Note: Just as we were about to publish this article, the devastating crisis in Afghanistan is unfolding, threatening the hard-won rights and freedoms for Afghan women and girls. At this moment, millions of women and girls in Afghanistan are facing an uncertain future, and many of them who have been working to advance the rights of girls and women are fearing for their own and their families lives. Some will manage to find safety, many will not. We want to express our concern for and solidarity with the women and girls of Afghanistan, and to all those who have worked so hard to advocate for their fundamental human rights.
We must all find ways to support the girls and women of Afghanistan in the days ahead, and press for continued efforts to secure ongoing rights within the country, as well as aid for refugees. This crisis is devastating evidence of why the work toward gender equality on a global scale is so critically important, and lest we believe we have been making great progress, shows us how much work remains to be done for all women and girls to live in peace and security.
In the first article for the Envision Equality campaign, we highlighted diverse inspirational visions of what a gender just world could be. In this next installment, we focus on the how: what will it actually take to get us there?
We know change is required across all of our institutions and systems and should be tied to actionable commitments and accountability across sectors—from corporate, political, philanthropic, grassroots, media, sports and beyond. It will require building new equitable systems that address the fundamental unequal power dynamics that underpin and uphold our current structures that perpetuate and exacerbate inequalities. And it will take aiming for specific and bold actions, one of which is the long overdue ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). It’s hard to believe that men and women are still not guaranteed equal rights in the U.S. Constitution, which is why ratifying the ERA is so important—not only in the practical sense of ensuring fundamental protections to all citizens, regardless of sex or gender, but also in the symbolic sense of sending a strong message that the U.S. is truly committed to gender equality. A gender just future will require all of us to acknowledge the entrenched inequities in our laws and systems, reconcile and heal from the past while building toward an intentional future that centers and celebrates us in all of our diversity.
With that objective in mind, I am proud to be collaborating with Sarah Henry and the Global Center for Gender Equality at Stanford and the ERA Coalition on the #EnvisionEquality articles and campaign. For this second part in the series, we asked a renowned set of thought leaders from across industries to share specific actions and strategies needed to achieve gender equality, what they see as the three biggest barriers we need to overcome and, if given the chance, what advice would they give to lawmakers to inspire them to ratify the long overdue ERA.
Featuring: Ada Williams Prince, Ai-jen Poo, Aimee Allison, Amy Hepburn, Barbara Lee, Carol Jenkins, Hilary Knight, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Jensine Larsen, Jessica Houssian, Joanne Sandler, Joia Adele Crear-Perry, Kavita Ramdas, Kimberly Peeler-Allen, Latanya Mapp Frett, Michelle Nunn, Mona Sinha, Pamela Shifman, Rena Greifinger, Riki Wilchins, Sarah Haacke Byrd, Sophie Kelly, Suzanne Lerner, Terry McGovern, Tina Tchen, Tony Porter, Valerie Jarrett, Vanessa Kerry and Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg.
Here is a sampling of their powerful and visionary responses (to view each contributor’s full responses click here):
What do you think it will take to achieve gender equality? (Who needs to be a core part of the movement/solutions? What strategies should we be focusing on?)
It’s all about taking concrete actions—especially now as we recover from the pandemic. The first thing is to recognize that gender equality is intersectional. Women and gender nonbinary people of color are disproportionately affected by poverty, lack of economic opportunity, poor access to healthcare and other obstacles that block their path. So given that the root causes of gender inequality intersect with race, ethnicity and orientation, we have to take a more inclusive approach to how we define equality.
The second thing is getting gender equality in writing. In the U.S., gender equality must be explicitly written into our primary social contract, the U.S. Constitution. That means making the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) the official 28th Amendment. There’s an incredible momentum around the ERA with diverse support across gender, race and even political perspectives. Thirty-eight states have ratified it. All that’s left to do is for the U.S. Senate to vote to approve lifting the deadline for ratification. Just do it!
The third thing is supporting grassroots organizations globally. There are many grassroots organizations, especially in developing nations, who have been fighting for equality with very little funding. Supporting them should be a priority for foundations and individual philanthropists.
