The fight for gender equality is a ceaseless one and, like all wars, it has undergone a variety of different interactions.
In the early 1900s, the Suffragettes broke windows, handcuffed themselves to railings, and went on hunger strikes. The Sixties saw the women’s liberation movement hold sit-ins and burn bras. And in the Eighties, the Guerilla Girls donned gorilla masks to protest the underrepresentation of female artists in galleries and museums.
Today, the way that gender equality is being fought has changed again, dramatically. Women’s rights are being won through increasingly innovative approaches and shared empowerment. Read on to learn how.
Empowerment through innovative period products
There’s one particularly surprising battlefield on which the war for gender equality is waged: period products.
Periods are a fact of life for women, and yet many countries still tax basic hygiene products, including tampons and menstrual pads.
This is less of a problem in developed Western countries, although it’s important to note that even in the West, there are pockets of deep poverty, often preventing women from certain communities from being able to afford basic hygiene products.
However, women in more impoverished nations face greater problems.
Women are, historically and currently, paid less than their male counterparts. While this is sadly present in the West, it is exacerbated in other less wealthy countries.
When coupled with endemic poverty, this puts women on the backfoot. They are unable to afford basic feminine hygiene products, often relying on a male breadwinner to buy such items.
But thanks to a number of initiatives and NGO action, many women in these communities have access to a number of accessible menstrual hygiene products.
Menstrual cups are the most well-known in the West — compact and reusable, they are a one-time purchase that negates the need to repeatedly purchase taxed pads and tampons. Many women’s health initiatives such as PERIOD distribute these products to women who do not have access to (or the money to afford) menstrual hygiene products.
For women in impoverished countries, other solutions are in place. Many NGOs have sent pad-making units to countries like India, where periods are a taboo subject, rarely discussed.
These units let women make their own sanitary pads out of readily-available materials. They are often community-owned, thus making access to menstrual hygiene products easy and free from reliance on men.
Periods are a vital battleground in the fight for gender equality, where a number of factors — poverty, culture, and other socio-economic elements — coalesce. Innovative approaches to menstrual hygiene go some way towards leveling the playing field.
Women supporting women through innovative technology
The proliferation of accessible technology has made it easier than ever for women to connect with women. Video calls, social media, online collaboration tools — these all offer vital pathways for women to meet, speak with, and share with other women.
No longer is geography or (to a lesser extent) money such a barrier to the sharing of knowledge between women. Today, there is a staggering variety of businesses, networks, and services geared entirely towards women.
Take Lean In, for example. This is a global community of women who connect, support and offer advice on a variety of general life and business topics. With a combination of both online and offline events, Lean In lets women meet with likeminded women to empower each other.
The world of business is no stranger to gender inequality. Women Who Startup is just one of a growing number of business networks for women to offer advice, share contacts, support each other through their entrepreneurial journey.
On a more personal level, there are even counseling coaches geared specifically towards women, such as Orion’s Method. These offer a space to deal with personal and career development in a safe, relevant environment.
These women-centric networks, businesses, circles, and services create virtual safe spaces for women. By virtue of their accessibility (via video tech, social media, targeted niches, etc), they are inclusive and indiscriminate.
Regardless of age, race, color, socio-economic background, and so on, they create intersectional safe spaces in which women can collaborate and come together.
Social media as a conduit for action
Any article about the fight for gender equality would be remiss without mentioning the role of social media. The effective use and deployment of social media have played a pivotal role in a number of movements and trends.
The Arab Spring of 2010, for instance, would not have occurred without the ability to rapidly coordinate and communicate via Facebook and other social messaging platforms. Similarly, the recent Hong Kong democracy protests relied on the quick dissemination of information via WhatsApp groups.
In the same way, the #MeToo movement could arguably not have had such a significant impact without social media.
The ‘Me Too’ phrase originally began on Myspace in 2006, but following the Harvey Weinstein revelations, the phrase gained traction on Twitter has a rallying hashtag. Millions of women added their voice to the hashtag, including several prominent A-lister celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman.
The hashtag eventually transformed into a cohesive movement, shining a spotlight on sexual abuse everywhere from the media and politics to the church and education.
As a result, several high-profile men faced dismissals, criminal accusations, and court proceedings.
While the #MeToo movement still has great lengths to go and will continue to do so for some time, it demonstrates the innovative application of social media.
Gender equality isn’t just about equal pay — it’s also about the right to live and work free from the fear of sexual harassment and abuse.
The fight for gender equality has a long way to go, but a huge amount of ground has already been covered. Through innovative and dynamic approaches like those outlined above, progress has been — and will continue — to be made.