Yesterday, 21st January 2017, was a historic day. By current estimates, it was the day that over 4.7m women, men and children came out onto the streets around the world to stand together in support of women’s rights. These estimates are according to the Women’s March on Washington website and while crowd estimation is always a difficult and uncertain task, a quick glance at a global map that shows all the sister marches on every continent is enough to convince me that the numbers were indeed sizeable.
(Reproduced from the Women’s March on Washington website. For full interactive map, click here)
I participated in my local march, and as we were a small group we took time to introduce ourselves and each say why we had shown up to stand together under the baking sun. People’s individual reasons for marching were varied. Some saw it as a direct protest against the inauguration of the president of the USA. For many of the rest of us though, it was a moment to express complicated and sometimes contradictory emotions about the societies we all inhabit. Some spoke of fear of the loss of the gains that have been made for women’s rights over recent decades, while others spoke of the rage they felt at the constant degradation of women that goes on everyday, in every corner of the world. Still others drew connections with the fight for climate justice, minority rights, the struggle for equality for the LGBTQIA community, and many other single issues that move people to take a stand.
Among these negative drivers though there were also messages of hope. Many expressed the solace they found in simply coming together with others, to see the physical manifestation of the fact that they are not isolated in their beliefs, and that the current discourse, no matter how strong, loud, rude or aggressive, is not the only one available. In this age of digital communication, it seems there is still no replacement for the tangibility of a crowd and the excitement that comes from feeling truly connected to a moment of change.
It was significant also to hear the men in attendance speak about their wish to stand in solidarity with women. The recognition that women’s rights are human rights has never been stronger and as the heforshe campaign underlines, we will only make progress towards gender equality when all genders participate in the conversation.
Marches are motivated in many different ways and their outcomes are often not tangible or even clear. No legislation has changed as a result of yesterday’s march, women don’t magically have more money in their pockets or more representation/ control in their public or private lives. Making gains towards gender equality has been and will continue to be the work of many generations, and there are thousands of fronts on which the fight will have to be won. When people ask what was the point of yesterday’s collective action then, I tell them the following:
- the women’s march was both an outpouring of grief and a moment of defiance
- it was an opportunity for people who often feel alone and marginalised to come together and be energised by one another
- it allowed conversations that may not otherwise have happened about further actions that we can take together to achieve the world we want
- it made visible to policy and decision makers and importantly to the media the sheer size of the group of people that will no longer accept structures that systematically disadvantage some groups while elevating others
- and finally, it was a crucial vehicle for people who may not have previously been activists or who may not necessarily be directly impacted by these issues right now to show solidarity. It was particularly important for people who belong to privileged groups to actively lend their support.
This experience also made me reflect on my position in society, the constituency that I represent and the responsibility I have to try to amplify the voices of those who do not have the opportunity to speak, but also to invite people into the movement who may never have considered being involved before. In the past, women’s marches and protests have been considered a “women’s issue” and I can understand why some people may feel excluded or at the very least, not actively included from moments of activism around these issues. Now however, we know that we cannot continue to live in our own echo chambers, and that transformative change will only come when we reach across perceived boundaries and work together. To contribute to this in a small way, I have set up an email chain called “You’re invited” where I send friends and family information about different ways to support the women’s movement in their area and ask them to do the same with just one other person who may not have been engaged in these issues previously. My hope is that this will create a multiplying effect that can draw a whole new group of people into this crucial conversation. If you’d like to know more about this, please comment below.
So, I’ll end with a call to everyone who reads this post to reach out to at least one person you know who hasn’t been active up to now in the fight for women’s rights, to ask them for their support and invite them into the conversation in whatever way is most appropriate. These could be small changes in personal actions, (for a few ideas from Oxfam America click here and for 10 actions in the first 100 days of the new presidency from the Women’s March click here) or bigger actions like getting involved in political, social and economic campaigns which are often spearheaded by local or national women’s groups. If each of the 4.7m people who march yesterday could invite just one other person to join the conversation, and they in turn open it to others, there is no end to what we can do together.