There can be little doubt that 2017 was a hard year for women. It was an uphill battle from the moment January ticked over as women experienced prejudice across many aspects of their lives – socially, politically and culturally. However, perhaps 2017 was also the year of collective awakening and empowerment. Perhaps 2017 was the year we had to have.
It was certainly the year that sowed some of the seeds that give us hope for 2018 and beyond. Seeds that suggest that future years might well be labelled years of equality, diversity and progress. At the very least, 2017 was a year that should perhaps give us a sense of hope. From the rise of Wonder Woman as a feminist heroine, to the legalisation of driving for women in Saudi Arabia, and the relaxing of state laws around female attendance at sporting events in the same country, to the global #MeToo movement; 2017 has seen a number of small but significant wins for women around the world.
Some of these wins have, of course, risen from the ashes of defeat. Hillary Clinton’s loss to – now president – Donald Trump at the end of 2016 led to the 2017 Women’s March, which became the largest global protest movement in history. Five million marchers stood in solidarity across 673 locations worldwide. It’s hard not to view this event as a defining moment in the history of the fight for gender equality, and it set the tone for the rest of the year – one that might be viewed with the benefit of hindsight as 12 months of resistance, persistence and courage.
Perhaps most poignant was the placement of the Fearless Girl in front of Wall Street’s Charging Bull on International Women’s Day 2017. Standing defiantly in front of the bull as a symbol of increasing corporate support for the cause of gender equality, the girl seemed to be saying, “you may charge, but I – we – will no longer move”. Indeed, campaigning for the installation to be made permanent, lawyer and activist Letitia James wrote in a letter to the Mayor, “Fearless Girl stands as a powerful beacon, showing women – young and old – that no dream is too big and no ceiling is too high.”
And this theme of defiance, hope and passion was not confined to the bulls (and bears) of Wall Street. In New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s third female Prime Minister and the world’s youngest female leader. Ardern’s support of women’s rights, same-sex marriage and refugee protection was – to many – the antidote to the rise of more conservative movements across the US and Europe. Speaking about comments relating to her marital status and lack of experience as a mother (why is it that female leaders simply ‘must’ also be mothers?), Ardern said, “It is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer to that question in the workplace. It is unacceptable. It is a woman’s decision about when they choose to have children. It should not predetermine whether they are given a job or have job opportunities’.
Perhaps the highest profile gender-related campaign in 2017 was #MeToo. In the wake of explosive revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, social and traditional media witnessed a viral outpouring from victims of harassment, assault and abuse. High profile leaders and celebrities from all industries were finally exposed by their victims who finally felt that their voices might – for the first time – be heard and action taken. The campaign spurred large-scale workplace investigations into sexual misconduct. Interestingly, the global media stood in solidarity with the campaign, with Time Magazine announcing the ‘Silence Breakers’ as their ‘2017 Person of the Year’.
Could it be that the #Metoo campaign will be seen as the beginning of a movement of awakening? Will the world finally wake up to the issue of gender inequality? There is certainly cause for optimism. Through campaigns such as #MeToo, events like the Women’s Marches, and the individual personal battles of women around the world, 2017 has perhaps laid the groundwork for 2018 to become a breakthrough year for gender equality.
Already in 2018, the #Time’sUp campaign was launched at the Golden Globe awards. High-profile women are making a further stand against Hollywood’s abusers. The issue of the pay gap was spotlighted when the world expressed outrage and support for Michelle Williams after she was paid a shocking eighth of Mark Wahlberg’s wage in reshooting the film, All the Money in the World. Outside of Tinseltown, Iceland has become the first country to make it illegal to pay women less than men. And New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern announced her pregnancy (despite conservative commentators now bemoaning that she shouldn’t be a mother whilst in office!), becoming a symbol for successful working mothers.
These are just the high-profile victories. Women all around the world are starting to sense the winds of change. Those who made a stand in 2017 did so to break the glass ceiling, to protest pay disparity, to call out sexual abuse and misogyny and to claim their very basic human rights (the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, for example!). Of course, they faced opposition and resistance from the media and from those who support the status quo.
Nevertheless, they persisted.
By Whitney Duan and David Pich, Institute of Managers and Leaders.
Header image: Mark Lennihan / AP
The Institute of Managers and Leaders will be hosting the 2018 International Women’s Day Great Debate on 8th March with the topic, ‘The Future is Female’; Equality. Diversity. Progress. The long lunch is an entertaining, insightful and empowering debate between two teams of high-profile speakers and business leaders. The Great Debate will be held in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The events will be emceed by Gretel Killeen (Sydney), Jane Caro (Melbourne) and Corinne Grant (Brisbane).
Find out more here.