Finally, multinational corporations need to step up to ensure fundamental rights like equal pay, access to childcare and family leave for all. They have the power to move mountains. They can show us what inclusivity looks like—workforces that reflect society, recruiting practices that reach out further than their own backyard, having women mentor men and placing more emphasis on helping people balance the responsibilities of work and family. —Suzanne Lerner | Cofounder and CEO of Michael Stars; Activist; Philanthropist
Since all forms of oppression such as racism, sexism and transphobia are interconnected, they must be collectively dismantled. And as Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley says, “Those closest to the pain should be closest to the power.” People most impacted by injustice must lead the way, but everyone has a role to play in creating a more just world.
To achieve equality, there must be multiple strategies: community organizing, policy change, leadership, narrative change, personal transformation and healing. No one strategy will be effective alone—all are necessary.
And finally, transformation requires a belief that change is possible. Our imaginations can’t be limited by what currently exists. —Pamela Shifman | Advocate for girls’ and women’s rights, social justice and transformative philanthropy
We will achieve a gender just world by working from the margins to the center—by prioritizing the leadership of historically marginalized communities, including racial and religious minorities, queer and gender non-conforming folks, and young people. We will get there with the recognition that fighting for any social justice issue means you are fighting for every social justice issue. Empathy is crucial and a willingness to see our interconnectedness and stand up for our collective liberation. —Latanya Mapp Frett | President and CEO of Global Fund for Women
I think the first thing we need is a complete shift in approach. Beyond bringing an even stronger intersectional lens, we all need to realize that fixing the challenges of gender inequality is not just women’s work, it is ALL our work. We need all hands on deck. —Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Ph.D. | Founder of Akili Dada; Outgoing Director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD)
We need to trust—deeply and completely—in the power of feminist movements, and back up that trust with unrestricted resources on a global scale. Feminist movements are already building the solutions we need to meet the biggest challenges of our time, from inequality and injustice to poverty and climate change. But philanthropy and development have long kept power and resources at the top, denying global feminist movements the resources they deserve to build the future we all need. We need collective courage to reject this status quo and leave it in the past where it belongs. Together, we can collaborate and build a new path forward, one that unlocks capital from every sector—philanthropy, government, and investing—and channels it directly to feminist movements for generations to come. We can move away from top-down models of change and fund feminist movements with the same courage and innovation that they bring to their work every day.
Twenty-five years since the Beijing World Conference on Women, the world has even more proof that feminist movements are the key drivers of change. We know they are essential to advancing women’s rights across a wide range of issues, including violence against women, economic rights, reproductive rights and political representation. We can’t rest until we shift lasting power and resources into their hands. —Jessica Houssian | Co-CEO of the Equality Fund
Both women’s leadership and technology on their own are proven accelerators for social change—deployed together they can provide an exponential rocket boost for global equality.
Today, nearly half of the world’s women have access to technology as a transformational tool. Practically speaking, it is one of the fastest levers we have in our hands to surface both women’s local solutions and collective wisdom. And, with the right coordinated efforts, those who are connected to the internet can become agents of change to bring the rest of the world online for good and amplify some of the most unheard voices. —Jensine Larsen | Founder of World Pulse
To achieve a gender equal world, we have to have both legal and structural reform, as well as inform the general public not just of what is missing when we don’t have equality but what will be gained in society overall when equality is achieved. The voices calling for gender equality must be diverse in every way. Historically, the call for equality has been by women, and thus it has been marginalized as a “women’s issue.” By making the case in as broad terms as possible, it will be received by a broader audience. Education followed by action steps to create impact will move hearts and minds of the public and create an atmosphere at the local, state and federal level to support legislation that will structurally create and protect gender equality. —Kimberly Peeler-Allen | Visiting Practitioner of Center for American Women & Politics, Rutgers University; Board Chair of the ERA Coalition; Cofounder of Higher Heights
To advance gender equality, we must first confront the funding crisis for women. Less than 2% of philanthropic funding, or $7 billion out of $432 billion in the United States, goes to organizations working to improve the lives of women and girls. Imagine what could be accomplished with double, triple or ten times these resources. Despite increased media attention on the disparity of investment capital going to women-led businesses, we saw a decrease in funding last year, with women-led startups capturing a mere 2.3% of VC funding. Women significantly trail male political candidates in fundraising resulting in their continued underrepresentation at policymaking tables. We can and must do better. The path to achieving a gender equal world will require a historic level of focus and financing to usher in the seismic shift of priorities, structures and power that is long overdue. —Sarah Haacke Byrd | Executive Director of Women Moving Millions
To bend the curve for all women, we must first bring awareness to the current state of how philanthropy intersects with women and girls of color (W/GoC). While women and girls of color are often drivers of social change, they receive a pittance of foundation support. Of the total number of “big bets” for social change between 2010 and 2014, a mere 11% went to organizations led by people of color. And in 2017, though U.S. foundations gave $66.9 billion, grants earmarked for women and girls of color only totaled $356 million, a vanishingly small total of 0.5%.
