Women’s and girls’ empowerment is a sweeping topic, defined and shaped by family beliefs and cultural norms in the community and country where one lives. Some people associate the empowerment of women and girls primarily with challenges faced in communities where poverty and lack of access to education determine one’s level of empowerment. And while education and financial independence are critical steps to empowerment, they are merely two pieces of a much bigger and far more complicated story.
Empowerment, or the lack of it, is an issue for women and girls virtually everywhere. The perception that this is a problem “over there” allows us to overlook the very real data about gender inequality including, but not limited to, the continuing and disturbing statistics on: violence against women, the gender pay gap, and the under-representation of women in leadership roles in governments and companies globally. Recent research in the U.S., for example, is highlighted by Andrei Cimpian and Sarah-Jane Leslie in “Why Young Girls Don’t Think They Are Smart Enough.” So no, the issue of women’s and girls’ empowerment is not one to be solved “over there.” It faces us everywhere.
What actions can we, as individuals, take to help advance the empowerment of women & girls?
We can inspire change. Each of us is a leader, and in the varied aspects of our lives we lead our families, our colleagues, our friends, and our communities. If you are reading this article, you care about the issue of gender equality and are probably already doing something to support the empowerment of women & girls in your family, in your community, and perhaps even in your country.
Here are some ways we can continue to make a difference
- We can identify and support organizations whose work addresses challenges women and girls face uniquely because of their gender. The support need not be financial. We can offer our time, our talent, our voice and our influence to support the goals of these organizations.
- We can offer our help. It is highly likely that each of us knows women and girls in our respective circles who are in physically or emotionally abusive relationships. We can notice. We can listen. We can confidentially provide contact information for local or national helplines that offer supportive and legal services.
- We can be mindful of the subtle (and not so subtle) ways we reinforce gender roles for our children, our nieces and nephews, the children of our friends, our grandchildren. This means carefully choosing the books we read to them, the gifts we give to them, the clothing we buy for them, and how we encourage rather than discourage non-traditional interests at any age.
- We can share our own stories of overcoming the cultural norms or personal beliefs that have held us back in any way. Visit SayItForward.org, a not-for-profit web platform where any and every woman and girl is encouraged to share one of her stories of triumphing over fear, the unrealistic expectations of others, or her own self-limiting beliefs. Every story has the potential to inspire others, reminding them that they are not alone in facing the challenges in their life.
On International Women’s Day, and everyday, we can remember that everyone’s road to empowerment is unique and inspiring. And we can commit to support others on their respective journeys, and gratefully accept help on ours!
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