We talk about four pivotal moments that shaped the struggle for gender equality in 2017 and why, despite the great strides which have been made, there's no room for complacency on the road ahead.
Global Women's March
Every action has a reaction. The election of a president widely denounced as a sexist felt like a sucker punch to many American women, and everyone dedicated to the struggle for gender equality, but the response it inspired was emphatic. The 2017 Women's March became the largest single-day demonstration in US history — an estimated 3-5 million people marched not only for gender equality, but also for LBGTQ rights, racial parity and environmental protection. Catalyzed by social media, the march for gender equality became a worldwide phenomenon with at least 261 marches held abroad, according to the Washington Post.
On October 5th, the New York Times broke a story about serial harasser and abuser Harvey Weinstein. It revealed three decades of sexually exploitative and abusive behavior from the Hollywood mogul. The story created a ripple effect, empowering women to come to the fore about their experiences at the hands of men in positions of power like Weinstein. Thus, the #MeToo movement was born. Weinstein's behavior was an open secret in the film industry but the movement signaled a shift in the culture – a shift from the tyranny of silence to the justice of exposure. In an acknowledgement of this wave of progress, TIME's 2017 Person of the Year were the “Silence Breakers” who ignited a global conversation on sexual harassment, abuse and assault.
Record Number of Women Inspired to Run for Office
In 1916, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman to be elected to Congress. Yet, a century since this milestone, a pitiful 19.8% of Congress is female. In fact, the US appallingly ranks 100th out of 190 countries in terms of percentage of female legislators. Baffling, right? But there's a glimmer of hope. Just as the election galvanized an earth-shattering women's march, it seems to have also inspired a record number of women to run, mostly Dems, for 2018's congressional elections. There's a sweet irony to the fact that the year of the new president's inauguration has turned into the “The Year of the Woman”.
Movies with Females Cast in Central Roles Gross Big
While you can locate feminist cinema even in the early 20th century, mainstream Hollywood has largely featured women in supporting roles. Historically, girls were usually cast as love-interests to be wooed, and as one-dimensional characters only concerned about love, marriage and other domestic affairs. Even as women started to feature in more diverse roles, it was rare to have a female protagonist or a number of central female characters in big box office films. Women weren't assumed to have the same box office clout as men. 2016 turned the tide with a record number of female leads. That percentage dropped in 2017, but the three highest grossing movies of the year — The Last Jedi, Wonder Woman, and Beauty and the Beast — all had strong and central female characters. Hollywood might finally be starting to get its act together and establish at least a semblance of gender equality.
The Road Ahead: No Room for Complacency
As the dust settles on a landmark year for women, it's easy to think that the job is done. I could have ended my piece right here but it would be disingenuous to only give you the glass half-full perspective. For instance, one of the most pressing issues in the fight for progress is that of the gender pay gap. Unfortunately, an economic gap between men and women still persists across all fields in developed countries, from academia – American males holding PhD degrees earn more than women in almost all scientific fields – to other industries like film and business management.
"For the first time since the World Economic Forum started its Global Gender Gap Index in 2006, the global gender gap actually widened according to its yearly report. The report concludes that given the aggravating global economic gender gap, it will not be closed for another 217 years!"
On a global scale, there is a real risk that the situation for women in developing countries might stagnate or even regress. For the first time since the World Economic Forum started its Global Gender Gap Index in 2006, the global gender gap actually widened according to its yearly report. The index considers factors such as economic participation/opportunity, educational attainment, health and political empowerment. The report concludes that given the aggravation of the global economic gender gap, it will not be closed for another 217 years. Yes, you read that correctly: two hundred and seventeen years!
Despite having made progress on this front, there still remain differences in educational attainment of men and women in developing countries. In many of these countries, education is often seen as surplus to a woman's upbringing. The situation has improved as NGO's and governments strive to improve educational access and opportunities for women, not to mention the indomitable desire of some women themselves to be educated — Malala Yousafzai being the boldest and bravest example. Yet, there are 18 countries where women still have less than 90% of the educational outcomes that men have, according to the WEF's annual report.
Room to Read is an example of an organization striving to close the educational attainment gap and bring literacy to children in developing countries. They have impacted the lives of more than 10 million children and constructed over a 1,900 schools. Through their Girls' Education Program, they have benefitted over 31,000 girls with enhanced educational opportunities and life skills training. We need more of this.
While there's much work to be done, let us also not lose sight of the fact that the world we live in today — a world where women in most modern nations can vote, work and express themselves freely — would have been unimaginable at the end of the 19th century. The dogged determination of a few collective minds, or better a whole army of them, can really change the world and it has done so before. On this International Women's Day, you can #PressforProgress by supporting organizations such as Room to Read, through vocalizing your support for the fight for gender equality on social media or simply by getting informed and informing others around you. Let's make the future female!