International Women’s Day (IWD) is an annual call to action designed to leave you feeling empowered and inspired. The celebratory day acknowledges the achievements of girls and women around the world and challenges people to join the global fight for gender equality.
But even as you’re cheering the idea of IWD, you might not know how to personally make a difference.
We asked three experts — Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of U.N. Women; Gayle E. Smith, president and CEO of ONE; and Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA — for their suggestions on how to participate in IWD, and how to continue advocating for equality year-round.
Here are six actions, shared via email, that they recommend.
1. Educate yourself.
“Feminism was the most looked-up word in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary in 2017, which tells us that we’re in a powerful moment,” Smith said, “but there’s still a long road to full understanding of what feminism means and how we can work to achieve gender equality.”
She recommends reading and talking to others about persistent gender gaps; the social, economic, and political benefits of gender equality; and what works to “move the needle.” Don’t know where to start? Try We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Vital Voices: The Power of Women Leading Change Around the World by Alyse Nelson, and A Roadmap for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment by Mayra Buvinić, Emily Courey Pryor, and Rebecca Furst-Nichols.
2. Share the workload.
Women perform at least two-and-a-half times more unpaid household and caregiving work than men, said Mlambo-Ngcuka. In countries around the world, that includes cooking, cleaning, fetching water and firewood, and tending to children and the elderly.
“A movement of women that can address these issues is critical, but we also need a movement of male feminists.”
When women are solely or mostly responsible for unpaid domestic duties, it means they have less time to make a living. They might also work longer hours between their paid and unpaid labor. Women’s efforts end up subsidizing the cost of sustaining families at their personal expense, and sometimes, detriment.
“A movement of women that can address these issues is critical, but we also need a movement of male feminists,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
She wants you to encourage everyone in your life to split all unpaid work equally between men and women so that women can “thrive, rest, work, and feel empowered.”
“Today’s activism needs to alter the way we listen to women and the way we look at them, recognizing the power of stereotypes to influence how we value people,” she said. “A movement of women that can address these issues is critical, but we also need a movement of male feminists.”
3. Figure out your role.
Thinking about how to achieve global gender equality can feel overwhelming, but you can start locally by better understanding the role you play in your own community. Acevedo recommends connecting with friends and neighbors to advocate for important causes, standing up against everyday injustices and challenging unfair policies, engaging in email and letter-writing campaigns, and creating petitions to address a specific problem.
“Go to a town or city council meeting to find out what kinds of things people care about in your community,” Acevedo said. “You might learn about a local issue that sparks your interest and inspires you to want to make change.”
Is there a local, national, or international organization whose mission and work on gender equality you admire? Now is the time to learn more about volunteering for that group. Look for opportunities that match your skill set, availability, and interest. If you need more help making a decision about where and how to volunteer, check out this guide from Charity Navigator.
“Using your time and talents to support the organizations focused on improving women’s health, security, and rights will ensure that what we call for on International Women’s Day translates into meaningful action all year round,” Smith said.
If you have the financial resources to donate to a worthy cause, even a small contribution can make a big difference for many campaigns and nonprofits.
GoFundMe has created a list of global fundraising efforts that support gender equality. That roundup includes the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund and the UK-based Justice & Equality Fund, as well as individual and regional campaigns to support women in need.
6. Use your voice.
Mlambo-Ngcuka, Smith, and Acevedo all agree: One of the most important things you can do is use your voice to spread awareness about the importance of gender equality. That might mean participating in a hashtag campaign on social media, starting a conversation with friends and family, contacting an elected official, running for office at school or in your community, or using your own platform to highlight the work of other women who may be less frequently heard and acknowledged.
“The time is now to stand in solidarity with all those fearless women and girls who have been central to this universal push to end discrimination and gender-based violence,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka, “and to call for urgent action to achieve lasting change.”
Now that you have six simple ways to make a difference, go make girls and women of the world proud.