheed Farid was elected MP in 2010 at the age of 27

Nomboniso Gasa: civil action to defend our freedom from misogynistic world leaders

As I watched Donald Trump’s inauguration, I noticed something familiar in the body language between him and Melania. My mind flipped back to President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration in 2009. He didn’t even look back to see whether his wife was comfortable. She trotted behind, with shoes that were too big for her. She could have tripped and he would not have noticed.

People have written about Trump and Zuma’s disdain for the judiciary, the constitution, media and civil liberties. But they are similar in other ways, including their public devaluing of women. Trump’s tape about women throwing themselves at you, if you are famous, reminded me of Zuma’s statement when accused of rape. “I am not afraid of women. They are attracted to me. Why would I rape?” Zuma must be envying Trump, though. He is unable to reverse the Constitutional Court decision enabling women to make choices about reproductive rights, bodily integrity and freedom of choice. His ANC is unlikely to garner enough votes to change the Bill of Rights.

Contesting these men requires a careful unmasking of their devious narratives, combined with civic action in defence of our freedoms. This must be a well-planned and sustained struggle against misogynistic bullies.
Nomboniso Gasa is a South African researcher, writer and analyst on land, politics, gender and cultural issues

Laura Bates: sex and relationships education for all schoolchildren

There is a single, clear action that experts agree could make a substantial difference. For the past decade, campaigners, teachers, parents and pupils alike have urged successive governments to implement compulsory sex and relationships education (SRE) for all young people, including topics such as consent, healthy relationships, pornography, gender stereotypes and LGBT rights and relationships. Schools are currently only obliged to teach the biological basics of reproduction by the age of 15, with no compulsory coverage of issues, such as consent.

This would help protect vulnerable children who may already be experiencing sexual abuse. It would create change for the many girls who report “unwanted sexual touching” – a form of sexual assault. And, by educating young people about their rights and responsibilities, it could have an impact on the broader problem of sexual violence. With 85,000 women raped annually and two women per week killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales, this is an urgent priority.

We know that young people today face a bombardment of influences, from sexting to pornography. If we teach children how to read maps so they can find their way, and how to do maths so they can work out their change in a shop, why do we leave them shockingly ill-equipped to navigate sexual relationships, a similarly universal life experience? With 43% of young people reporting they don’t receive any SRE at all, we are failing them and letting wider society down as well.
Laura Bates is founder of the Everyday Sexism Project

Join the gang: women hold hands and share personal stories during the Dress Like A Woman rally and march, held to support women’s rights and to protest against Donald Trump, in Seattle.
Join the gang: women hold hands and share personal stories during the Dress Like A Woman rally and march, held to support women’s rights and to protest against Donald Trump, in Seattle. Photograph: David Ryder/Reuters

Anne-Marie Imafidon: more women in science and tech jobs reflected in TV soaps

I’ve always watched a lot of TV and when I was younger watched EastEnders. As an east Londoner it felt close enough to reality that I would get excited when they filmed on location – trying to point out landmarks and guess the road. Soaps don’t fully reflect reality, but they do try to stay current. These days most characters have a mobile phone and technology sometimes features in storylines.

In the battle for gender equality I’d like to see the soaps embrace some new careers for their characters – particularly the female ones.

“Where’s Dot?”

“Oh, she’s just taking air quality measurements in the square for her PhD thesis, she’ll meet us at the Queen Vic.”

Normalising science and tech-related careers can start with a female character or two deciding to leave work at the chippy for a job at a digital start-up. Someone in Hollyoaks might strike up an affair with someone they’ve met on an evening coding course (affairs happen all the time on soaps). Seeing these characters have breakfast, and fight with family while enjoying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) careers will work against the one-sided portrayals of Stem characters that we see in films and on TV. The small screen can do what Hollywood is beginning to do with films, like Hidden Figures – the story of African-American women who helped Nasa.
Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE campaigns to get women into science, technology, engineering and maths

Li Maizi: create an international force against the censoring of women’s voices

The answer for me is chasing gender equality in China. It has become my daily life, making noises against all the discrimination. And when we meet the backlash, we have to stand together and fight back. As a woman, I have no country: my country is the whole world. So I will also criticise Donald Trump, who is a straight man cancer.

