The month of August marks major milestones in America's path toward equality: the ratification of the 19th Amendment, in 1920, which extended the right to vote to women; and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which — along with subsequent amendments — cleared the path to voting rights for people of color.
These turning points are reminders of the progress America is capable of. But more work is needed to fulfill their promise. Individual actions can be among the most meaningful and impactful. Every day, you can take steps to support 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:
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, 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 your own behavior.
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 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."
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. Here are three key ways you can be a more impactful and accountable stakeholder.
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 company policies and cultural norms that effectively disadvantage women.
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.
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."
Contact an organization fighting for women's rights and ask how you can get involved.
"Don't wait. Do something," urged 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."
Editors' note: this article has been updated from its original version.
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