Empowering women? What does it mean?

Perhaps more importantly, how can you help? How will you make a difference?

YWCA Women

Sure, at first it sounds like a cry from the heyday of the ERA movement, “Empower Women!” And only a few short years ago, I would have scoffed at the concept, thinking women didn’t need to fight that fight anymore, that it was over—perhaps even over-fought and we had “won” the battles, but lost the war.

I was wrong.

Even in America, women are still under-represented at top levels of management (less than 1.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women); women are still subject to sexual harassment, gender bias and the “glass ceiling” is still very real (ask me how I know!). If we truly have “won” why are we still dealing with issues of abuse? Why do women who take time off to raise a family face hardship when they return to the workforce? Why are women who choose to stay home treated as less than the incredible women they are? Why are women more likely to be interrupted or worse, ignored?

Because, by and large, it’s still a man’s world. And if you look to other parts of the globe, less “developed” countries, gender disparity gets even worse. Encouraging and empowering women and girls stateside is the first step in making changes globally as these women step up to lead social change.

The road ahead  

The YWCA has a terrific website full of helpful information geared to women and addresses issues from racism and hate crimes to violence against women, welfare reform, increasing women’s income and early childhood education. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As a society, we are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were just 20 years ago—yes, we’ve come a long way in empowering women. But there’s still a long way to go.

If you have any doubts about how far we have yet to travel, take a look at pop culture and music—where women are routinely degraded and seen as little more than sexual playthings. Still in doubt? Check out average salaries. You’ll find that women are still making only 76% of what their male counterparts make.

It’s easy to look at the “big picture” and get overwhelmed. It’s easy to be sidelined by thoughts like, “But I can’t do much.” Toss that thinking aside. Legislation isn’t the only answer—change has to start in people’s hearts and minds, it has to start with the very way people think. And it can start with just one voice—yours.

Making a Difference 

It’s easy to do simple things, little things. And we all know, little things can and do make a difference.

Look to this list of 10 simple ideas to empower women and use it for ideas and inspiration. It’s full of seemingly easy things like valuing yourself, learning to assert your voice and opinions, speaking up about sexist jokes and images and calling attention to deceptively “perfect” media images.

Open your mind by looking at other points of view and don’t fall victim to the mistake of dismissing views different from your own, or allowing your body language to give off a negative impression. 

Bring it home and start your kids off on the right track by monitoring media and choosing toys and activities carefully, and without gender bias of your own, so your son likes gymnastics and your daughter loves Tonka trucks—what’s the big deal?

Talk to your kids, be honest, and patient and most of all, create an open environment where they’re free to ask questions, and they know they’ll get honest answers. 

In the workplace, watch your language, we all know “honey” and “darlin’” can be degrading, but what about “the girls” and “the guys” and other seemingly “innocent” words? Don’t laugh at biased jokes and be the one to reach out to everyone. 

Discover your voice! Take a step out and understand not only how you feel and what you think about issues, but be willing to share your thoughts. 

If each of us were to make just a few simple changes in our own circle of influence, imagine the greater impact it could have!

Roxy Sig

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