Twelve small actions with big impact for Generation Equality

Date: Tuesday, February 25, 2020

From the Liberian women’s sex strike paving the way for peace to the Icelandic “Women’s Day Off” demading economic equality to the global impact of the #MeToo movement, history has taught us that change can happen through collective activism. Change, however, isn’t just about big headline moments, legal victories and international agreements: the way we talk, think, and act every day can create a ripple effect that benefits everyone. As we usher in the new decade and take stock of global progress on women’s rights, join us, as Generation Equality, in getting to gender equality through these simple everyday actions. 

1. Share the care

Ever heard the saying “a woman’s work is never done”? Well, it’s true: women take on three times more unpaid care and domestic work than men. That’s time and energy taken away from women to advance their careers, earn more money and enjoy leisure activities. 

Show you care: Commit to evenly sharing household chores, parenting responsibilities and other unpaid work. Here are some strategies to get you going:

Start with a family or household discussion. Identify care needs and domestic responsibilities.

  • Consider and discuss your strengths when sharing caregiving responsibilities.
  • Lay out the household activities through a chores roster.
  • From setting the table to cooking, encourage children of all genders to be involved equally in household chores.
  • If one partner works full-time in the home, recognize and acknowledge the value of their labour.

2.  Call out sexism and harassment 

From catcalling to mansplaining to inappropriate sexual jokes, women are faced with all kinds of sexist and disrespectful behaviours in public and private places on a daily basis.

You can be an active bystander by disrupting the status quo and challenging your peers. Start by calling out any inappropriate behaviour in a safe, respectful manner. Challenge any stereotypical notions of gender, such as “a woman should know her place” and “stop getting emotional”, through open dialogue. When it comes to engaging in conversation, learn the facts, so that the next time someone makes statements like the “wage gap is a myth!”, you can eloquently squash that misinformation in its tracks.

If you witness harassment, speak up and step up. Get the help of others if you feel unsafe doing so. Take the time to listen to the survivor and ask how you can support.

For more tips on ending violence against women, visit unpacktheeveryday.org

3. Reject the binary 

Repeat after me: It’s humankind. Not mankind.

It might not seem like a big deal, but terms such as  “male or female” and “women or men” exclude non-binary and intersex people who don’t fall into any of these categories. Diverse gender identities have always existed in every culture, and ensuring the rights of transgender, genderqueer, non-binary individuals and more—who often face horrifying violence and discrimination across the world—is an inherent part of gender equality. (Generation Equality pro tip: Check out the ‘Genderbread Person’ to learn the difference between sex, gender, gender identity and gender expression). 

Everyday language plays a huge role in breaking gender stereotypes and rejecting the binary of “male and female”. Instead of using phrases like “ladies and gentlemen” or “boys and girls”, swap in a gender-neutral term like “folks,” “children,” or “y’all.” These little changes can go a long way toward shifting cultural perceptions of gender. 

Don’t assume you know someone’s pronoun or gender. One way to open up a conversation is to give your own: include your pronouns when you introduce yourself or add them to your email signature or your social media profiles. Gender pronouns include: she/her, he/him, they/them, ze/zir, ze/hir, xe/zem, and zie/hir, xe/xem, and ey/em.

When referring to a person using the pronouns, gender and name that they use to identify themselves, do not refer to or reveal a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status without their consent. 

For more on this topic, check out the UN’s Free & Equal Campaign

4. Demand an equal work culture  

From sexual harassment to the gender wage gap, women face a full roster of discriminatory practices when it comes to the workplace. Demand a progressive work environment through the equal representation of women in leadership and boardrooms, equal pay for work of equal value and education courses on gender equality.

Women often make significant professional sacrifices to have a family, with consequences for their economic and personal wellbeing. One way to level the playing field is to push for unified parental leave policies that offer ample paid leave to both biological or adoptive parents. It’s important to encourage fathers to take parental leave to play an active role in caretaking. Work re-integration programmes can also help women catch up on the training they may have missed when they’re ready to rejoin the workforce.

Other simple ways to make professional life easier for mothers: ask for breastfeeding rooms, refrigerators for breast milk, flexible work hours, and quality and affordable childcare services in or near workplace premises.

Go the extra mile by actively supporting companies with a solid record on gender equality. Generation Equality pro tip: The organization Equileap compiles an annual list of the world’s 100 most gender-equitable companies, based on the Women’s Empowerment Principles, established by UN Women and UN Global Compact. Join the ranks by encouraging your own CEO to sign onto the Women’s Empowerment Principles today. 

5. Exercise your political rights

Women remain woefully underrepresented in the highest political positions. As of 2020, women only hold around 25 percent of seats in national parliaments and account for less than 7 percent of the world’s leaders. What’s the easiest, most direct way you can make a difference? Vote! And consider voting for women!

Stay informed on upcoming elections and spread the word about strong women candidates. Register to vote if you haven’t yet, and check in with friends and family members to make sure they’re registered, too. Then, hit the polls. (It’s the least you can do, given how hard women fought for suffrage.)