In China, the space for civil movement is becoming more narrow. One of the most powerful Weibo [China’s Twitter] accounts, Feminism Voice, has been blocked for publishing an article about the planned women’s strike against Trump in the US. Thus, no single issue belongs to one country, we must fight together against the censoring of women’s voices.
Li Maizi is one of China’s “feminist five”, detained for more than a month in 2015 for organising a protest against sexual harassment on buses and subways

Catherine Mayer: champion more shared parenting

There’s no single fix because the mechanisms keeping women down are intertwined. However, one of the seven core objectives of the Women’s Equality Party – equal parenting and caregiving – is capable on its own of creating huge change. If we can shake the idea that childcare is primarily a mother’s responsibility, if we learn to value the unpaid labour now primarily undertaken by women, then we also unpick some of the causes of the gender pay gap. There are also ways to speed the process. In 1975, when 90% of Icelandic women left jobs and homes for the day, their male compatriots learned just how much women do. Iceland now ranks as the world’s most gender-equal country. I’m helping to organise a Women’s Day Off in the UK next year.
Catherine Mayer is the co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party and author of Attack of the Fifty Foot Women: How Gender Equality Can Save the World!

Magic circle: protesters chant against gender-based violence at their camp on La Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, Spain.
Magic circle: protesters chant against gender-based violence at their camp on La Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, Spain. Photograph: EPA

Stella Creasy: don’t be a click-avist, get stuck in

The change we need to make is mobilisation. We have to sound the alarm. The worst thing we can do is despair. My message is, don’t stand aside, get stuck in. Don’t be a click-avist. Keep asking: “What next?” If you go on a march and think: “That’s the job done,” they win. A backlash is a reaction, so we have to keep taking action. I keep saying to people, I adore Martin Luther King, but he was wrong when he said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards progress.” It doesn’t, unless you fight for it.
Stella Creasy is MP for Walthamstow. Join her Feminist Action Network (stella@workingforwalthamstow.org.uk)

Liv Little: economic autonomy for women of colour

The face of feminism I’m surrounded by is young and fresh. Feminism has the potential to be a bright, vibrant movement. But it’s difficult. There are so many pressing issues for women. What’s really important is economic empowerment. I think as a woman of colour it’s important that we are running our own businesses, able to support each other and generating our own income to support other young women of colour who are coming up in the world. As a black female graduate you’re likely to earn a lot less than your white male counterparts. You’re increasingly seeing women of colour in positions of power, but there are still not enough of us in prominent positions.
Liv Little is editor-in-chief at gal-dem

Caitlin Moran: embrace our weakness and silliness

You know what make us strong? All the things you think are a hindrance. Our strength is our “weakness”. Our love of silly things to wear. Our love of jokes. On the Women’s March, there were millions of “weak” women with buggies, with elderly relatives – women who are disabled, or from “minority” groups – wearing pink hats and holding placards. And our strength is, you can’t send armed police into a crowd like that. There’s no way to spin that footage. You can’t pretend it’s violent, radical extremists. There’s no excuse to break it up. The weaker, sillier and funnier we are, the more impossible it is to demonise us, or stop us, as so many protests have been stopped and demonised before. As things go backwards, we think: “We can’t fight this,” and the answer is – we mustn’t fight it.

