I started writing this blog soon after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.
Like many, I feared the rise of nationalism, hate-based ideologies and oppression of minorities. I wanted to speak out about the need for women (and other ‘at-risk’ groups) to stand together – to unify and find a powerful voice in the new world we find ourselves in. For various reasons I never finished the blog (life intervened), but it seems I was not alone and in the subsequent months we have seen the emergence of a phenomenal up-rising culminating in the ‘Women’s March’ on Washington that took place on January 21st, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump; and the partner ‘Sister Marches’ that happened all around the world attracting millions of peaceful marchers.
As I watched these extraordinary gatherings unfold on the news and media I was astounded and moved to tears. Social media can be used for ill – think ‘fake news’, bullying, irrational tweets from Trump; but it can also be used for good - which is what we are seeing with the rise of the Women’s Marches.
It started with one woman, Teresa Shook of Hawaii. On the night after Donald Trump’s election she went on facebook and posted a message. She wrote the first thing that came to mind: “I think we should march”. After getting a response to her post from a single woman in the chatroom, Shook created a private Facebook event page for the march and invited a few dozen online friends to join before going to sleep. Overnight, a link to Shook's event page was posted in Pantsuit Nation and other groups.
"When I woke, up it had gone ballistic," Shook said. Women from across the United States contacted Shook and began to guide the effort. Now organizers credit Shook’s quiet plea with igniting what was the largest demonstration in the nation's capital related to a presidential election.
Out of such small beginnings has come this global phenomenon, which would be unlikely to have occurred without social media. This is something to truly celebrate – the remarkable women behind the Women’s Marches harnessed the tools at their fingertips – I take this as inspiration to never be silent in the face of violence, bullying and pain.
Women have gained an enormous amount in the West over recent decades but there is still so much more to do. And women in the developing world are still often painfully discriminated against. In my book ‘Mindfulness for Women’ I list some scary stats:
- Women account for two-thirds of all working hours and produce half the world’s food, but earn only 10 per cent of global income and own just 1 per cent of the world’s property.
- Though women make up half the global population, they represent 70 per cent of the world’s poor.
- Women and girls aged fifteen to forty-four are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than they are from war, cancer, malaria and traffic accidents.
- At least one in three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in her lifetime.
- Between 1.5 million and 3 million girls and women die each year because of gender-based violence.
- Between 700,000 and 4 million girls and women are sold into prostitution each year.
- Ninety-nine per cent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, with women dying of pregnancy-related causes at a rate of one every minute.
- Women account for nearly two-thirds of the world’s 780million people who cannot read.
- Forty-one million girls worldwide are still denied a primary education.
- Globally, only one in five parliamentarians is a woman*
Many people are campaigning brilliantly on behalf of women and girls - think Michelle Obama and her work with 'Let Girls Learn'; and Malala Yousafzai. We may not think we are as talented or brilliant as they are – indeed they are remarkable. But we can all play a part and use our voice in whatever way we can.
History shows us time and again that huge change comes about through millions of tiny acts. The achievements of mass movements such as the Civil Rights movement in the USA in the 1960s were the result of millions of tiny, almost imperceptible acts that led to society becoming convulsed by change. Similarly, the suffragettes campaigned together to get women the vote. They succeeded in the UK in 1918, and now, less than 100 years later, women lead nations.
When asked ‘How does social change happen?’ in the context of the overcoming of apartheid, the South African social rights activist Desmond Tutu replied: ‘It is because individuals are connected – you and you and you – this becomes a coalition, which becomes a movement and this is how apartheid was overcome.’
This is what we are seeing with the rising of such movements as the ‘Women’s and Sister Marches’ all over the world. And let's make sure the momentum is maintained. Indeed, the organisers of the Womens March have already launched their next campaign: 10 actions in 100 days with the rallying cry: "Thank you to the millions of people around the world who, on January 21, came together to raise our voices. But our march forward does not end here. Now is the time to get our friends, family and community together and MAKE HISTORY"
Engage. Connect. Act. Such a great thing to celebrate. Let’s keep it up.
* For references for all the stats in this blog see Mindfulness for Women