This means that for gender equity to be achieved, philanthropy must first acknowledge and address the implicit biases that inhibit the current funding for women and girls of color. This includes: bias toward funding “brand names,” which, simply put, perpetuates the chronic marginalization of W/GoC-led orgs; bias toward funding single-issue-focused nonprofits because nine out of 10 W/GoC-focused organizations work on three or more issues given the intersectional nature of identities and systemic inequities; and bias toward funding national scale versus local grassroots work, because there is little to no evidence that says large-scale funding, reduces any risks. In fact, the very power of grassroots organizing to effect social progress has proven to be effective throughout history. —Ada Williams Prince | Senior Advisor, Program Strategy and Investment of Pivotal Ventures
I often tell my four young children when they are confronted with an injustice that they have two choices: become part of the solution or remain part of the problem by being silent and complicit in a world that allows it to persist.
The more we place women in places of innovation, of decision making and of power, the more equal our world will inherently become. This means that we must prioritize inclusion—especially financial. As the G7 countries jointly spend $100 billion on climate solutions over the next four years, women should be at the table. This will require the investment community to become more stringent in their social due diligence, as well as capital seeking companies explicitly committed to intersectional gender diversity. —Amy Hepburn | CEO of the Investor Leadership Network
Achieving gender equality takes commitment to progress on the part of businesses, leaders, policy makers and each individual to elevate voices, unlock unconscious biases and take action to promote full equality. It will take comprehensive action across all parts of the business and consumer space. When companies are working toward larger cultural commitments, they need to make sure they are not just doing lip-service but rather that they are ensuring accountability and action, not solely awareness and powerful storytelling.
Achieving equality also requires policy change and official recognition by policy makers. It is why we have leaned in so heavily to support the enactment of the Equal Right Amendment. Last year we helped drive a coalition of 93 corporations who, for the first time, came out in support of the ERA. We are also chairing the ERA Coalition’s Business Roundtable which is focused not just on ensuring the enactment of the ERA, but also enabling and encouraging corporations to enact equal practices within their workplaces and lead on this issue. —Sophie Kelly | Senior Vice President of Whiskies at Diageo North America
We should be putting all of our efforts into the adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment, which will prohibit discrimination based on sex—any sex. This is good for everyone, not just women. Even the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia agreed that the Constitution as it was written and now exists does not prohibit discrimination based on sex. We need fundamental, constitutional support that affirms we all are equal and gives recourse for those discriminated against. —Carol Jenkins | President and CEO of the ERA Coalition and the Fund for Women’s Equality
True gender equality must begin with passing legislation like the ERA. But legislation, while it can and does confer civil rights (and is crucial for that reason) cannot alter daily human interaction. For that we have to dig deeper. For instance, even though there are laws against it, women still suffer sexual harassment and spousal violence. They still have to cope with inappropriate comments on the street. There are still fewer women in Fortune 500 boardrooms and in legislative chambers. Women—particularly those of color—will still be promoted less, paid at lower rates and assumed to be more appropriate for service-oriented positions.
