You won’t need us to tell you that 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the introduction to Parliament of the Representation of the People Act, which finally secured votes for (some) women. It was, and remains, a huge milestone in the fight for equality - the result of years of hard campaigning from suffragettes and suffragists.
A century on, that fight remains frustratingly far from over, with prominent social movements #MeToo and #TimesUp highlighting the very real need for change in a society which remains male dominated. But what can you do to influence this change? How can you alone make a difference?
Ahead of WOW - Women of the World, our annual celebration of women and girls, we looked to prominent women, change-makers and activists to ask them exactly this. How can we action change, and take that first step to making a real difference?
It’s so easy to feel like you can’t change much. Especially when you think of major international issues like gender inequality or other forms of prejudice. But I’ve learned that the smallest of actions can have a huge ripple effect. Each of us can be change-makers within our own small spheres, from the way we talk to and encourage children, to our reactions to what goes on around us.
If somebody is being sexually harassed in public, discriminated against in the workplace or bullied in an educational setting, the simple act of naming what is happening, challenging the perpetrator or supporting the victim, can have a major knock-on impact. Standing up to prejudice is hard, but the more of us who stand together, the easier it gets. Surround yourself with support, reach out to others doing similar work and remember to look after yourself as you go along.
Laura Bates appeared at WOW 2018, for No More, bringing together women on the front line of global movements.
Action is the difference between thinking and wanting. In any given circumstance, no matter the depth of your passion or challenges of your limitations, the decision to 'Act' gives force to a change. So what sort of change can you bring?
Firstly, don't underestimate the power of your voice or influence. Use your voice as a conduit to express and communicate. Use it powerfully and strategically. Pick your battles and use your voice where it counts most. You don't need to be a celebrity or rich to have influence, recognise that you are influential and impactful to those closest to you; your family, school, workplace, community, place of worship. Be strategic with your influence.
Secondly, the change you can bring is NEVER going to be handed to you. You are going to have to work hard to make it happen. You must be prepared to defend your position and debate with those who don't agree with you. Furthermore, be persistent, consistent and insistent, always. Educate yourself on the issues that pertain to your change. Network, meet and collaborate with people who can help you achieve this change.
Thirdly, it is important to recognise the journey you undertake to bring about change is a learning process. This is the kind of learning curve you are not taught at school, neither is it imparted to you at home. It is a series of lessons learnt, and application of wisdom earned along the way. You will fail sometimes. That's OK. To FAIL simply means First Attempt In Learning. When you fail, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go forward.
Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu appeared at WOW 2018, for No More, bringing together women on the front line of global movements.
From an early age we are taught that success is solo mission - there’s only one top of the class, only one Prime Minister at a time. While we might get tasters of teamwork throughout our schooling, and work collaboratively in higher education, inevitably we succeed alone.
This is a capitalist, patriarchal concept, but it would be naive to believe we’re not all shaped by it, for better or, often, worse. Ambition is an instinct many of us bloody feminists have in spades, driven by the aforementioned drive to succeed. But you can’t (and shouldn’t) win activism. This is something it’s taken me some time to learn and as I entered my thirties and began to feel more confident in my ability to make a change, I started to take a big step back and consider what I could learn by collaborating.
Not to be too essentialist but in my experience, women work brilliantly together. Or perhaps I simply feel at my best and most energetic with other women. If you want to make a change, you absolutely have to work together. I’m talking other people, other activists groups, other nationalities. If it ever feels like your cause is becoming ‘The [insert your name here] Show’, take a step back and give someone else a go. Practise Shine Theory. Get into the mix with other feminists and activists, and get to know a real blend of those who fiercely share your passion and those who couldn’t be more different from you. Collaborating means listening to people who know more than you, but especially listening to people who you might make the mistake of thinking you know more than.
Gabby Edlin appeared at WOW Bites: Friday Morning to talk about how she established the CupAware Party with Mandu Reid
Be open to possibilities, willing to explore and bold in your ambition. Push out your boundaries, if only gradually. You may well be surprised by just how much you can achieve.
There are always reasons not to do something. If you have an idea, don’t let the fear of what might go wrong stop you from trying – and don’t think you need to map out every step of the way in advance. Focus on your vision, not a spreadsheet.
Play to your strengths – don’t submerge the differences that define you. This is your life: feeling happy and fulfilled is an absolute not a relative game. Recognise when you feel most content and build on those moments.
Help others where you can – it’s very empowering, as well as a good thing to do. Be aware of others and if you see someone who needs help, don’t leave it to someone else: offer your assistance. Pay it forward. You can play your part in making true gender equality a reality.
It’s a good time to be a girl – but it’s not all sorted yet. If you are bullied or harassed, speak up – you will be heard. If your environment is discouraging, your priority is to find a new one. If the first route doesn’t work out, the second may well do Most of all, remember that this is your time.
This is an abridged version of the Afterword from Helena Morrissey's book A Good time To Be A Girl
Dame Helena Morrissey joined us at WOW for Power, Purpose and Progress
I wrestle with doubts every single day. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, sometimes the spectre of failure looms heavy and I find myself questioning whether it’s actually possible for ‘little old me’ to make real change happen.
I’ve found that the perfect antidote to these downbeat thoughts is to just dive in, be brave, and create momentum! If I ever decide to get a slogan tattooed on my body, this quote from Anais Nin is definitely on the shortlist; ‘life shrinks or expands in proportion to your courage’. In my case, this has proven to be true, time and time again.
Other really important ingredients in the ‘recipe for change’ are building relationships, forging allies, asking for help (I am terrible at this!) and creating partnerships – to do this effectively you will, more often than not, have to learn to be flexible and adapt your ideas, often about how things should be done. Don’t feel bad about this – as long as you stay true to your values, making concessions in pursuit of your vision is a noble thing.
Lastly, don’t make assumptions about who is valuable to you and who isn’t, be open-minded and where possible, hear people out. Sometimes a lifeline will be thrown by the last person you expect to help you. What are you waiting for? Get to it!
Mandu Reid appeared at WOW Bites: Friday Morning to talk about how she established the CupAware Party with Gabby Edlin.
WOW - Women of the World ran from 7-11 March across Southbank Centre
WOW 2018 would not be possible without its generous sponsors and supporters: Bloomberg, UBS, American International Group Inc (AIG) and The Chartered Insurance Institute.
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