When you look at the stories that have dominated the headlines in recent months, a certain pattern emerges: A global pandemic that is disproportionately destroying women’s livelihoods. Taliban-run government is denying women and girls their basic freedoms. Russian soldiers are using rape to warp their strategy. In this chain of global crises, the face of power is still most often a man’s, and the face of suffering is still so often a woman’s.
Take a look at what’s happening in your country right now. Many people are waiting to hear the good news from the Supreme Court. Roe Vs. WadeIt deprives women the authority to decide their own bodies and fates.
Also, consider the wider structure of power that underpins this ruling. It is true that the Court reached a landmark for gender equality. But woman or man, Everydayy justice on that bench—in fact, every justice who has ever sat on that bench—was appointed by a male president and confirmed by a Senate that was at least three-quarters male. These justices, presidents and legislators have all been visionary and brilliant public servants. However, they have not fully represented the diverse country that they served. Even if government deserved a say in this deeply personal matter—which I believe it does not—this is not a government in which women or people of color yet have an equal voice.
This is just one example, but it’s not the only instance of the failure that happens when decisions are made For Instead of men, women By them. Basic childcare in the United States is still not affordable and difficult to afford. Black mothers are three times more likely than white women to be killed in childbirth. And we continue to be the only industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee paid leave of any kind.
As a global advocate for girls and women, I’ve seen many instances of the same inequalities around the globe. Sometimes, the assault on women’s power is obvious, as it is today in Afghanistan and the violence in Ukraine. Other times, it’s harder to see, as in the countless small decisions that make women especially vulnerable to the economic shock of the pandemic or the bias and inertia that keeps political representation overwhelmingly male.
In any case, it is the same thing that I’ve learned over and over: The face of power does not change, but the face in suffering. What’s more, policies restricting women and girls ultimately harm everyone. A world that limits women’s power and influence also robs itself of women’s talents and contributions. This absence is felt in subtle ways by her family, country, and community.
Today, through my philanthropic efforts, I support programs and grantees working on a wide range of issues, including access to health care and contraceptives in low- and middle-income countries and women’s economic opportunity in the U.S. and around the world. But I’ve learned over the course of my career in philanthropy that it’s impossible to disrupt old patterns of inequity by focusing only on one issue at time. My investments are all interconnected and meant to be more than the sums of their parts. They are intended to help change the face of power itself—to position more women of all backgrounds to make decisions, control resources, and shape policies and perspectives.
An agenda to secure women’s power and influence attacks inequality at its roots, instead of contending individually with the many branches that sprout from it. It is a holistic approach—the only way we can break the chain of crises that continue to push women further behind.
It must both be top-down as well as bottom-up. Diverse groups of women must be given the opportunity to rise up in leadership roles, both in government and in international health, business, media, and global healthcare. At the same time, it requires supporting the grassroots women’s movements that are coming together to demand changes from the formal structures of power that have locked them out.
This means that women must be free from the noise of sexist narratives, norms, and stereotypes that can make it difficult for them to feel truly equal in their roles. By elevating a diverse set of voices and stories that challenge old biases and understandings, we can help men and women alike start to picture a more inclusive range of faces when they conjure an image of power—and encourage them to expect more from the people who hold it.
If the Supreme Court reverses Roe, This will result in a major setback for women and families, as well for the country. It is not enough for one court to decide whether equality should be guaranteed or denied. Long-term, the government’s representation will be a key factor in whether or not society fulfils its democratic promise.
Today, millions are returning to fighting for a better and more equitable future. That future is not merely one in which women’s reproductive rights are protected; it is one in which the entire system that makes women’s lives so precarious has been dismantled. It is a future in which women’s voices ring clear and true, and are respected and heard, at all levels of society—in their homes and their workplaces, in capitols and C-suites, and indeed, in the privacy of a clinic or doctor’s office.
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