For my daughter to grow up into a world where she can experience true equality, we will have to begin challenging long-held gender norms and the outdated ideals we all hold about masculinity and femininity which too often govern the daily treatment of women and girls and continue to constrain their choices, opportunities and voice. Only then will women and girls grow up in a world where they can be truly free and equal. —Riki Wilchins | Author and Activist; Executive Director of True Child
We need to move past binary and men versus women and need more people to believe in a gender equal world, particularly men. The more everyone can be on the same side of equality, the more opportunity we have to change the narrative. —Hilary Knight | U.S.A. Women’s National Hockey Team; Olympic Gold Medalist; Two-time Olympic Silver Medalist; Eight-time IIHF World Champion
We have to mobilize a majority of men who are invested in healthy manhood, gender and racial equity, and authenticity and inclusion. In our work, we offer an invitation to men, not an indictment of manhood. We let men and boys know that their ideas about manhood, women and girls have been shaped by their collective socialization. The messages that the media and culture bombard us with tell us that women are objects, property and have less value than men. At A Call to Men, we work to raise men’s and boys’ consciousness about their collective socialization so that they can think critically about how they might be reinforcing or passing on these harmful beliefs and so they can challenge those beliefs in other men. And we have to do this work with an intersectional approach. When we center our attention and efforts on those “at the margins of the margins” who are experiencing multiple forms of oppression, all will benefit. This philosophy holds true for any anti-oppression work, whether it be sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism or ageism. —Tony Porter | CEO of A Call to Men
It will take women of color and young women. Intergenerational strategy sharing is essential. Leadership and power must be deconstructed. We need to be much more strategic and multisectoral. —Terry McGovern, JD | Heilbrunn Professor and Chair of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
We must enact policies that fully support all moms, as well as eradicate gendered cultural norms that result in the unequal distribution of labor in the home.
First, we must work to ensure workplaces and economies center and lift up families. That includes establishing robust child care, universal preschool and national paid leave programs. Women and communities of color, who make up a majority of the care force, are already leading the movement toward these solutions.
But we can’t stop there. We must also continue our work to close the pay gap—especially for moms and women of color—to put money back in women’s pockets, ensure women’s equitable representation in the C-suite and the board room, and end sex-based discrimination in all forms.
Above all, we must stop treating care, housework and other family responsibilities as dads’ adorable hobbies but rather as a right that we all have to raise happy, healthy families—should we choose to—and to have a life outside of our jobs that allows us to care for ourselves. —Jennifer Siebel Newsom | First Partner of California; Award-winning filmmaker; Advocate for gender equity
Government and business leaders must work together to address systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace. Companies with more diverse leadership and management teams have 19% higher revenue because of more and better innovation. That means that companies that aren’t hiring and retaining more women, BIPOC, LGBTIA and disabled workers are missing out on incredible talent because when you have a diverse workforce, the company culture shifts dramatically, better reflects the diversity of our country and is safer, more respectful and more equitable. Of course, business leaders can’t and shouldn’t do this alone. Long-lasting change will require input and participation from all levels of government to provide the infrastructure that ensures that women can realize their full potential. —Tina Tchen | President and CEO of TIME’S UP
It will take strong grassroots social justice feminist movements to achieve this goal. It will take building broad coalitions and collaborative strategies across movements within national boundaries—labor, women’s rights, climate justice, human rights, anti-racist struggles, etcetera. But it also requires building strong trans-national movements—connecting women’s movements in one place with those in other countries; linking workers in wealthy nations with those in poorer nations; connecting the poor or dispossessed in one part of the world with others to begin to see where there are opportunities for new ways of thinking. It will require investments in new political theories and the development of a new politics of collaboration, not cut-throat competition. It will need new theoretical visions and investments in the practical realizations of those visions. We will need a new feminist economics, a new climate-friendly understanding of how to live with nature as it is; new approaches to agriculture and forestry that allow the earth to refresh and renew herself; new ways for us to understand housing and shared living spaces. In other words, we have a lot to do to build an understanding of shared visions and strategies for change. It will take work at the level of the UN and other multilateral spaces to build a shared agenda, which in turn will require changed attitudes and approaches inside nation states. —Kavita Ramdas | Director of Women’s Rights Program of Open Society Foundations
It will take both political and cultural shifts for us to realize a gender equal world. Politically, it is critical for our Constitution to finally include women and gender non-conforming people by codifying the Equal Rights Amendment, which prohibits discrimination based on sex. The cultural shift happens when the narrative changes. I see the possibility because it has shifted in celebration of LGBTQIA+ rights, and I know it can happen for everybody. As we recognize the humanity and dignity of all people and the strong belief that everyone has the right to thrive, only then can the world reach its full potential. —Mona Sinha | Board Chair of the ERA Fund for Women’s Equality; Board Chair of Women Moving Millions; Producer of Disclosure
What do you see as the biggest barrier(s) to achieving equality?
