How Far Women Have Come and Where They’re Going

“As an activist for women through almost four decades, I know that no movement for social justice moves forward without struggle, nor does forward movement necessarily go in a straight line.”  

Today, March 8, is celebrated around the globe as International Women’s Day .  Some decry its commercialization, as corporate sponsors have realized it’s in their best interests to appeal to women who make over 85 percent of consumer purchases around the globe.
But it’s a day whose meaning inspires me to think back to a very special moment on September, 1995.

I was attending the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, where hugely ambitious and thrilling goals were set for improving the lives of women, and by extension their families and the world.

The official conference was in Beijing, but the much larger convocation of activists from nongovernmental organizations—40,000 enthusiastic women and a few good men like my husband—was literally stuck in the mud in Huairu, a suburb an hour’s drive from the city.

Thousands of sleepy people had arrived at dawn on the morning of Sept. 6, to stand packed together under a roof of brightly colored umbrellas, jockeying for the few hundred seats inside the auditorium where then first lady of the United States Hillary Clinton was slated to give a speech.

Thanks to my training in clinic defense, which had taught me how to form a wedge and move expeditiously through even the most aggressive crowd, I was fortunate not only to get inside but to get a seat. The program was running late; Hillary was running even later and the crowd was getting restless.

Just as it seemed a revolt might be brewing, Shirley May Springer Stanton, the cultural coordinator of the conference, sauntered onto the stage and began to sing a capella, ever so softly: “Gonna keep on moving forward. Never turning back, never turning back.”

Then she asked the audience to join her. Pretty soon the house was rocking. By the time the first lady arrived and gave her brilliant “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” speech, it truly felt like the global movement for women’s rights was unstoppable.

Hillary Clinton, Beijing 1995

It was, you might say, an ovular moment.

Where are women today? How far have we come?

Here in the United States, that moment can seem long ago. Today, women are aghast that presidential candidates are railing against birth control (yes, birth control!) access for American women, and members of Congress argue against funding for international family planning services that could reduce the millions of unsafe abortions and risky pregnancies that cause 500,000 unnecessary deaths each year globally.

But the U.S. women’s movement can take inspiration from working in sisterhood with women from around the globe. When the United States failed to meet its commitments to the global public-health community, many developing countries began funding these essential women’s health services beyond all expectations and the European nations stepped in to fill much of the void left by America’s abdication of leadership.

Women’s economic development projects are also fueling economic growth around the world while bringing greater equality to the women in their societies. Sex trafficking and other acts of violence against women, long merely routine facts of life for women, are becoming subjects of international media attention and human rights action. And female heads of state have been elected in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

  18 female elected heads of state

And though the U.S. has yet to follow suit, Hillary Clinton almost broke through that “highest and hardest glass ceiling,” is serving the country with great distinction as Secretary of State. And that puts her in a position not just to talk about, but to implement her declaration that women’s rights are human rights at the highest policy levels.

As an activist for women through almost four decades, I know that no movement for social justice moves forward without struggle, nor does forward movement necessarily go in a straight line.  All of us who support it must have the political will, courage, commitment, stamina and a never-ending creation of inspiring initiatives that touch real people’s lives. A movement, after all, has to move. Power and energy come from moving into new spaces, not from standing still.

On this Women’s Equality Day, we can proudly acknowledge that women have changed the world, much for the better in terms of justice and equality. That’s exactly what scares our adversaries and causes the kind of backlash from those who do not want women to be able to stand in our power and walk with intention to our own unlimited lives, as the Power Tools in my book No Excuses show how to do.

One of those Power Tools, “Employ Every Medium” was used very effectively by a group of African women who attended the Beijing conference and told their story about how they stamped out spousal abuse in their village when they had been unable to get their local law enforcement officers to do it.

The women banded together, took their cooking pots, and took up positions outside of the homes of men who had committed violent acts against their wives. They banged on those pots so loudly that the whole neighborhood came out and took note. And after a while, the men came out of their homes and agreed to change their behavior.

Each country today has different reasons to bang their pots on this International Women’s Day 2012. But the refrain for all of us who aspire to global justice for women is the same.