Fighting is how it’s always been done before. They know how to stop fighters. But these old, white, straight, angry men? They don’t know how to stop joy, humour, knitted pink hats and buggies. We are the force they’ve never seen before. They have nothing in their box to counter this. This is our strength. And we have it in endless amounts. We are the 52%. And we can knit and joke the fuck out of the revolution.
Caitlin Moran is an author and columnist

Stepping up: women on the march in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Stepping up: women on the march in Montevideo, Uruguay. Photograph: Raul Martinez/EPA

Susie Orbach: defeat the merchants of body hatred

In a time of threat, the places we might be able to call home, our bodies, are being ripped apart by commercial pressures. They bear down on labias (too messy), faces (too tired), lips (too small), eyes (too hooded), breasts (too small, droopy or large)… For each of these crazy designations, there are surgeries sold as empowering, sold as safe, sold as solutions. But what’s the problem and who is generating it? Control girls’ and women’s bodies – whether by the purveyors of “beauty”, the cultural enforcers of female genital cutting, the anti-choice gang in the White House – and insecurity is induced. Give girls as young as three cosmetic surgery games that divert their dreaming and imaginative energy into pursuits that hurt what it means to be a girl, and you ensure big profits and big body preoccupations for a lifetime. It’s time to dare to feel OK in our bodies as they age and change.
Susie Orbach is a psychotherapist, analyst and writer

Paris Lees: real feminism excludes nobody

If your push for social justice excludes women of colour – or disabled women, trans women, sex workers, Muslims, Jews, poor people – you don’t want equality, you want privilege. Promoting women of the same class and colour while ignoring and speaking over women less privileged than yourself isn’t feminism. It’s supremacism. I come from a mixed-race family. I like to think I know a little bit about racism. But I’m not black. So I listen. I follow feminists from minority backgrounds on social media: Reni Eddo-Lodge, Nesrine Malik, Janet Mock, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Fatima Manji, Roxane Gay. Most women voted for Hillary in the US election, but a significant proportion – white women without a college degree – voted for Trump. In the end, their votes swung it. This is what can happen when women don’t pull together. So let’s pull together. Fascism is back. Women are leading the resistance, but if we really want decency to prevail, it’s time to revive another idea from the mists of time: solidarity.
Paris Lees is a journalist and transgender rights activist

Getting the message: a wall of signs outside the White House in Washington.
Getting the message: a wall of signs outside the White House in Washington. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

Mariella Frostrup: include boys in the conversation

I’ve been a feminist since my lungs first filled with air, but I’m weary of war and eager for a coalition. In my small corner of the western world it’s hard to find a man who doesn’t believe his daughter, his wife, his sister, his mother or his colleagues to be his equal, yet we continue to mark out our battle lines on a gendered basis. No social revolution in the history of mankind has succeeded without the participation of both sexes so it’s time to invite the guys aboard. Instead of car ads that accept a woman can control a vehicle (doh!) I’m more hopeful for one that entices a man to try a vacuum cleaner. Our ability to participate in a man’s world is beyond dispute, but the jury’s still out on our success in enticing men into what was once our domain. The proportion of women doing the world’s unpaid work has barely changed. The only difference is that most women today are holding down two jobs. It is stress levels, not our incomes, that are rising. Expectations of both sexes have changed beyond measure and the conversation needs to stop being so one-sided, which is why we’ve set up Great Men, opening conversations with boys in secondary schools exploring masculinity and gender issues. If we want to eradicate misogyny, we need to make sure boys are given the support and emotional investment they need.
Mariella Frostrup is a broadcaster, columnist and co-founder of the Great Initiative

Lisa Randall: end the fear women feel

An issue for women throughout the world that is implicitly played down by lack of adequate attention is fear. The topic is broad and the specifics are difficult to address through existing systems, but whether it is physical violence, online stalking, harassment, or unwanted encounters at work or in schools, women are prevented from living their best possible lives and from contributing in the most significant ways. Current systems address only very explicit danger. Even when the attacks are merely upsetting, the resultant loss of diverse voices – online and elsewhere – because of women’s reluctance to be subject to insults or insinuations, is a loss to us all.
Lisa Randall is professor of science at Harvard University


Lena Dunham, Nicola Sturgeon, Naheed Farid, Nomboniso Gasa, Laura Bates, Anne-Marie Imafidon, Li Maizi, Catherine Mayer, Stella Creasy, Liv Little, Caitlin Moran, Susie Orbach, Paris Lees, Mariella Frostrup and Lisa Randall

The GuardianTramp

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