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March 21, 2018

3/7/2018 3:19:00 PM
Editorial: Conversations for International Women's Day

There are many possible conversations on this day, International Women’s Day 2018.

We can talk about the darkness and the light, the dramatic and the commonplace, the home and the workplace, the present and the future.

Many women here and around the world are forced to live in continual darkness, where others try to rob them of dignity and basic needs and make them feel less human. Sexual assault, domestic violence, predatory stalking, and sex-trafficking are dramatic physical manifestations of that darkness. 

More common, perhaps, but certainly hurtful, are the verbal put-downs, slights, oversights, discrimination, and micro-aggressions women in developed countries encounter way before they bump their heads on the glass ceiling. In many emerging countries, women have fewer rights and opportunities to make decisions for themselves and their children – and in countries where war and depredation are part of their daily fears, fewer still. 

We can talk about the light that shines on these abuses and the strength of the victims who continue to be strong in spite of the past and who encourage others to speak out. 

Two remarkable aspects of the “#Metoo” movement are its magnitude and its momentum. Another facet is the remarkable way these women – and other victims – continue their lives despite the abuse. Victimhood confers a power not sought but often exploited. Yet many who suffered unwanted advances kept on living. The abuse may still be raw or may have scarred over, but in most cases it did not take over. To twist Speaker Mitch McConnell’s pejorative phrase: Still, they persisted.    

“Time’s Up” has great potential, because it offers victims not only the chance to speak up but the opportunity to seek redress. Powerful names are behind “Time’s Up,” but they embrace the sisterhood across economic, racial, and class stratifications.

In her acceptance speech on Oscar night, March 4, Frances McDormand called out powerful movie financiers and directors to listen to women’s stories and consider financing them. She also referred to an “inclusion rider” that actors could append to their contracts, demanding that a woman could negotiate a provision under which the gender of tertiary cast members would have to match the gender distribution of the setting of the film.  Stacy L. Smith, director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, described the provision in 2014.

A modest quote from “The House of Unexpected Sisters” written last year by Alexander McCall Smith may seem hopefully predictive. Mma Grace Makutsi (a resident of Botswana) says, “You men. Your time is up, I’m afraid. All the big jobs are going to be done by women soon. You just watch out – the women are coming!”   

Worldwide, the news is somewhat more encouraging than last year, but it indicates that closing the gender gap may still be a century away, and we have to talk about that. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2017 says the overall global gender gap could be closed in 100 years across the 106 countries covered since the inception of the report (

The report continues, “On current trends, the overall global gender gap can be closed in exactly 100 years across the 106 countries covered since the inception of the Report, compared to 83 years last year. The most challenging gender gaps remain in the economic and health spheres. Given the continued widening of the economic gender gap, it will now not be closed for another 217 years. However, the education-specific gender gap could be reduced to parity within the next 13 years. The political dimension currently holds the widest gender gap and is also the one exhibiting the most progress, despite a slowdown in progress this year. It could be closed within 99 years. The health gender gap is larger than it stood in 2006.”

So in accordance with this year’s theme, “#Press for Progress,” we can talk about the inroads already cut into the power structure that controls money, jobs, and futures. No achievement should be overlooked, because accomplishments that may initially seem small may open up many pathways to success.

Talk is cheap when it is only talk. But talk, is also planning, listening, synthesizing and building. The global gender gap challenges us all to find ways to cut down those predictions. So let’s talk about how to do that.

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