We won’t achieve gender equality by working around the edges or focusing on quick fixes. We need to go to the source: deeply entrenched structural inequality that holds girls, women and non-binary people back. First and foremost, we need to address power. As funders, we must ensure that we are not simply shifting resources but shifting power in meaningful and durable ways, most especially to girls, women and non-binary people who have been pushed to the margins. We need to invest in feminist, self-led movements who hold deep experience of injustice and who are building collective power and demanding rights on their own behalf. This kind of power is generative and expansive—and it’s what we need more of to secure a gender equal future for everyone.
Second, we need to focus on social norms and narratives: the deepest stories we tell ourselves, our families and our countries about the role of girls, women and non-binary people all across our societies. We need to flip the script—shifting attitudes and expectations so that girls, women and non-binary people are seen as leaders, with agency and authority, worthy of respect and dignity, and full of their inherent power. We also need to focus on laws and policy change. When gender inequality is codified into the very laws that shape our lives, our freedom will always remain out of reach. Led by the expertise and wisdom of girls, women and non-binary people whose own lived experience is shaped by inequality, we need to come together to demand feminist laws and policies that respect all of our rights, safety and dignity. —Jessica Houssian | Co-CEO of the Equality Fund
There are four:
1. Leadership: We are in a leadership crisis today. Many leaders are promoting policies that are oppressive, regressive or cling to patterns of the past. Our world is rapidly evolving with changing technology, climate, population, cultural and political shifts. We need leadership that is invested in our sustainability and our overall well-being. A gender equal world is both reflective and investing of those goals.
2. Access to education: Education is still out of reach for many people, or the quality of education offered is not equal. To quote Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon with which to change the world.” It allows people to think independently, to research answers, to discern truth and to think critically, which is essential to challenging the status quo and finding solutions. Education is also the key to allowing societies to understand the powerful impact of gender equity or of the incredible evidence-based benefits of women participating equally in society.
3. Disinformation: Many of the challenges to today’s leadership and the ability to achieve a sound and informed education lie in the flows of information. The distinct and unvetted sources of information that foment division and the inability to often discern truth from fiction. False narratives in society allow harmful social structures and practices to be perpetuated.
4. Growing inequality and income divide: As resources become more challenged with climate change and wealth is consolidated into the hands of a few, more and more people find themselves facing deep challenges and growing needs, which fuels migration, anger, poor health, suffering and discontent. Critical societal change needed for gender equity can get usurped by these other also real crises. —Vanessa Kerry, MD MSc | CEO of Seed Global Health
I believe the biggest barrier to achieving equality is our failure or unwillingness to grasp the ways that gender inequality is deeply tied to other forms of inequality, including white supremacy and economic injustice, among others. When we fail to use an intersectional lens, we miss the ways that certain tactics and approaches to address gender inequality actually have the potential to do a tremendous amount of harm. I really think that greater focus on intersectionality would help us make real headway. —Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Ph.D. | Founder of Akili Dada; Outgoing Director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD)
Committing to intersectionality is critical to achieving equality and equity in our society. Without it, we won’t get there. We can’t be anti-sexist without being anti-racist. Our country was built on roots of white male supremacy and anti-Blackness, and we have much work to do to address and undo generations of trauma and oppression. So many Americans of all races and backgrounds—but especially our Black communities—are hurting right now. The division is literally killing us. And most men were raised without the tools to address their pain and our societal division. The “Man Box” teaches men that the only acceptable emotion is anger. It teaches men not to develop empathy and vulnerability, but to hate and despise and denigrate those who aren’t like us. Rigid notions of masculinity are partly responsible for getting us here, and healthy manhood is a key to moving toward safety, equity and healing. —Tony Porter | CEO of A Call to Men
The three biggest barriers to achieving equality are conscious and subconscious sexism, a collective scarcity mindset and a lack of enforcement of laws that will expand and protect equality. Until we are able to deliberately and consistently recognize and disrupt our personal, professional and cultural sexism, we will not be able to fully achieve equality. As the concept of equality continues to be socialized and normalized, it must also address the pervasive mindset that to achieve equality some will have to give up resources, power or social standing because resources, power and social standing are finite resources. We must actively shift to an abundance mindset where we recognize that a rising tide raises all ships. Lastly, there are significant parts of the American legal structure that were created to preserve the concentration of power and wealth. Slowly, legal reform has worked to dismantle that concentration and reallocate or expand who has a seat at that table. There is a great deal of work to be done in this area; as we have seen, for every two steps forward there is a step backward in the courts. —Kimberly Peeler-Allen | Visiting Practitioner of Center for American Women & Politics, Rutgers University; Board Chair of the ERA Coalition; Cofounder of Higher Heights
Individualism, cynicism and fear. Our culture celebrates the individual, without acknowledging that no-one truly achieves anything alone. Individualism focuses on individual merit and doesn’t value fairness or equality, when our achievements, and challenges, are always influenced by those around us and the systems we are a part of.
