Despite a regressive political climate, feminists have continued to rise up and demand equality—in the workplace as part of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, in the streets at Women’s Marches around the world and at the ballot box as candidates and voters. At the Feminist Majority Foundation’s 13th annual Global Women’s Rights Awards, activists from around the world celebrated the momentum of the movement for gender equality—and envisioned the way forward.
The night’s honorees—Time’s Up co-founder and civil rights attorney Nina Shaw and actor and activist Laura Dern; labor activist Maria Elena Durazo, who organizes hotel workers fighting for better protections in the workplace; Adama Iwu, who founded WE SAID ENOUGH to fight harassment in state legislatures; Elizabeth Nyamayoro, who works to build male solidairty in the fight for gender equality as head of UN Women’s HeForSheCampaign; and Mónica Ramírez, who fights for hundreds of thousands of woman farmworkers—were joined during the program by featured guests including immediate outgoing Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, actor Camryn Manheim and legendary organizer Dolores Huerta. After musical performances by Lili Haydn, who performed the theme song to the documentary ANITA, and MILCK, who performed her #MeToo anthem “I Can’t Keep Quiet,” the honorees joined FMF President Ellie Smeal and Ms. Executive Editor Katherine Spillar for an honest and rousing conversation on-stage.
Here are just a few of the takeaways from the Global Women’s Rights Awards that left us energized and ready to continue the fight.
#1: We’re in a New Era for Women
“Women and victims in general are being believed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen people believe like this,” lobbyist Adama Iwu told the audience. Much of the night celebrated the overwhelming support movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up have received, and the solidary they have inspired. By just December 2017, the #MeToo hashtag had been used on Twitter alone more than 3 million times. As farmworker activist Mónica Ramírez, who co-founded the Alianza Nacional De Campesinas (National Alliance of Farmworker Women), remarked, “We are living in a moment in time, for the first time ever, people see us and hear us and understand the power of farmworker women, not only to fuel us as human beings, but also to fuel movements.”
Famed labor activist Dolores Huerta similarly felt a significant shift in support had occurred recently, even considering all of her years in activism. “I do believe it’s because we have so many young women out there fighting really hard, like the #MeToo movement and then we look at other movements like Black Lives Matter—that’s being led by women, you know,” she told Ms. digital editor Carmen Rios on the red carpet. “So, all you see is young women and older women—like myself—that are fighting together. I do believe that we are reaching a threshold, and this is just the beginning. This is just the beginning because we’re going to keep going forward, and we’re going to see a lot of changes. And it’s going to be great because I think women are finally going to be respected, recognized and take their place at the table.”
But as much as the night’s honorees and special guests were grateful for the current zeitgeist, they also took the time to recognize who came before them. “A lot of people thank us at Time’s Up,” entertainment attorney Nina Shaw explained, “but we really know what we’re doing is standing on the shoulders of so many generations of activists.”
#2: We Need Transparency to Even Start to Create Change
One major obstacle in further addressing gender inequality? The fact that many of the specific details, processes and information that would expose inequality, especially in the workplace, remains inaccessible by the public, according to the night’s honorees.
As Shaw explained, other countries have found success in combatting, or at least beginning to address, the gender pay gap by simply making that information within companies available. “There’s been a greater move towards transparency in the U.K. and that has been very enlightening. People now know what their peers and colleagues are making, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t know,” she said, referencing the regulation Britain enacted in April 2017 that requires companies with more than 250 employees to release their pay figures. That data, according to the BBC, revealed that over 78 percent of companies in the U.K. paid men more than women, with an average pay gap of 9.7 percent. Per an Obama era regulation, the U.S. was set to collect a similar set of data in March 2018, but President Donald Trump rolled back the plan.
UN Women Executive Director Elizabeth Nyamayoro urged the audience to recognize the importance of such data, advising, “Any of this change that we’ve been talking about will not be realized unless [people are] transparent. What gets measured, gets done.” Feminist Majority President Ellie Smeal even added that providing company information regarding wages should be “a mandatory rule that data is collected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for employment and for industries so that we know where stand.”
— Girlboss (@girlboss) May 22, 2018
Transparency also means developing clear procedures to proactively address issues such as sexual misconduct in the workplace—unclear processes, after all, only exacerbate inequality. Iwu, one of the founders of the group We Said Enough, which has called out sexual harassment in California’s capitol, explained that unclear and vague directions plague many industries. “We’re working in California, we’re hoping to put in a process that actually works for everyone when a [sexual misconduct] complaint is made,” Iwu said. “And this is more than just about legislatures because a lot of companies have the same issue, universities have the same issue—when a complaint is made, there’s not a clear process for what exactly happens.”