Gonna raise our voices boldly, Never turning back. Gotta keep on moving forward, Never turning back, Never

This article originally ran in a blog post for WOMEN ON THE FENCE. Check it out here.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

On International Women’s Day, Tell Congress to Fund International Family Planning


Check out today’s guest post on 9 Ways.  It comes to us from The Population Institute. I highlight it because the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day is being celebrated at events around the world today. The best way I can think of to celebrate IWD is to petition the U.S. Congress and other world leaders to make good on their commitments to fund international family planning. In No Excuses, I show why reproductive self-determination is essential for women to have any other kind of power. But the Republicans are trying to eliminate or drastically cut family planning funds in the U.S. and globally. The political and social justice consequences of such a short sighted policy are stunning.

Even if you don’t have time to read the whole post, please click here to sign the petition now. You’ll be saving women’s lives.

Watch this video called “Empty Handed” to see just some of the reasons why you’ll want to join me in signing the petition and become one of a million for a billion–telling Congress to fully fund international family planning:

 


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Pass Your Power Forward

Regular guest columnist Anne Doyle wrote this post for International Women’s Day, but it applies every day. It reminds me about how important symbols are, and is a great example of what I call “Sister Courage”–be a sister, have courage, and work together like a movement with sister courage. Here’s the link to the original on Anne’s website if you want to connect with her there. I’m so proud of Anne for running for city council (and winning!), as well as admiring her leadership ideas.

Nearly two years ago, just before I was to give a speech before a group of Michigan businesspeople, I met a woman who was wearing a very unusual, intriguing pin.   I complimented her on it and she told me how much she loved it.

After my speech, the same woman came up to me, handed me the pin and told me she wanted me to have it.   “Oh no, I couldn’t take your pin.  I know it’s very special to you.”  She insisted, but told me there was a string attached to her gift.  “You must promise me that one day you will give this pin to another woman,” she said.  “I am giving it to you with the understanding that you will pass it forward.”  “How long can I keep it?” I asked her.  She simply said, “You will know when it’s time to pass the pin and its power forward.”

There is something almost magical about the pin, and I’ve loved it.  Every time I put it on, I felt empowered by the woman who gave it to me. But as much as I hated to give it up, I have known for weeks that the time had come.  I also knew exactly to whom the pin should go next.  I just hadn’t found the right moment to present it to her.

That moment came this past Friday at a breakfast gathering of the Michigan Women Officials Network.  WON, as we call ourselves, is a non-partisan group of women elected officials, judges, public commission appointees and people committed to increasing the number of women in elected office.    The woman I had in mind would be there.   Blanca Fauble is a very special friend who insisted on taking over as my Campaign Manager when I ran for my first political office last fall.   Originally from Peru, she is a bi-lingual, stunningly capable dynamo who gives and gives and gives to others. The fact that I won my election to the Auburn Hills City Council by a landslide is a tribute to her capabilities.   She is also going through one of those life and career transitions that most of us have experienced.  They are always tough and it is easy, particularly for women, to forget how strong our wings truly are and how high we are capable of soaring.

Before the breakfast began, I asked our president, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Joan Young, if I could take a few minutes to present the pin.  Judge Young and another officer, Troy City Councilwoman Mary Kerwin, urged me to also use the “pinning” to encourage every other woman in the room to find ways to pass her power forward, as well.  As you can see from the photo, the “pinning” turned out to be an emotional, memorable moment between “sisters.”

Sometimes it takes my breath away when I think about how far women have progressed in my lifetime.  At other moments, I stagger under the weight of how far we have to go to end the oppression and brutalization of girls and women throughout the world.  According to the Global Gender Gap Report, issued annually by the World Economic Forum, not a country in the world has achieved gender equity.  The Scandinavian countries are leading the way.  The U.S. has lost ground, slipping from 27th to 31st in the world on how well we divide our resources and opportunities between males and females.  What did they measure?   Economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment and survival.