Cynicism prevents the necessary creativity, vision and action required to make progress to address inequality. When we don’t believe equality is—or will ever be—within reach, a barrier to equality will be our own belief in our capability to achieve it.
Finally, fear prevents us from looking honestly at how inequality has shaped each of us and the harm it creates, and has created historically, for so many. That fear leads to avoidance of a necessary part of the process toward understanding how inequality operates, and therefore how to address it, including healing the wounds it has created. —Ai-jen Poo | Executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; Director of Caring Across Generations
We have no term for it like “structural racism” but if we did, it would be called something like “structural genderism”: the way gender inequality is not only personal but deeply baked into social systems and structures…. We need to tear down the binary gender system and rethink it. —Riki Wilchins | Author and Activist; Executive Director of True Child
I subscribe to Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy’s views: it’s patriarchy. It is dangerous to women, children, men and all living things. Patriarchy is the head of the octopus, encompassing misogyny and sexism. Its tentacles represent intersecting forms of oppression from Islamophobia to racism homophobia, ableism, rapacious capitalism and others. It differs from region to region, but as long as we keep focusing on the tentacles and fail to cut patriarchy off at its head, the tentacles will re-grow and re-traumatize individuals, communities, countries and the planet…. Patriarchy may end with a whisper, not a bang. It may be on its last legs, which is why the backlash is so intense and desperate. Gender equality, equity and justice will emerge from its ashes. —Joanne Sandler | Board Co-chair of JASS (Just Associates); Senior Associate of Gender at Work; Co-host of Two Old Bitches
The most significant barriers to achieving equality are the lack of funding directed toward justice and equity, and the lack of understanding about the critical link between intersectional philanthropy and true social progress for all. These barriers not only implicate the footprint of philanthropy but of the private and public sectors, as well.
Until investors and decision-makers of all types begin funding solutions with race- and gender-based lenses in partnership with women and girls of color who hold enormous insight and experience, they not only risk overlooking impact for communities of color, but they shortchange impact on society as a whole. Until women and girls of color have a seat at the table where strategies are built, perspectives are shaped and decisions regarding the direction of capital are made, the world will cease to generate enough momentum to uplift and unleash the power of women and girls of color for the transformation of a better world. —Ada Williams Prince | Senior Advisor of Program Strategy and Investment of Pivotal Ventures
The lack of representation from women of color at every level of elected office is a big barrier to equality. The prosperity of most Americans, and American democracy itself, is crippled by the dominance of white male elected officials. Even with the sharp increase in representation of women of color, it doesn’t make up for the generations of unfairness and unbalance. And at the same time, white male dominated state legislatures and executive offices have pushed through a slew of voter suppression laws to curb the power that women of color are gaining. We don’t have a political system built to include new voices and expand the vote. But that doesn’t mean we cannot make fundamental changes in the system itself. We just witnessed how the mostly white men and women of the Republican Party stopped HR1 from passing the Senate—that legislation would have expanded and protected the vote of people who have been cast out or ignored in the political system. Now we must use every power we hold to focus on expanding voting access and demanding early and fervent support of women of color candidates who will be carrying voting and other justice issues forward. We need to build a system that will transform the very landscape of power. —Aimee Allison | Founder and President of She the People
Systemic racism. Disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes are manifestations of racism. Structural forces perpetuated by racist policies, like slavery, the GI bill and Jim Crow, created wealth for many white families also created inequitable systems of housing, food stability, education, access to care, criminal justice and safety—all of which have impacts on maternal and infant health. For example, Black women are more likely than white women to live in maternity care deserts and have difficulty accessing comprehensive reproductive health care services. The Black maternal health crisis is evidence that racism not only permeates our society, but also has devastating effects on our communities. —Joia Adele Crear-Perry, MD, FACOG | Founder and President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative (NBEC)
