7 things you can do to champion women in 2016

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These are just a few examples of the groundswell of support for gender equality. There are no signs of the momentum slowing, but it can be difficult to know which efforts to prioritize.

To help focus your attention, we’ve chosen seven ways to support women in 2016:

1. Include all women.

Feminism lives up to its promise of equality when those who practice it understand how race, class, religion, education, sexuality and other factors affect a woman’s experience in the world.

On too many occasions, well-meaning activists have fought for equality without considering how their efforts might not help or even further marginalize certain women. A white, straight woman working a corporate job, for example, can fight for equality in the workplace, but that’s likely to mean something entirely different to a low-income, queer woman of color making an hourly wage.

If you need a reminder of how these blind spots can instantly reveal the painful conflicts within feminism, just revisit Patricia Arquette’s controversial Oscar remarks, which neglected the essential role people of color have played in the movement.

Focusing on disparities and listening to different voices shouldn’t divide people, but instead unify diverse groups in the name of achieving parity.

2. Hear all women.

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina raised a complicated question this year: Can you champion women but not the policies that arguably lead to greater equality and autonomy?

Fiorina, for example, has said she wants women to live they life they choose, yet she also opposes abortion and federal paid leave.

Carly Fiorina gives a surprising answer when asked about which woman should appear on the $10 bill.

While one might disagree with Fiorina’s solutions to many of the problems women face, it’s important to take her views seriously — and, in general, those of women whose politics don’t align with traditional feminism. Like Fiorina, they may think deeply about what it means to empower women, and that is worth discussing.

Achieving gender equality will be impossible if we can’t listen to all women who care about these issues.

3. Fight for reproductive rights.

Next spring the Supreme Court will hear its first abortion case in a decade.

Abortion rights advocates argue that Texas’ restrictive abortion access legislation, passed in 2013, creates an “undue burden” for women seeking to end a pregnancy.

If the justices agree, the decision may well affirm the constitutional right to an abortion. If they don’t, the justices could effectively dismantle Roe v. Wade and allow states to keep newly passed laws strictly regulating abortion as well as permit them to pass new ones.

At the same time, congressional Republicans have moved to defund both Planned Parenthood and federal legislation that provides reproductive health care, including birth control, to low-income women.

Research shows, however, that women’s lives are greatly improved, particularly in terms of education and income, when they can control their reproductive health.

4. Press for paid family leave.

While many nations are proud to give new mothers get paid leave, the United States is the only industrialized country in the world without a law guaranteeing that benefit. Only 12% of workers have access to paid leave through their employer. Federal law providing 12-weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave covers just 59% of workers.

But research shows that when women have access to paid leave, they remain in the workforce and may even earn more.

While paid leave is important for new mothers and fathers alike, it has the potential to transform women’s careers and lives. In the last year, paid leave has actually become a recruiting and retention tool among big tech companies; Amazon, Adobe, Intel and Netflix all expanded their leave programs in 2015.

That sends a clear message to corporate America, but one that doesn’t benefit low- and middle-income women much. There is Congressional legislation, however, that would guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid leave for most Americans by creating a federal insurance program.

It has no chance of passing Congress at the moment, but that will change the more voters pressure their elected representatives on the issue.

5. Insist on equal pay.

You’ve probably heard the stat before: On average, American women make $0.79 for every dollar a white man earns. Most women of color make even less. In the UK, the mean average pay gap is 14%.

The numbers are striking, but the pay gap isn’t as simple as it seems.

Women typically make less than men for a number of reasons. They face pressure to reduce their hours or quit the workforce once they become parents. They are concentrated in traditionally feminine jobs like nursing, teaching and childcare, which often pay substantially less than fields dominated by men.

And yet, those factors can’t fully explain the gap. As we’ve learned from Hollywood this year, not even an A-list, Oscar-winning actress like Jennifer Lawrence is compensated at the same rate as her less accomplished male co-stars.

But this isn’t about multimillionaires. Tackling the complexity of the pay gap — and demanding equal pay — means putting more money into the hands of women so they can support themselves and their families.

You can start making a difference by raising awareness of the issue, asking for greater workplace transparency on pay and, if you’re a manager, ensuring that male and female employees with the same qualifications and experience are compensated equally.

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6. Champion LGBT equality.

Discrimination and bias has far-reaching consequences even if you don’t identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. A workplace, for example, that’s hostile to people of different sexual and gender identities isn’t a fair or equal one.

Even though gay and lesbian couples won the right to same-sex marriage this summer, they still don’t have legal protection from discrimination in many states across the country.

Similarly, despite growing acceptance of transgender people, they routinely endure violence and harassment as well as discrimination when it comes to employment, housing and healthcare. Transgender women also aren’t welcomed into the movement by all feminists, and that has created divisions where unity could instead prevail.

Fighting for LGBT equality, in the U.S. and abroad, makes it possible for the movement to help allwomen.

7. Embrace the words “feminist” and “feminism.”

Feminism remains a dirty word in many quarters. But simply put, the movement is about equality of opportunity.

Each time you embrace the label and demonstrate its meaning and potential, you make it easier for others to do so as well.

 

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