In 1971, Representative Bella Abzug (D-NY) introduced a bill designating August 26 of each year as Women’s Equality Day.
Women’s Equality Day recognizes the day, 95 years ago on August 26, 1920, that US Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the Woman Suffrage Amendment into law. In the interim years, commemorative rallies, strikes, and demonstrations have taken place on this same day. The equality movement was launched by women, for women, and about women. Those who continued the cause have tended to be, unsurprisingly, women.
This is changing. A recent campaign by the UN aims to bring balance to the movement by involving men. HeForShe is a worldwide campaign promoting gender equality by asking men to speak openly against sexism in solidarity with the women’s rights movement. The spokespeople for the campaign include Emma Watson and Wolf Blitzer.
Lucy Sharvet, Director of the Lilium Foundation and supporter of the HeForShe movement says, “HeForShe is about men being fully committed in supporting women’s equality in the workforce, government, at home and education, not just to verbally voice support but to effect gender equality change in all aspects of life, become true partners in this movement.”
There’s a reason this mission resonates so strongly. For instance, when straight people stand up for the rights of gay and lesbian people, it matters a great deal. When any majority or privileged class stands up for the rights of another group, it has an impact. As women, when men stand up for equal rights, it means the world to us. It doesn’t mean that a woman needs a man in order to be saved or rescued. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of moving forward on our own. It does, however, mean that we recognize the importance of worldwide, inclusive progress; that we equally recognize the value of men.
Kofi Annan said, “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”
Recently, HeForShe engaged 800 CEOs in implementing the Seven Women Empowerment Principles, developed by the UN to create economic empowerment within large-scale organizations. Women’s Equality can help build stronger economies, a more stable workforce, and an improved quality of life.
To meet our equality goals we must face our own preconceived stereotypes. Consider a woman who rolls her eyes and pigeon-holes all males by saying, “Men!” Or a man who shrugs and pretends to be mystified by “the fairer sex.” It’s easy to prejudge the opposite sex, and there are those who encourage or even celebrate those attitudes.
We see examples in the media of fixed categories or false dichotomies. You won’t have to look far to find a woman who has been harmed by a man. And, you won’t have to look far to find a man who has been harmed by a woman. We make blanket statements, issue rash categorizations, and hold unexamined opinions that come from limited experience. The dismissive and contemptuous ways in which we approach each other provide us with a good place to start in promoting change.
My wise mother once said to me that it made no sense to her when after heartbreak or pain or disappointment that someone might resort to a global attitude of hating the opposite sex. That, she said, would amount to hating half the world, and what a loss that would be. She encouraged us to accept people on their merits, to look carefully and offer a compassionate view of our fellow human beings, male or female. We can all be part of economic empowerment of women and help society as a whole.