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2016 needs more feminism

| Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The past year saw a great deal of progress for women. Notable employers like Netflix and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation enacted generous family leave policies, the military opened all combat roles for women and celebrities from Jennifer Lawrence to John Legend spoke out in favor of gender equality.

However, we also experienced failures and stagnation in the fight for equal rights. A woman in Tennessee was arrested after trying to end her pregnancy with a coat hanger. The very real wage gap persists. And despite the highest level ever of legislative representation by women in the U.S., we still received a global ranking of 72 when it comes to female representation in government.

While the progress achieved for women in the U.S. and around the world should be celebrated, it cannot be said that women are now on equal footing with men. Feminism in its simplest form ­— the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men ­— should still be considered relevant, and perhaps more important than ever due to our inability to effect meaningful change in some fairly significant areas.

Sexual assault and rape continue to be committed against women at astounding rates. Nearly one in five women report experiencing rape or attempted rape at some time in their lives and the majority say they were raped before the age of 25.

Employment and workplace discrimination against women in the workforce also persists. Studies have shown that both overt and unconscious biases against women are pervasive in many different fields from science to law.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shared in her well-known TED talk, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller … you can have ambition, but not too much.” This is evident in the unconscious gender bias of many teachers, who instill harmful and disadvantageous learning patterns in young girls that follow them as they grow.

Some may say feminism is an exclusive movement and that a more all-encompassing equality movement is necessary. They are right in certain aspects. It is important that we also consider the intersectionality of other social issues such as race and class, and human rights for all people are in need of being secured.

We can be sure that feminism must work to be more inclusive for all women. Women of color, lesbians and other minority groups have found themselves isolated from mainstream feminism at times, and a movement that does not acknowledge the varying life experiences among women will not be entirely effective.

In addition, many of the greatest issues facing us in the U.S. and in the global community affect people regardless of gender. To speak of establishing equality in such vague terms, however, ignores the unique and specific problem of gender. Women are often disproportionately affected by issues such as unemployment, poverty and violence in comparison to the rest of the population. We cannot leave half of the population behind as we work toward a better future.

A UN report on the status of women in the U.S. recently concluded that “the United States, which is a leading state in formulating international human rights standards, is allowing its women to lag behind international human rights standards.”

We continue to treat our girls and women unequally and leave them without the legal protection of their rights that we expect other countries to establish. This is something that we should no longer hide from, but rather accept and let inform the way we treat others, make decisions and vote in this important election year.

The progress we have made so far is not enough and we still have a long way to go until women are on equal footing with men in society. 2016 holds great promise for progress toward gender equality, but it will take more than telling women they need to “lean in” and stop being so complacent. In this new year, we must be intentional about taking real, concrete steps to decrease unfair disparities between men and women. We need more feminism.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


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