There are such deep historical wounds and inequalities in our society that we haven’t healed: colonization, slavery, genocide. Acknowledging, grappling with and making reparations can help us collectively heal and build a society based on justice and equality. Around the world, gender-based violence works as an enforcement mechanism of patriarchy. It is utterly pervasive and yet still largely in the shadows. This is slowly changing, but so much more work needs to be done to interrupt the violence before it starts. The ubiquity of child sexual abuse in particular creates a culture of domination and vulnerability that impacts our societies, and the possibilities for achieving equality in profound ways. COVID has laid bare how much all of our societies rely on girls and women to do the work of caring for our families and communities. This work is undervalued, mostly done for free and overwhelmingly shouldered by girls and women. Until the burden—and joys—of care are shared more equally, gender equality will be elusive. —Pamela Shifman | Advocate for girls’ and women’s rights, social justice, and transformative philanthropy
Our workplaces and economies are fundamentally not built to welcome and be inclusive of moms and families. And in the home, women continue to shoulder the brunt of care and house work. A recent study found that women around the world spent an average of 173 additional hours doing unpaid labor caring for kids last year. Add to this the lack of representation in positions of leadership, the wage gap and the wealth gap, and it’s no surprise millions of women had to choose between their career and their family—or ended up working themselves to the bone trying to maintain both. —Jennifer Siebel Newsom | First Partner of California; Award-winning filmmaker; Advocate for gender equity
The health and economic crises have led to a caregiving crisis, leaving women at a breaking point and forcing millions of them to leave the workforce. Women’s labor force participation in the United States is as low today as it was in the late 1980s. In one year, women lost 32 years of progress in labor force participation and 22 years of progress in pay equity.
For too long, we have treated caregiving as a problem employees need to figure out on their own, but now we have to demand that policymakers and employers join in to solve this issue and invest in our workforce. Leaders across every sector, and at the state and national level, have a window of opportunity right now to advocate for the structural changes we need to rebuild our workplaces so they work for everyone. That includes guaranteeing fair wages for caregivers; providing paid leave and affordable child and long-term care; and eliminating the gender wage gap. —Tina Tchen | President and CEO of TIME’S UP
If you had to give three pieces of advice to current lawmakers who desire to pass the equal rights amendment and support equality, what would you say to them?
I would borrow the words from my friend and colleague Imara Jones, and tell lawmakers simply put: No woman is free unless all women are free. I would tell them that there can be no biological limits to how we define womanhood, or manhood for that matter, if we seek to build a country that believes in the tenants of liberty and justice for all. And I would tell them that it is time for our laws, and our public leaders, to uphold these values in big, bold ways. We cannot pick and choose when rights matter or to whom they apply. Laws intended to advance equality must work for everyone—or no one, not one of us, is free. —Ada Williams Prince | Senior Advisor of Program Strategy and Investment of Pivotal Ventures
First, equality is good for every sector of our world—for economic growth, social well-being and good governance. Second, policies and laws can be changed. Make equality non-negotiable by making the ERA a fundamental part of our constitution. It impacts everybody, not just women. Lastly, people can only reach their full potential if they feel validated. Let’s make equality a fundamental human right upon which the potential and lives of every human being can be elevated to possibilities that even they cannot imagine today. —Mona Sinha | Board Chair of the ERA Fund for Women’s Equality; Board Chair of Women Moving Millions; Producer of Disclosure
This isn’t a hard choice. The future of gender equality is one where we have equal rights, equal pay and equal power. Be on the right side of history and do the right thing. —Sarah Haacke Byrd | Executive Director of Women Moving Millions
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to say, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” President Obama added to that on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, “and it bends faster when we all push together.” In that vein, I would say standing on the right side of history is not always easy, but we must think of the long game, as well as how we can make it easier if we find strong points of agreement. Passing the Equal Rights Amendment, for example, is not achieving 100% of our goal, but if it’s, for instance, 10%, we can come back and add another 10% down the road.
