Published on LinkedIn March 7, 2016
Every year, on March 8th, events are held all around the world to celebrate International Women’s Day. And every year, without fail, these events are often accompanied by a chorus of dissenting voices questioning why we need an International Women’s Day at all. I must admit, I sometimes find myself asking that very question, because I want more than anything for this day to become obsolete. I want to live in a world where men and women are treated justly, and enjoy the same rights and opportunities, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. I want these things to be our reality right now, but unfortunately social change doesn’t work that way. Long term social change is exactly that: long term, which means these things don’t just happen overnight, as much as we all may want them to.
The good news is that in today’s digital age of communication, it’s easier than ever to move the dial and accelerate positive social change when an issue gets the attention it deserves. Examples of this are everywhere. For example, this year’s Oscar short listed documentary The Hunting Ground shone a spotlight on the issue of campus sexual assault in the United States, and since its release at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, it has gone on to be screened at thousands of campuses, ignited a public discourse over the issue of consent and sexual assault, partnered around the It’s On Us and See Act Stop campaigns, and brought the issue to a global audience with Lady Gaga’s powerful performance of “Til It Happens To You” at this year’s Oscars. (full disclosure, I am one of the many Executive Producers of The Hunting Ground) Though sexual assault on college campuses has been a problem for a long time, never have we had such focus and accountability. This is something to celebrate.
Another example is the Everyday Sexism Project which was launched in 2012. At that time it sparked a global discussion on the many ways that sexism pervades everyday life, and has since been used to shape policy and intervention programs in multiple countries. When a video surfaced depicting NFL star Ray Rice assaulting his then fiancée Janay Palmer, the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft allowed victims of domestic abuse a forum to share their stories and stop the far too common practice of victim-blaming in these complicated cases. We’ve seen time and time again that when a critical mass of people raise their voice on an issue, change can and does happen.
That’s why I approach this year’s International Women’s Day with a healthy dose of cautious optimism. I’m grateful for the strides forward we’ve taken in recent years and the social media tools we now have to move the dial forward, but I’m also far too aware of how far we still have to go. Last year, the World Economic Forum estimated that our world would not achieve true gender parity until 2133, and I think we can all agree that 117 years is far too long to wait for everyone to enjoy the same rights and freedoms. Therefore, with this year’s International Women’s Day campaign focusing on the #ParityPledge, this March 8th, lets all take the pledge and commit to bringing that number down, preferably by at least a century. A world with gender parity is a better world for all, so this Tuesday, lets celebrate all that we’ve accomplished, and then on Wednesday, lets get back to work.
(Photo: The Hunting Ground writer/director Kirby Dick, Producer Amy Ziering and Executive Producer, Geralyn Dreyfous)