New year, new you — right?! Sigh.
Here we go, making resolutions again. Stuff we probably won’t stick to beyond the third week of January. Are you committed to working out? Drinking less? Being a better (insert your role here)? All those things are great — but they’re all about you.
My resolutions fit in two categories: me-goals and us-goals. I’ve got a big list of personal goals to work through this year — big! But my collective goals — my ‘us-goals’ — are just as important.
So if one of your us-goals is to make your community more inclusive/diverse/equitable… feminism is a good way to start!
But first, let’s start the year with the same understanding of this word. In my world, feminism means rights, respect, representation, resources. The late feminist foremother bell hooks put it beautifully: “To be feminist…is to want for all people, female and male, liberation from sexist role patterns, domination, and oppression.”
And, if you haven’t already taken note of this, we are not yet free from sexism and oppression. Our world is far from equal. Not a single country has achieved equality. All around the world, women and girls are still not able to fully participate in all aspects of social, economic, and political life. We have less choice, less voice, less opportunities, less resources. Fact.
In fact, at the present pace, we’ll need 100 years to close the gender gap. 100 years. I’ll either be a) dead or b) 147 years old. Neither of these are good options. Could we perhaps move faster?!
So my us-goal for 2022 is to take my space — whatever space I occupy — and make it feminist. Here’s how you can do it too:
1. Wake Up and Look Around
Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Examine the spaces you’re in — home, school, work, the street — and ask yourself: Who is there? Who is in charge? Who is not there? And — why aren’t they there? What do we gain or lose when some people are left out — or left silent?
Open your eyes. And once you see what’s going on, you can never unsee it. If you’re not angry about something, you’re asleep.
2. Take it Personally
Whatever happens to women and girls isn’t just about ‘other women’ ‘over there’. It’s about all of us, right here.
One in three women and girls worldwide experience some form of violence in their lifetime. We can’t dismiss this, it’s too many to ignore. And anyway, even one is one too many.
I do this not just because I’m dedicated to this…but because I AM THIS. I am the one in three too. There are more of us than we know.
And every woman I know has walked at night with keys in her hands or texted friends to say “yes, I got home okay.”
We’re all affected, so we are all responsible. Taking it personally leads to action.
3. Learn Something
Expand your socio-political horizons.
Seek information, read, learn. And expand your sources of information. I don’t know about you, but my social media is an echo chamber. Sometimes I need to go wider to understand what other people are saying. And why they are saying it.
Read from a variety of sources, perspectives, and backgrounds This helps us understand how different experiences and identities impact who we are. There’s even a word for this — intersectionality — in case you haven’t already heard it!
4. Ask to Listen, and Listen to Change
Ask questions with curiosity and generosity. Listen to the answers, learn from them, and apply them. Asking others about their experiences or even simply asking “how can I help?” is a good place to start.
Challenge yourself to see things differently. Open up space for learning, and crucially, un-learning.
Call out the crap — in yourself and others. It’s easy to make hollow statements of support, but holding yourself, and others, accountable is far harder. You do it all the time with your me-goals (should I eat this cookie?! I ask myself…), now try it with your us-goals.
5. Check Yourself Out in the Mirror
Not just to see if last year’s pants still fit, but to critically assess your life from a different perspective. Who are you? What can you do — or not do — based on who you are? Where do you have easy access? Where do you get stuck?
We all have aspects of who we are that have made our lives easier or harder. Most of these things were not earned — it’s just the life-lottery. Take being tall, for example. You didn’t ask for it, but you got it (I asked — but no one listened!). Being tall means you can reach the top shelf, while I have to get a stepladder and then stand on the kitchen counter. So — what are you going to do to help me reach the top shelf?!
It’s the stuff that you can do easily that others can’t. Reframe that as an opportunity to give — and a good place to start.
6. Engage and Include, Connect and Collaborate
Engage outside your immediate circle. Reach far and wide. Be deliberate about diversity — not just as a token, but because diversity really is better for all of us. Go out of your way to support and empower women and girls — starting with the ones right beside you. This goes without saying, but it’s not just a woman’s job to do this. Men, I see you!
Encourage and make space for women and girls every chance you get. Make space for women’s voices to be heard. Amplify their voices. Women and girls have a voice — what they often need is a microphone.
7. Put your money where…
Another way to make an impact in your everyday life is being mindful of your purchases. Align your dollars with your values. The majority of the world’s low-wage workers are women, in the informal economy with all of the risks and insecurities that brings.
And women are disproportionately affected by discrimination, exploitation, and harassment in just about every work setting.
While it might not be obvious to trace where money goes, do what you can to better understand what you are buying, who you are supporting, and the impact it has. Or offset that stuff by offering your time, talent, treasure to the causes you believe in. Fuel the right fires!
8. Start Where You Stand
People always ask me if they have to fly off into a warzone to be able to make a difference. Of course not!
If you wanted to help the environment, would you start by strapping yourself to a tractor that is about to destroy a field, or joining an expedition bound for Antarctica? Probably not. Instead, you’d take your can of Diet Coke out of the trash and put it in the recycle bin. Start there. Micro-actions, mega-impact.
Your behavior matters. And behavior is contagious — so we might as well make it good.
Start — literally — where you stand, in the space you occupy, in your immediate surroundings. There’s a lot you can do right there. Right here. Right now!
9. Speak Out and Fight Forward!
Too often we are reacting and ‘fighting back’ but this isn’t enough! Fighting back just puts us where we started, and the status quo isn’t good enough. Instead we need to fight FORWARD — for the kind of world we want. This means being proactive, not reactive. Not just defending our rights but courageously imagining something far better.
It’s on all of us to get involved. We all have the capacity to do so — even in micro-ways. Find causes you believe in and organizations that advance these causes — join them. Advocate, lobby, protest, answer a call to action!
Online activism can make a difference as well. Amplify voices and causes online that are already doing great work — there are many to choose from!
And perhaps you’ll find, as I have, that the more we focus on the us-goals, the more likely the me-goals will also fall into place.
10. Seek — no, demand! — more
What is a movement if not a group of people willing to move?! There are so many awesome movements that are shaking things up around the world.
Here’s some good stuff I love to get you started — and hopefully you’ll find many more of your own:
She Decides — because, duh, she should decide about her own body and life. Easy.
Vital Voices reminds us that women leaders are the vital voices changing the world.
Women’s Media Center amplifies the voices of women in media — disrupting the echo chamber!
Voice — because women’s voices in crisis are the global revolution we need.
Women for Women International channels crucial support to women survivors of conflict.
Republished with author’s permission.
Dr. Lina Abirafeh
Lina AbiRafeh, PhD is a global women’s rights expert with decades of experience worldwide. She is a writer, speaker, and advisor with a 25-year track record in creating positive change for women in over 20 countries around the world – Afghanistan, Haiti, Central African Republic, Papua New Guinea, and more. She serves a range of organizations in a senior advisory capacity, and is a member of several international boards of women’s rights organizations.
Lina publishes on a range of women’s rights issues. Her second book, “Freedom on the Frontlines” is due in early 2022. She speaks frequently on global stages and has been featured on CNN, BBC, TEDx, and Good Morning America, amongst others. Lina has been recognized as the Gender Equality Top 100 worldwide, a Vital Voices Fellow for outstanding women leaders, a Women’s Media Center Progressive Women’s Voice, and a Women in Power Fellow.