You can also make an impact by donating your time or money. Help get the word out with minimal effort by making calls or sending texts in support of your preferred candidate. If you’re ready for a bigger commitment, join a political campaign full-time, encourage women you know to run for office, or launch your own campaign!

6. Shop responsibly

Whether it’s for your next bottle of shampoo or a new pair of jeans, the way you shop can have a real impact on the environment—and, in turn, on the lives of women and girls. Women around the world are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change. Climate-induced humanitarian disasters often worsen existing gender inequalities, leaving women and girls prone to higher rates of violence, malnutrition and more.

You have the power to mitigate these impacts. Some simple ways to get started:

  • Pick up eco-friendly products and shop second-hand clothes
  • Avoid buying single-use plastics
  • Recycle, upcycle or donate your clothes and other goods
  • Encourage others to do the same: Let your friends know why your new sustainable product beats one from a fast fashion retailer or megastore (That’s so yesterday!). 

For more tips on climate action, check out the UN’s Act Now campaign.

7. Amplify feminist books, movies and more 

The next time you’re browsing the bookstore or settling in for a movie night, consider something written or directed by women (and for women). 

Movies, books, newspapers, podcasts, and other popular mediums have lasting effects on cultural perceptions of gender, offering women a powerful platform to share their stories and perspectives. Yet, the film and publishing industries remain heavily male-dominated, and popular narratives commonly portray women as one-dimensional characters or sex objects—or else exclude them altogether. An analysis of popular films across 11 countries found, for example, that only 23 per cent featured a female protagonist—a number that closely mirrored the percentage of female filmmakers (21 per cent). 

You can amplify the voices of the women and feminists rewriting this narrative by watching, listening, reading and investing in the media they produce. 

Not sure where to start? Here are 12 feminist books everyone should read

8. Teach girls their worth

Little princess. Vulnerable. Bossy.

Before even hitting puberty, girls across the world already carry internalized beliefs about their place, worth and role in society as dependant, vulnerable or incapable and are told to act accordingly, reinforcing gender stereotypes and keeping girls from realizing their full potential.

It’s hard to unlearn these kinds of beliefs. That’s why it’s so important to start addressing them early. Remind girls in your life that they are strong, capable and deserving of the same respect as boys. Make sure they know they are more than their appearance: praise them for their intelligence, strength, leadership, athleticism and so much more. 

Encourage girls to speak out and assert themselves. Counter narratives and language that discourage them to do so: say they are “bold,” not “bossy.” Show them their thoughts matter by asking their opinions and listening when they speak. And, if you are a parent or teacher, invest in toys, books and movies that are gender-neutral. Show girls the possibilities of their potential and allow them to play as they wish. Let them know that there is no wrong or right way to be a girl.

9. Challenge what it means to “be a man”

Man up. Boys don’t cry. Boys will be boys.

These traditional notions of masculinity often discourage boys and men later in life from openly communicating their feelings.

Whether in your friendships or relationships or within your family, support expressions of masculinity that involve vulnerability, sensitivity, caretaking and other traditionally non-masculine traits. Foster an environment where boys and men feel safe expressing their emotions: let them know their feelings are valid and give them the opportunity to share. Don’t mock or dismiss them, and call out others who do. 

10. Commit to a cause

There are so many causes you can get behind. 

To begin, pick a gender equality topic you care about and find a group or campaign devoted to it. If you haven’t already, join UN Women’s Generation Equality campaign, uniting activists just like you to demand gender equality in this generation. You can start by sharing our messages here. Your donation to UN Women can also break the cycle of violence, assist survivors, and drive economic inclusion and equal rights for women and girls everywhere.

Collective action can operate at every scale. Nothing is too small! The first step is showing up. You could attend a townhall meeting or a protest about a community issue, or share an article or news story. And, if you can’t find a group working on your issue, start one! 

11. Challenge beauty standards

Though beauty standards vary from place to place, they almost always promote a narrow, unrealistic vision of femininity. Women are often expected to devote far more time, energy and money to their appearances than their male counterparts. This kind of double standard proliferates the sense that women’s bodies aren’t really their own––that they’re objects intended for public consumption. Unrealistic physical ideals can also manifest in serious mental and physical harm.  

The advertising industry drives sales by playing up these ideals and exploiting the insecurities they foster. Keep this in mind when you drive past a billboard or flip through a magazine. You can challenge the advertising status quo by supporting companies that showcase diversity in their ads. Find out more on how UN Women is working with the advertising industry to affect positive through the Unstereotype Alliance.

Rethink your beliefs on what it means to be beautiful. Start in the mirror: notice the way that you think and talk about your own appearance, and the next time you catch yourself being critical, try to give yourself a compliment. Treat all bodies as equally valuable and deserving of celebration—regardless of size, ability, or colour—and call out body shaming when you see it. 

12.  Respect the choices of others

Every person has the right to make decisions about their body, well-being, family and future. 

When someone’s choices make you uncomfortable, ask yourself why. Examine the biases that may be driving your reaction and consider the circumstances that make their life different from yours. Listen to their reasoning. 

It’s often hard to understand a choice that you’ve never had to make. Take it upon yourself to learn and think critically about the situations of others.