Monday, March 8th is International Women’s Day. I hope you’ll join your sisters from all over the world this week to do something special to remind yourself and the women in your life what a powerful tribe we are.   There is a Chinese proverb which says “Women hold up half the sky.”  Perhaps you’ve read Half the Sky, written by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn. It’s a spectacular book about courageous women from all over the world who are examples of how we can turn gender oppression into opportunity. If you haven’t read it yet, give it to yourself as an International Women’s Day gift.  And then, pass it on to someone else – a man or a woman – who understands that the world will be a better place when we tap the full power of our feminine strengths and stand side-by-side with men, holding up half the sky together.

The next step, which I dream of achieving in my lifetime, is for women throughout the world to come together into a powerful, collective feminine force field.  That transformation will begin when we learn how to share and combine our individual power.  We must be the wind beneath each others’ wings.  Otherwise, none of us will reach the heights we could achieve together.  You don’t need a magical pin to lift another woman.  Pass your power forward.

PHOTOS BY MARGENE SCOTT, Thanks Margene!

About Anne: Anne Doyle is a Detroit-based leadership and communications consultant, former TV journalist and global auto executive. For more, check out her website — and blog.

Anne Doyle is a Detroit-based leadership and communications consultant, former TV journalist and global auto executive. For more, check out her website — and blog.

Want Equal Rights? The Truth Is – Just Take Them!

“If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.” —Sojourner Truth, former slave, abolitionist, Methodist minister, and early U.S. women’s rights leader

International Women’s Day began 99 years ago. With so much progress accomplished since 1911, yet so much more remaining to be done, it seems to me that it’s time for women to change our approach to something closer Sojourner Truth’s.

Her advice to women as she stated it in the above quote to Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of the influential anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, when they met in 1853, comes from a position of knowing her own power. Despite being been born into slavery and experiencing oppression, poverty, and discrimination far greater than most women reading this blog in 2010, Truth was way ahead of many of us in her perspective about how to advance equal rights.

Without question, in many places around the globe, women remain as oppressed as Sojourner Truth–born Isabella Baumfree in Ulster County, New York, and once sold for $100 and a herd of sheep–was before she “walked off” from her master.

But even in the most gender-repressive societies such as Yemen, there are Sojourner Truth-like women and girls such as ten-year-old Nujood Ali, who was married off to a man three times her age but had the idea of a different, more just life, the intention to get it, and the courage to divorce her husband despite male dominant customs.

In the U.S. as in many highly industrialized nations, women have become not just free to choose their mates and manage their own fertility, but we are the majority in the workplace and almost 60% of college graduates, we make over 80% of consumer purchasing decisions, and own over 50% of start-up businesses—just for starters.

Yet we hover around 15% of corporate board memberships and top executive positions, we earn 78 cents to a man’s dollar, and though we’re 52% of voters, we’re only 17% of Congress and around 25% of state legislatures. Why the disparity?

I have been researching the question for over a year now, and I keep coming up with the same answer as Sojourner Truth. We need to just take what we want.

All indicators are that our learned behavior has not yet allowed us to break free, or to see ourselves as fully powerful. So women don’t put ourselves forward for those top slots in numbers and with intention sufficient to break through to parity once and for all.  We don’t assume equality at all levels as our perfect right, as boys and men are socialized to do from birth.

At See Jane Do’s Passion Into Action conference recently, a woman shared this story as an insight to how we might break the bounds that keep us from reaching equal rights and responsibilities: It seems that trainers of baby elephants tether them to a posts soon after birth. After a couple of weeks, the newborn stops trying to break free, for she has come to believe she lacks the ability to do so. Once grown, the elephant has plenty of strength to pull up the post or break the chains. But because she doesn’t realize she has the power to free herself, she remains tied to the post, held back by her own previously inculcated experience.

Women can only be disempowered from reaching full equality if we stay tethered to old constraints of custom and behavior that remain in our thinking. We need to understand our own strength, embrace it, and have the intention and courage to use it, for our own good and the good of the world.

IWD, which started in Copenhagen as a Socialist movement for better working conditions and voting rights for women at the turn of the 20th century has unquestionably helped to change the world for the better. Now it’s up to 21st Century women to finish the job—no excuses if we don’t.

In her most famous speech, delivered to a women’s rights convention in 1851, Sojourner Truth proffered another piece of advice that we would do well to heed: “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!”

