We can’t all become full-time activists – but we can all make a difference. Words: Susan Devaney and Moya Crockett.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day 2019 is #BalanceForBetter, to encourage people around the world to take action and push for a gender balanced world. While few of us have the time or resources to quit our jobs to become full-time activists, that doesn’t mean we can’t do our bit to help the cause.
In fact, there are countless ways that we all can make a difference – so if you talk the feminist talk, it’s time to start walking the walk.
“There are lots of different ways to get involved with activism, and it’s important to remember that everyone’s capacities are different,” says a spokesperson for activist group Sisters Uncut. “A good place to start is by checking yourself and your own relation to the sorts of forces that make feminist activism more necessary – whether that’s your power to vote, your wealth relative to others, your privilege based on race, sexuality, gender, ability, mental health – and then seeking to redress some of these imbalances.”
Below, we’ve rounded up 13 ways to make the world a fairer, kinder, more equal place for all women.
1) Identify what gets your blood boiling
When the world seems to be going down the plughole, prioritising a single issue can feel impossible – but you don’t have to fix the world in one go. Spreading yourself too thinly will leave you feeling exhausted, and you’re more likely to make a tangible difference if you focus on one thing.
Ask yourself: what do you feel most passionately about? Perhaps you want to help close the gender pay gap, support refugee women, campaign against the closure of domestic violence refuges, get more women into parliament – or maybe you’re fired up by something else entirely. Research organisations that are already working on these issues, and find out how you can get involved.
Gabby Edlin is the founder of period poverty grassroots organisation Bloody Good Period, which provides asylum seekers with menstruation products. She says that knowing you can’t do everything is a crucial part of effective activism.
“It’s easy to feel like you’re being pulled from all angles,” she says, “but you have to stay focused. We sometimes get hassled for not catering to schoolgirls or homeless people, but that’s because Amika George and The Homeless Period are already doing brilliant work in those areas. We have our own area, and we stick to that.”
Remember, concentrating on one topic doesn’t mean you don’t care about the others; it just means you’ve made a thoughtful decision about where to expend your energy.
Organisations and charities cannot function without money. From helping fund essential services to contributing to the cost of conducting research into gender inequality, donating a little of your monthly salary really can go a long way.
“Never underestimate the power of your pound – women’s rights organisations and women’s rights defenders need funding now more than ever, and a small regular donation goes a long way,” says Esmerelda France, who works for Womankind Worldwide and describes herself as a “quiet activist”.
“Think about the amount you spend per week on takeaway coffee or sandwiches. If you went without those for one day a week over one month you’d actually have a tidy sum to donate, and you wouldn’t be any worse off for it.”
Most grassroots organisations and charities welcome any donation at any time, but giving regularly allows them to plan their work more effectively – so if you can, set up a monthly direct debit.
3) Educate yourself
To ensure that your feminism is as intersectional as possible, read widely. You can become a member of many women’s charities, which may give you access to newsletters, events and magazines to keep you in the loop. Or check out Gal-Dem, Media Diversified, Black Ballad, Pink News and Diva for think pieces and news from the perspectives of women of colour, LGBTQ women and non-binary individuals.
“Campaigning for women’s rights isn’t just about protesting on the streets. Often the most empowering activities involve educating yourself about women’s issues, and standing in solidarity with women and communities whose voices are more marginalised than your own,” explains Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society.
Alternatively, try picking up a book about an area of feminism that you’ve never considered before. Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work by Melissa Gira Grant, Barbara Fawcett’s Feminist Perspectives on Disability and the essay collection The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write are all guaranteed to provide food for thought.
4) Have conversations
Reading everything and anything on your chosen subject matter is a great start, but getting others involved is also important. Invite your flatmates to an event, tell your friends about that fantastic book you just read, or share illuminating articles on social media.
Equally, don’t be afraid to challenge others on their beliefs. This is particularly true if you’re privileged in one way or another. If you’re white, straight, cisgendered or non-disabled, don’t leave it to others to speak out against racism, homophobia, transphobia or ableism. Difficult conversations are a vital part of changing culture, and intersectional feminism means paying attention to issues that don’t only affect women like you.
5) Organise a fundraising event
Most organisations will gladly accept donations gathered at fundraising events (you may have to get approval to officially fundraise for some charities, though, so make sure to do your research). Throw a dinner party where everyone donates what they would have paid at a restaurant, go on a sponsored walk, organise a comedy night or pub quiz, sell your old clothes on eBay… The options are limitless.
“Whether it’s running a 10k, asking your office to raise money by wearing Suffragette purple for the day or hosting a bake sale, you can join us standing hand in hand with survivors to make sure no woman faces domestic abuse alone and every survivor gets the help she needs,” says Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid.