Right now, we have an opportunity to build a fairer, more equitable country for all Americans, all women and girls, and people of all genders, as we build back better from this pandemic. So we must stay the course, not get discouraged and know that the policies we push for every day will bring about a better future. —Valerie Jarrett | Author of Finding My Voice; Senior advisor to Barack Obama; President of the Obama Foundation; Chair of Civic Nation; Co-chair of The United State of Women
Persist in your mission and hold true to your values, the way that all those who came before us fought for the rights we now have today. Resist the ignoramuses, haters, and spineless mercenaries. Fight like hell. —Rena Greifinger | Managing Director of Maverick Collective
My advice to my colleagues fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment and gender equality is not to start in the middle. We cannot stand for compromises on equal rights and justice. We must demand equality—period. We also have to be persistent. I’ve been pushing for reproductive rights and gender equality for decades and we are finally making progress, but it takes time. Lastly, we need to work from the outside in. Advocates and activists are the people who make Congress run. Engage with the people and you won’t be steered in the wrong direction. —Congresswoman Barbara Lee | Democratic U.S. Representative of California; Co-chair of the House Democratic Leadership Team; Human rights advocate
The ERA is very much a bi-partisan effort that is supported by 75% of Americans—people with very diverse perspectives and backgrounds. So if majority support for the ERA isn’t enough of a message for lawmakers and politicians, I would be very clear in saying that equality is good for business and business is good for equality—and what’s good for business is good for America!
Big companies understand this and that’s why the real leaders have come out in support of a constitutional amendment, rather than making vague statements about supporting equality. That’s because they understand that economic security, growth and prosperity are driven by gender equality.
We will have a more secure, healthy and prosperous country and world when women’s lives are valued equally to men’s lives. —Suzanne Lerner | Cofounder and CEO of Michael Stars; Activist; Philanthropist
Build your coalition. Passing the ERA is not a women’s issue; it is cross-cutting and touches health care, climate change, financial empowerment, education, technology—the list is long. Continue to act in solidarity. Be persistent. This may take even more time. We won’t quit. Use the power of story. When everyone is treated equally, our communities and our economy flourish. We are interdependent. We should complement the data with powerful stories of change. —Michelle Nunn | President and CEO of CARE USA
Gender inequality is holding our society back. Gender equality will advance it. There is an incredible amount of data that correlates gender equality with a stronger economy and significantly improved health and well-being of society. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, we have been sliding backward with alarming numbers of women being forced out of the workforce, much of it due to the ongoing closures of schools and daycare centers. This impacts not only women but their families and communities. And we know that women who are BIPOC are affected at even higher rates. We have got to look at these issues holistically and through the lens of the systemic oppression and systemic exclusion that is holding us all back and implement policies like the Equal Rights Amendment that help secure equality in a way that is meaningful and lasting. —Tony Porter | CEO of A Call to Men
An entire society can benefit from everyone being on equal footing. Day in and day out we are fighting centuries of inequities and compounded oppression to try to establish new principles for the future. Once we see society as a whole and empower one another, I know we can do great things. —Hilary Knight | U.S.A. Women’s National Hockey Team; Olympic Gold Medalist, Two-time Olympic Silver Medalist; Eight-time IIHF World Champion
The ERA is more than a piece of paper. As we in the U.S. grapple with our history of white supremacy and patriarchy, including girls and women in the Constitution is a fundamental and necessary step toward creating a real democracy. By passing the ERA, the U.S. will take a critical step toward joining those in the global community who are committed to making gender equality real. First, passage of the ERA. Next, ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW ) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Achieving gender equality is necessary for progress on every single critical issue facing the U.S.—from climate justice to racial equity, from education to the economy. When women and girls are equal, everyone benefits. —Pamela Shifman | Advocate for girls’ and women’s rights, social justice, and transformative philanthropy
The quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity.
Elements of this campaign, as well as additional responses from contributors are featured on the Envision Equality platform which you can find here.
Sarah Henry, Executive Director of the Global Center for Gender Equality at Stanford, provided editorial support to this piece.
Find out more about the history and current status of the ERA at the ERA Coalition site, as well as what you can do to ensure its passage.
Marianne Schnall is a widely-published interviewer and journalist and author of What Will It Take to Make a Woman President?, Leading the Way, and Dare to Be You. She is also the founder of Feminist.com and What Will It Take Movements.