Let us pledge to turn the world aright, with equal rights, by IWD’s 100th anniversary next year. All we need to do, after all, is “just take them.”

xx


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Do Women’s Gains Make Women’s History Month Ho Hum?

I’m finding Women’s History Month this year greeted with yawns. That could mean women and women’s contributions are becoming everywhere recognized as integral to political and social history.  If so, it’s not yet a publicly acknowledged fact.

No surprise there.

History has been defined through male lenses and written by male hands. Almost nobody, male or female, ever thought of Women’s History Anything before the 1970’s. Officially, it’s been in existence since 1978 and started on the left coast (as Women’s History Week) in Sonoma County CA. Now it sounds just nice and ordinary. You can even buy Women’s History Month greeting cards.

So it’s hard for many to fathom that the inception of Women’s History Month marked a revolutionary shift in thinking about whose actions are worth recording. An interesting overview is here, and Louise Bernikow’s “Our Story” articles tell me interesting snippets I don’t find elsewhere; your children probably won’t find them in their textbooks either because few history courses even today have caught up with the stunning progress women have made into leadership and influential roles during the past decade.

The origins of International Women’s Day, which was March 8, predate Women’s History Month by seven decades but have now been incorporated into the month’s events. It began in the progressive political movement to demand better working conditions for women at the turn of the 20th Century, a time of rapid industrialization and rapid social change.

My favorite t-shirt is one that reads “Well behaved women rarely make history.”

But once history is made, it just seems so normal. Now the United States has had a female Speaker of the House of Representatives and a woman candidate for President nearly won the Democratic party’s nomination last year. Indeed, when asked my grandson, age 11 at the time, if he would vote for a woman for president, he responded “Yeaaah” in that drawn out way that made it sound as though I had three heads to ask such a dumb question.

There’s a whole raft of what I call the feminist echo going on right now–as all of us aging second wave feminists are having a combination of post menopausal zest and a realization that it’s time to take another swing at getting some things done before it’s too late for us to do anything. That’s why there are renewed ratification efforts in states that failed to pass the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970’s, and a whole slew of books, conferences, and oral histories under development, including a conference to reprise the historic National Women’s Conference in Houston of 30 years ago. Now with Barack Obama as president, the U.S.might even enter the 21st century by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Over 90% of the nations on earth have ratified CEDAW; we stand in bad company with countries like the Sudan that have not yet signed on. And during the last two weeks, over at the United Nations, plans were being laid for a Fifth World Conference on women, or Beijing + 15. Not that you would know it from the lack of media coverage on the topic.

Speaking of media, it should be noted that Eleanor Roosevelt was more or less the first blogger. She wrote “My Day”, a 500-word syndicated column six days a week from 1935 until her death in 1962 in order to influence policy through a medium accessible to a woman. “Without equality,” she said, “there can be no democracy.” And although she was more noted for her work to advance racial equality, she included women in her concerns: “The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us should countenance anything which undermines it.”

To that point, the inimitable gravel-voiced former congresswoman and serial starter of organizations to advance women, Bella Abzug, once said, “Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”

In the same way, we’ll really know we have social and political gender parity when women’s visibility in the telling of history, as well as the making of it, will be, well, just normal.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

International Women’s Day at 100–We’ve Come a Long Way, Maybe

I tore open the New York Times this morning, hoping to see an article about International Women’s Day, today, March 8.

Nada. Zilch. Nothing recognizing a day first observed in 1909 and ingrained in the global women’s movement.

The economy dominates the news and for good reason, but why not at least an op ed that tells readers the effect of the global financial meltdown women and the spiraling effect that has on families. But then when it comes to cash circulation worldwide, women do 2/3 of the work but get 10% of the income, according to the International Women’s Day 2009 website. If gold rules, then no wonder that only 21% of news stories globally are about women. Yet women continue to be the primary victims of sex trafficking and other sexual abuse, dislocation from wars they didn’t start, and repressive practices such as genital cutting and even restrictions on physical movement.

Paradoxically, so many of the world’s ills could be cured by simply equalizing those gender imbalances through education, employment opportunity, and access to health care including reproductive health care. Thanks to Lucinda Marshall at Feminist Peace Network for sharing this video of Queen Rania explaining how and why that is. Watch it and then ask why the media isn’t making more of this day.

