Opinion: Recognizing women’s achievements, challenges

Credit: David Zalubowski

Credit: David Zalubowski

Whether it’s deliberate or unconscious, bias puts up roadblocks that make it harder for women to be educated, get hired, promoted or have similar experiences as men.

Kobe Bryant once said that one of his proudest achievements was being a “girldad.” After he and his daughter died, #girldad went viral. More and more men proudly announced that they, too, were #girldads and shared how they guided and supported their daughters to maturity and personal and professional success.

But we all know it takes more than a viral hashtag to get the support women and girls around the world need to survive, compete, and thrive. It needs dads, moms, CEOs, teachers, religious leaders and, frankly, the whole world to raise girls up to be strong, independent, successful women. The International Women’s Forum (IWF) is committed to acknowledging and challenging obstacles facing girls and women worldwide. Our Georgia chapter joins the voices of the 7,000 women in 33 countries of the IWF, who believe that every day should be a day to accelerate gender parity; but we hope you marked Monday, March 8th in particular -- International Women’s Day. Take a moment to recognize the biases against, and celebrate the achievements of, women worldwide. Whether you’re inclined to public displays, private moments or putting your money where your heart is, we encourage you to mark what the day represents in some meaningful way.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

For our part, IWF-Georgia is looking deeper into the status of women in the aftermath of the tumultuous year we’ve just experienced. In particular, we’ll look at the global disruption in education due to COVID-19 and what it means for the future of women and girls. Consider that the disruption of educational systems worldwide – the largest in history -- is affecting nearly 1.6 billion students in more than 190 countries and on all continents, according to a United Nations policy brief. The pandemic is “exacerbating pre-existing educational disparities” and “threatens to extend beyond this generation and erase decades of progress, not least in support of girls and young women’s educational access and retention,” it says. The implications are enormous – economically, socially and culturally. Also, in the wake of 2020′s reinvigorated racial justice movement, we’ll examine the educational path of Black girls, one of the most at-risk student groups in the United States.

“At a time when Black women like Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams and (Walgreens’ incoming CEO) Rosalind Brewer, are making headlines for their leadership success, ironically Black girls are at greater risk in the U.S. educational system than ever before, with the fastest growing school suspension rates of all students and as the fastest growing group in the juvenile justice system,” notes Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College and IWF-Georgia member. Again, the implications for the future are enormous.

Girls and women need more than encouragement. The action required is more than just giving kudos to women of achievement (although we do recognize and appreciate them), or setting up scholarships or internships. It is acknowledging what happens to girls and women while they are trying to navigate their lives and workplaces. It is pointing out inequity. The IWF believes this is the year to call out inequity — consistently. Movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp highlight some of the problems as women tell their stories of abuse, sexism, harassment, misogyny and fighting the good ol’ boys network. Denials, brush-offs and half-hearted apologies will no longer be accepted by women. Real change — from the bottom to the top and the top to the bottom — must happen now.

As with the Black Lives Matter movement, there has been plenty of time for people to wrap their heads around the need for equality and inclusion. Yet inequities remain – insidious and often deeply-rooted. According to the International Women’s Day website, more than 70 percent of women experience bias at work — yet less than a third of employees recognize bias when they see it. Whether it’s deliberate or unconscious, bias puts up roadblocks that make it harder for women to be educated, get hired, promoted or have similar experiences as men. And the impact of 2020′s COVID-19 disruption worldwide threatens to upend the progress that has been made.

As Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE USA and an IWF-Georgia member says, “Unless we are laser focused on uplifting women’s leadership at every level, we will be marginalizing another generation of women and diminishing our overall capacity for progress. Communities rise when women do.”

The global theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is “Choose to Challenge Gender Inequality.” The International Women’s Forum Georgia Chapter asks that you challenge it everywhere — at work, at home, in school, in healthcare, in government, in business, in entertainment, everywhere you encounter it. In ways big and public, or small and private, challenge gender inequity in ways that matter to you, and to the women in your life.

Belinda Stubblefield is president of the International Women’s Forum - Georgia Chapter. She is vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.