6) Think carefully about where you spend your money
The phrase “the personal is political” was popularised in 1969 by second-wave feminist Carol Hanisch, and it’s as true today as it was then. Consider what and where you buy: support women-owned businesses wherever possible, and shop mindfully via ethical retailers.
“Fashion has always been an industry that empowers the women who wear beautiful garments and accessories, but not necessarily the women who make these pieces,” says Sameena Mawji, who co-founded online shop Ethical Stories Ethical Me with her sister Shivani.
“Choosing to shop with ethical brands that ensure a fair wage and a safe working environment is an act of feminism and a huge push towards equality, not only between genders but also between different groups of women.”
Want to shop ethically this International Women’s Day? Check out our round-up of feminist gifts that actually benefit the women’s movement.
7) Challenge offensive media coverage, marketing and advertising campaigns
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are your friends here. Spotted an objectifying advert, a sexist headline or a needlessly gendered product? Snap a picture and post it on social media with a witty takedown, making sure to tag the brand in question.
Tessa Trabue is a member of the campaign group Let Toys Be Toys, which calls on children’s companies to ditch unnecessarily gendered labelling. “We have found social media campaigning to be extremely effective,” she says. “Since our campaign started in 2012, 14 major UK toy retailers and 11 UK children’s book publishers have agreed to ditch the ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs and labels. We achieved this mainly by highlighting them on Twitter.”
8) Ask her to stand
The more women there are in politics, the more likely we are to see policies that benefit women, so it’s in all of our interests to get more women in Westminster. If you want to get into politics, these pearls of wisdom from female MPs might inspire you.
But some of us are like Oprah: we know that we just “don’t have the DNA” for a life in the public eye. If that sounds like you, you can still encourage other women to run for office. Activist group 50:50 Parliament have an initiative called Ask Her To Stand, where you can nominate women you think would make brilliant MPs.
“Studies show that women have to be asked a minimum of three times before they begin to see themselves as potential leaders,” says 50:50 campaigner Isabel Adomakoh Young. “50:50 Parliament has the resources to assist women on their way to Westminster, so Ask Her To Stand and help us help them!”
You might not have time to volunteer every week, but that doesn’t mean you can’t chip in. Many women’s charities rely on volunteers to help out on a more occasional basis, such as taking photos, stewarding at events or filming fundraisers.
Find an organisation working towards a cause that you’re passionate about and drop them an email – one-off volunteering opportunities might not always be advertised online, so it’s worth speaking to someone directly.
10) Take to the streets
Protests, placards and speeches are some of the first things that come to mind when we think of activism. It’s important to note that not everyone can attend demonstrations: travel costs, social anxiety, physical disability and/or fear of violence are just some of the reasons that people may not be able to take part in mass protests, and that doesn’t mean their activism is not legitimate.
However, if you are able to attend, protests can be a powerful way of showing solidarity with a cause. Anna is a member of the anti-racism group Movement for Justice, which is organising protests in support of the women on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. (Sisters Uncut is also supporting the hunger strikers via the #HungerForFreedom campaign.)
Anna highlights the importance of “standing shoulder to shoulder with the women of Yarl’s Wood, giving them strength”. She adds: “Every woman joining us at the windows, every ex-detainee speaking, shouting, leading the demonstration on the outside – all leave stronger. When we stand together we feel our power.”
11) Write it down
Writing is a great way of spreading the word about a subject you’re passionate about. The Fawcett Society actively recruits bloggers, and many global publications welcome blog posts from people with something to say. Or if you prefer to march to the beat of your own drum, set up your own website or blog: WordPress and Squarespace are quick and easy to use.
Or why not try journaling? Journaling every day is an offline contribution toward the movement, and can help you sort through your views and values. Your writing doesn’t have to go viral for it to be valuable.
12) Start a petition
Online petitions are often dismissed as a form of digital virtue signalling, but many have been seriously useful in raising awareness of feminist issues and effecting change. Seven out of the 10 biggest successful UK petitions of all time were started by women, with victories ranging from Asma Elbadawi (who convinced the International Basketball Federation to allow female players to wear headscarves) to Laura Coryton, who launched the campaign against the tampon tax.
“The internet has disrupted the traditional power dynamics of politics – now anyone with a wifi connection can get their voice heard, mobilise an army of supporters and create change,” says Kajal Odedra, UK country director at Change.org. “This is particularly true for women who have historically been left out of major debates and decision-making.”
13) Look after yourself
Last but not least, practice self-care. It sounds so simple, but in our social media driven world, taking time out can actually be rather difficult. Whether you opt to undergo a digital detox or take time time out to go for a long walk, looking after yourself is vital to staying calm and healthy as you press for progress.
Stylist’s Visible Women campaign is dedicated to raising awareness of women who’ve made a difference, celebrating their success, and empowering future generations to follow their lead. See more from Visible Women here.
Images: Unsplash / Rex Features / iStock