Women: Closing the Gender Gap Is Up to Us

We Must Be Our Own Advocates

Photo: Angel Boligan, El Universal, Mexico City, www.caglecartoons.com

A female must function in a world that all too often treats her like prey, clips her wings, and burdens her with fear and shame.

The challenges to women exposed during #MeToo reopened discussions about harassment, gender, and power. The struggle with stereotypes against girls who are intelligent and articulate, who speak up for themselves, and who are active members of school and society, is very real.

The World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Gender Gap Report finds that while women worldwide are closing the gender gap in areas such as health and education, inequality persists in the workplace and politics.

However, data shows that when women are present and in leadership roles, more women are hired at all levels. This holds true even when taking into consideration the disparities in the size of female talent pools across various industry sectors.

As president of ShelterBox, a Santa Barbara-based disaster relief organization that works globally, I see how even disasters disproportionately affect women. From higher death rates, increased gender-based violence, economic loss, and loss of education, disasters exacerbate gender inequalities. However, women are pivotal in the recovery process — they often are the first responders to a crisis and play a central role in the survival and resilience of families and communities.

International Women’s Day on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, and political achievements of women. It also marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality.

Right now, it is estimated that gender parity across the world will take another 100 years. That equates to the year 2120. None of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and neither will our children. We must do better.

Women must have opportunities to be represented as powerful figures, from politicians, to corporate board directors, to musicians. The race is on for a gender equal boardroom and workplace, a gender equal government, gender equal media coverage, gender equal sports coverage, and more gender equality in health and wealth. There is not enough being done to change the view of “girl.” Each of us, working together, can initiate change.

We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perspectives, lift and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, each one of us can work to create a gender equal world.

While we need men as our allies, we must be our own advocates – both for ourselves as well as for each other. We must speak up. We must speak out. We must stand together.

Melinda Gates said, “A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.”

Having a voice can be a challenge when we, as women, are told we are not valued, when sexism is institutionalized in many spaces across our society and culture, and when we are punished and silenced for speaking out.

But our silence will be interpreted as our acceptance.

I’ve been able to rise to a leadership role as a female by having the courage to find my voice and connect that voice to causes I believe in. The road has been long and rife with unimaginable obstacles along the way. But I remain steadfast on this path to progress and greater gender equality in our world.

I am reflective on progress that has been made and inspired by acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played extraordinary roles in the history of their countries and their communities. But, so much as we want to celebrate achievements, we must acknowledge just how far we still have to go.

This International Women’s Day, I encourage you to give, get, and gather. Give your time to issues that matter to women, get a mentor who can give you support and provide perspective, and gather fellow females and allies to join you in raising our collective voice.

Kerri Murray is president of ShelterBox USA, an international disaster relief charity that delivers lifesaving shelter and supplies to people displaced by natural disaster or conflict situations, and the GIRLS ROCK Santa Barbara Board of Directors. Murray has 10 years of experience as a nonprofit executive following a 13-year career with GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals.

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