Giving Back Taking Action to Empower Women after Global Citizen Festival

by Deepa Lakshmin | October 11, 2018

On Saturday, September 29, an all-ages crowd of thousands blanketed the Great Lawn of New York City's Central Park in celebration of the Global Citizen Festival.

This year, the annual “music festival with a mission,” as one attendee called it, rallied behind the cause of empowering women and girls economically. It was the seventh consecutive year that Citi has teamed with Global Citizen — the worldwide platform and movement behind the festival — to take on issues central to their missions and values, including fighting poverty and promoting education.

The festival’s lineup of award-winning artists, Hollywood actors and world leaders who took to the stage had an urgent message to impress on the audience of activists and music lovers: in the global project to achieve gender equality, everyone can be a change agent, no amount of positive action is insignificant, and no one can sit on the sidelines of this struggle.

To earn Global Citizen Festival tickets, concert goers collectively participated in 2.1 million prosocial actions — for example, signing petitions to help women and children around the world access clean water and calling local politicians asking them to fight the gender wage gap. These small yet powerful steps toward gender equality benefited an estimated 254 million people worldwide, proving that global change starts at the individual level.

While the music may be over, people everywhere have the power to spread the spirit of the festival. Every day, you can take steps to empower women — from your friends, to family members, to colleagues, to girls you’ve never met who live across the globe. Here are a few actions you can take:

While the music may be over, people everywhere have the power to spread the spirit of the festival.
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Speak up, speak out

To stem the propagation of gender inequity, first you need the awareness to recognize it. When a friend makes an offhanded comment that’s demeaning to women, letting that moment slip by lends the comment legitimacy. Instead of laughing or shrugging it off, explain why the words are not OK. Don't be afraid to tell people why their actions or comments are problematic, and offer constructive solutions.

Men and women alike should take this advice to heart. Prevailing power structures around you may be hard to see clearly. Jadayah Spencer, the executive director of the International Youth Leadership Institute and a festival attendee, pointed out that despite our best efforts, "Sometimes women unintentionally contribute" to those dynamics remaining in place. In addition to speaking up for others, it's important to look inward at our own behavior.

Jadayah Spencer

Jadayah Spencer

Create space for women’s voices

The next time you’re in a meeting or having a conversation with a woman, don’t interrupt or chime in. Instead, give her the space to share her opinions in full.

Spencer knows this scenario well. During a meeting she recently attended with a group of people — on the very subject of women's empowerment — she observed that men in the meeting were dominating the conversation. She began counting the minutes that men held the floor.

"When I finally got to actually share,” Spencer recalled, she told the group “’it's been six minutes since a woman's voice has been heard.’ The person who is most impacted, who has had the most experience with an issue, should have their voice be centered in that issue.” Spencer’s advice? “Sometimes the best way to stand up is actually to step back and let someone else's voice be heard.”

Be a stakeholder

To truly understand another person’s perspective, you have to hear it firsthand. Ask the women in your life — your friends, family, co-workers — about their lives and listen, deeply, to their experiences.

Find a way to internalize and stake yourself in their challenges. "My guiding principle is to make sure that I see myself in others," actor and NGO founder Forest Whitaker says. "[I] make sure that I understand that someone else's issues and pains are my own, and that I have to help eradicate those things in order to be a full and complete human being."

1. Educate yourself

Read the news and stay informed on what’s happening around the world and how women and girls are being treated. A big step in narrowing the gender gap is educating yourself on what measures will move that issue forward, from legislation that guarantees women's rights, to changes in workplace policies and cultural norms that effectively disadvantage women.

2. Educate the next generation

Start with those closest to you. It could be as simple as turning to your younger sibling and saying, "Hey, let's talk about what's going on in the world." You're helping them become more curious about others and, in turn, teaching them to care.

Consider spreading the message to those in your community, especially around issues you feel passionate about. Offer to lead workshops or teach youth groups about how to recognize and make strides to address gender inequality that they witness in their lives.

Ask the women in your life — your friends, family, co-workers — about their lives and listen, deeply, to their experiences.
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3. Educate the decision-makers

So often, those in power are unaware of many of the risks and challenges women and girls face.

Hiba Hamzi, a Gulmakai Champion for the Malala Fund based in Lebanon, has dedicated her life to seeing that female refugees coming to her country are protected from early marriages and get an education. In taking action to raise the minimum marriage age to 18, Hamzi has organized workshops and talked to parents, lawmakers and village leaders about gender discrimination and the importance of keeping girls in school.

“In Lebanon, the refugees are facing many problems, especially the girls," Hamzi said. "They are at risk of abuse, child marriage and violence. I decided to work with them because I believe that if you empower them and if you give them skills, they will raise their voice. They will be the change of the future, and they will have a better future."

Hiba Hamzi

Hiba Hamzi

Most importantly, act now

Contact an organization fighting for women's rights and ask how you can get involved. "If you don’t know what you want to do, start by writing down the things that are affecting you in the world, things that bother you about it,” Whitaker said. “Then you can look at the organizations that are working around that concern.”

"Don't wait. Do something," echoes Spencer. "I know that sounds really simplistic but what it means is, maybe you can't solve world hunger in a day, but by starting small and engaging with the people in your community — maybe there's a new way to look at the same issue that you've been looking at for a long time."

Deepa Lakshmin

is a reporter, editor, and social media strategist. She's written for The Daily Beast, MTV News, BuzzFeed, Snapchat Discover and Psychology Today.