Women’s Stories are Momentum for Change

These are extraordinary times. The millions who marched on January 21 seized the world’s attention—but, in the United States and across the globe, women’s voices must continue to be heard.

Now is the time to build on the decades-long progress of those who came before us and to ensure that their achievements are not cast aside. Our voices have value, and sharing our experiences can inspire far-reaching change. Joining together to read and discuss women’s stories, journalism, memoirs and poetry, we can create the conversations and actively-engaged communities our country so urgently needs.

As K. Sujata, president of Chicago Foundation for Women, writes in her introduction to the timely anthology Her Own Accord: “Our presence is an act of resistance; our stories are movements within themselves.”

Women’s stories, in their variety and complexity, have the power to inspire. When we share our experiences, talk together and listen, we grow in understanding of one another as well as ourselves. Reading and discussing our own and others’ writings remind us that we’re not alone in a world that still so often suppresses our voices.

“It is the stories, the books, our collective voices and shared histories that remind us to breathe, to celebrate and rejoice in who we are, where we have been, and where we aspire to go as women,” Sujata writes. “Our stories sustain us.” When we share our stories, we empower others to initiate change. When we share our stories we educate one another. When we share our stories we build the bonds of understanding and community. Together our stories can make a difference.

Seek out literature that explores how gender intersects with questions of race and immigration, social justice, wealth, privilege and equality, and join a group for discussion with others on these topics. Brought into the media spotlight during the election campaign, these are urgent issues faced by thousands of American women every day, and with implications that are more compelling than ever. Given the reality of often inadequate educational and social resources available for women and their families, community platforms for reading, writing and discussion become transformational experiences, sparking empowerment, curiosity and new learning and career opportunities.

Women’s experiences are legion and the act of discussing such a range and variety of women’s voices brings together people of many backgrounds and perspectives. Indeed working toward a common good demands engagement not only with the variety of women’s current challenges, but with the multiple voices of women’s history and women’s future. Openness to the multiplicity of women’s experiences helps us to reach a deeper understanding of one another; we can empathize in ways we otherwise couldn’t, and we can join forces where we share common goals.

The education and empowerment of all women could not be more pressing. To share our own stories, with women and others, is an important step forward. As you look for ways to become involved in these national debates, consider the support you can show other women in reading and discussion groups. Take time to explore new ideas and to interact with a growing community of voices.

Once more, I call on Sujata:

We need a complete shift, a total overhaul of how we think of women and girls and their place in the world. And one of the most impactful ways to spark that change is to know one’s journey. That is why stories are so powerful and so necessary.

Louise Galpine is Executive Director of Creative Development at the Great Books Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization based in Chicago.

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