#3: We Need to Use Our Voices for More Than Just Calling Out Problematic People
As much as the Global Woman’s Rights honorees expressed that they were happy with the rising tide of support for women, they also reminded that just pointing out, for instance, sexual misconduct problems in the workplace wasn’t going to completely solve the issue.
“We don’t want to just talk about the problems, we want to talk about the solutions, and we want to focus on not just the accountability, but on actually doing the hard work to build the world that we know we deserve to live in, and places we deserve to work in,” Ramírez said.
However, to move on to that next step of actually creating change requires women and men both to use their voices. But as actor Laura Dern noted, that skill needs to be taught at a young age for it to stick. “There isn’t enough conversation that we’re here for all the children to be raised in an environment where they understand abusive power and they know how to stand up and speak up,” the actor explained. “It’s male and female work.”
Labor activist Maria Elena Durazo pressed the importance of unions and how they can provide critical avenues for women to voice their beliefs and frustrations regarding their treatment in the workplace. “There are too many women who don’t have collective bargaining rights, and until they have collective bargaining rights, they’re not going to be able to negotiate,” she said. And she’s right—unionized women do in fact see serious benefits. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the hourly wages of women in unions are 9.2 percent higher on average than the salaries of nonunionized women.
Similarly, Smeal urged women to fully utilize the democratic process as a way of achieving gender equality, stating, “We have got to make sure that these issues are asked at town halls. Look at what happened when people started to ask about the Affordable Care Act at town halls. Guess what? We saved the Affordable Care Act—not perfectly, but we got there.”
However, our favorite reminder from the Global Women’s Rights Awards to use our voices to spur change? Peg Yorkin, chair of the board for the Feminist Majority Foundation, and her declaration: “If I can be here at 91, ready for the next battle, you sure as f***ing can be too.”
#4: Progress Requires Working Across Industries and Identities
The #MeToo movement in large part surged onto the scene last fall as a result of the reports of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s unchecked abusive behavior. However, as the awardees emphasized throughout the awards ceremony, issues of sexual harassment and assault has festered across most, if not all, industries. Walking the red carpet together, Ramírez and Dern pressed that the focus of the movement needs to extend beyond just those who have the most visible platform.
“Hollywood only represents other work place environments in which egregious behavior must change,” Dern told Ms. “We must all work together to look at how to protect each other, ourselves, men, women, and children in the work place and at home.”
— Feminist Majority (@MajoritySpeaks) May 22, 2018
And part of that work, Ramírez noted, involves always checking to see in what ways the movement may perhaps be failing to protect all populations. “We have a personal commitment as sisters in this work to ensure that we continue to do our work better. And part of doing our work better is making sure we’re being conscientious of who is at the table, who has the opportunity to speak about their truth and their reality, and how we work to bring other people in when they are being left behind,” the farmworkers activist explained. “So, for example, as we talk about what’s it like to be working in agriculture, what it’s like to be working in the entertainment industry, we also want to lift up the fact that there are women who are working in tech, and there are women who are working in law, there are women who are working in hotels, who are experiencing the very same things, maybe in different work sites, different conditions—but very similar types of exploitation.
“We need to look at all the ways in which workers across industries are excluded from protections because we don’t talk enough about the fact … that farmworkers are not protected by our overtime laws, we don’t talk about the fact that the wage gap is much larger against certain groups of workers, certain groups of women workers, certain populations,” Ramírez elaborated. “We aren’t talking about the fact that Title VII currently doesn’t protect all women workers and all workers from sexual harassment—only workers in workplaces with 15 workers or more are protected by our federal law.”
A good portion of the #MeToo movement has focused on women with more privileged voices, such as actors Alyssa Milano, Gabrielle Union, Reese Witherspoon and Salma Hayek, but that doesn’t make the movement inherently bad. Durazo even expressed her gratitude that so many prominent women had shared their stories and were involved in the activism—because of their support, she explained, the stories of less prominent women have been in turn only bolstered. “The fact that in other industries where there are high-profile women, like the entertainment industry, has helped enormously. Because otherwise those women as housekeepers and hotelkeepers feel isolated, feel alone. So, when the issue comes up by more high-profile women, then they have more strength because they know they are not alone,” Durazo said. “When women stand with women, it doesn’t matter if you clean rooms or if you’re a garment worker, if you’re a farmworker, then you’ll be defended.”
But perhaps Shaw captured it best—and most succinctly—the need for intersectionality within the #MeToo movement and the fight for gender equality in general: “If we don’t get to the finish line together, we’re not going to get there at all,” she declared.
You can watch a video of the entire GWRA program—and our digital editor Carmen Rios’ red-carpet interviews with honorees and featured guests—on the Ms. Facebook page!