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Yahoo’s homepage logo features a lively flash turning one of its “o’s” into the symbol for “woman”–purple no less, which for those of us who like to know these symbols represents the American suffragists’ favored accent color along with their traditional white garb. And they have created flower-rimmed a page that mainly uses material from the elaborate International Women’s Day 2009 website sponsored by Aurora, a London-based company founded by Glenda Stone that connects women with employers globally. That the site is also supported by major corporations such as Deloitte and Cisco, whose logos appear proudly under the masthead, shows not just that women have arrived in a profound way, but that women’s economic power is sufficient that we’re worth spending non-cosmetic advertising dollars on.

Women have made so many gains that it’s reasonable to ask whether we still need IWD. I’d say it’s a day to celebrate all the accomplishments of the past century, while at the same time recommitting ourselves to the vast work still ahead of us to eliminate gender-based inequality that results in poverty, violence, and abuse.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month: What Do You Want to Be?

“What do you want to be?” we ask our daughters and sons when they are growing up.

Barack Obama poses this question to elementary school children in this delightful video called “I Want to Be” that looks at political leadership of women through American history. Take a look and ask yourself the same question: what do you want to be next?

This video is just in time for International Women’s Day– March 8–and Women’s History Month, celebrated throughout March. “Celebrated” is the right word for where women are today, too: on the cusp of a great leaping point toward true equality and even in some instances, parity.

Watch and see where U.S. women are in national political leadership as compared to other countries. You’ll find interesting vignettes of women shattering barriers, others who didn’t succeed but paved the way for the next woman who tried, and some facts that might surprise you.

How do your daughters’ (or other younger women you know) political aspirations compare to yours at that age, if you are a more “advanced” reader? If you are a young woman or man, what do you think the future holds for women in political leadership?

And, you, yes you, what do you want to be next in your life? How will you write history for the next generation?

PS. Be sure to look around GloriaFeldt.com for lots more posts and information about Women’s History Month. I’ll be adding something new every day in March.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Bang Those Pots and Keep This Movement Moving

Today is March 8, International Women’s Day 2006. But before getting into that, let’s think back to September 1995.

Spin the globe and stop the world on China.
It’s the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, where hugely ambitious and thrilling goals were set for improving the lives of women, and by extension their families and the world.

The official conference was in Beijing, but the much larger convocation of activists from nongovernmental organizations was literally stuck in the mud in Huairu, a suburb an hour’s drive from the city.

Thousands of us had arrived early on the morning of Sept. 6, to stand packed together under a roof of brightly colored umbrellas, jockeying for the few hundred seats inside the auditorium where then first lady of the United States Hillary Clinton was slated to give a speech. Continue reading “Bang Those Pots and Keep This Movement Moving”


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

February 2006 Newsletter

“Well behaved women rarely make history”
~Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Honor Our Mothers by Celebrating Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on March 8.

Here’s a little background on Women’s History Month: In my youth and up until the 1970’s, women’s history was virtually nonexistent the public school curriculum or in public consciousness. The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women first initiated a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978. They chose the week of March 8 to make International Women’s Day the focal point of the observance.

The response was so overwhelming across the country that by 1987, the entire month of March was designated as Women’s History Month by a bi-partisan Congressional resolution. That said, it is my observation that most history curricula still underreport women’s history and history made by women. Thus the annual celebrations are an opportunity to learn and to teach about this universally important topic.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court can be up to no good by agreeing to hear another abortion ban case, and South Dakota has passed a law making abortion illegal, it’s urgent to talk about the connection between women’s struggles for our most fundamental rights, including reproductive rights as an essential human right.

On February 22, I had the pleasure of delivering the keynote speech to the remarkable volunteers of the Peer Health Exchange at their annual volunteer conference. Peer Health

Exchange college students give generously of their time and talents to teach top notch comprehensive health education in public schools.

Click here to learn more about the Peer Health Exchange.

Here’s where I’ll be speaking this month — Please Join Me. Continue reading “February 2006 Newsletter”


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.