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If you could change one thing for women and girls, what would you choose?

As part of our “Hope Lives in Every Name” Campaign, we reached out to influential women from across different professional, personal and global spheres to answer the question above, “If you could change one thing for women and girls what would you choose?”  

The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a dystopian future in which women are enslaved, mutilated, raped and denied their most fundamental human rights. But these issues are not fiction – they are real, and are happening to real women, every day, all over the world.

Together, we can do something. Together, we can make a difference. We can get people thinking, talking, demanding change.  These women are making a difference through their words, art, actions and spheres of influence.     

Alysia Reiner

Alysia Reiner is an actress in critically acclaimed and award-winning TV shows, a film producer featured at Sundance 2016 and vocal advocate for women in film, women’s rights and ethical and environmental fashion.

Alysia says:

“The most pressing global issue facing women and girls today is FEAR OF TOPPLING THE PATRIARCHY.

Men have ruled our earth for a while now. There is a deep fear of change. And some men fear women, they find the feminine mysterious and confusing. They fear a different kind of wisdom and strength and power. They seek to diminish and debase women with sexual violence, trafficking, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and refusing legal equality and education for all women. There is also sometimes a culture of fear that makes women fear that there is not enough for everyone, and in that fear feel competitive with other women.

“The solution to this problem is for women TO UNITE. A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong (Tecumseh). We are stronger together – another thing some men fear! On a global level, it’s about devoting time and resources to educating girls. Locally, it’s about advocating for each other: encouraging each other, voting for each other, hiring each other, investing in each other, and mentoring each other. TOGETHER WE RISE.”

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

Senator Boxer served in the United States Senate for 24 years and for ten years in the U.S. House of Representatives where she was a forceful advocate for gender equality and women’s rights. She continues to be an activist and author and now has her own podcast, Fight Back which can be found on Apple or Podcast One.

Senator Boxer says:

“In my years of public service, I quickly learned that most issues have two sides. But one issue that was immune from honest attack was the issue of equal treatment for all.

Equality is a beautiful word. As we are taught by religion, humanism, and experience, equality is not only right and moral but smart. In countries where prejudice against women is lawful, 50% of their populations are fearful, and all that talent is left on the table.

In America, the fight for women’s equality has been a long, difficult and undervalued
battle and still continues. The vote didn’t come to women until 1920, after years of organizing and marches where women were spit upon, jailed and force-fed.

American women have made huge progress, but we still must fight for change in a society where an abusive culture looms in the darkness, and in some areas equality is elusive.

So the work must go on in every corner of the world, where people of goodwill must advocate for true equality starting with every child – male or female.

Nations will always disagree, but on this there should be no argument: equality for every human being, as expressed in the bedrock laws and eventually in the soul of every nation, should be a unifying force that draws us together.”

Karen Lederer

Karen Lederer is an exciting Brooklyn-based artist whose work has recently been featured in solo exhibitions at Tennis Elbow, Grant Wahlquist Gallery, and Field Projects. She was an artist in residence at Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, Lower East Side Printshop, and the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program.  Lederer’s paintings are filled with patterns reminiscent of Marimekko, references to her New York City upbringing, reproductions of iconic artworks, and signs of the current political moment.

Karen says:

“A major issue I would like to see realized is equality in the workplace. Women need to know that if they work hard, then they can succeed and have access to the same opportunities as men.

I heard a recent This American Life story about a woman named LaDonna, who went above and beyond in her job, only to advance and find that her fellow male colleagues were systematically putting down women beneath them. When she spoke out, the company did all it could to protect them.

It’s disheartening to know that even if you are great at your job, the system is stacked against you. Women need to have equal access to employment, advancement, pay, and respect.”

Julia Lalla-Maharajh OBE

Julia Lalla-Maharajh is CEO and Founder of Orchid Project, a small charity with a vision of a world free from female genital cutting. She has received many honors and awards including being honored by the Queen as a ‘Woman Agent of Change’ on Commonwealth Day and named as one of the Evening Standard newspaper’s Power 1,000: London’s Most Influential People.

Julia says:

“By the time you’ve read this sentence, somewhere in the world, a girl will likely have undergone female genital cutting (FGC); the removal of her external genitals.

FGC is a harmful practice that, at the time of the cut, can result in pain, shock and fear. In some cases, girls can die. These aren’t the only reasons that this is the most pressing human rights issue facing girls and women today. FGC can go on to affect a woman physically and psychologically for her entire life, and it is often linked to child marriage, school dropout, and economic disparity.

Over 200 million women and girls are living with the impacts of FGC globally. What’s more, UNICEF estimates that because of population growth, a further 63 million girls will be cut by 2050 unless we accelerate efforts to end the practice, making the need for action ever more urgent.

But there’s good news. Thousands of communities around the world are choosing to abandon FGC through community-led, non-judgemental approaches, which give space for people to discuss the practice openly. But more needs to happen. We need increased commitment, resources and support for best practice and effective approaches from global actors, as well as engagement within communities to create grassroots change.

I firmly believe this is possible within our lifetimes. Momentum is building. Together, we can end FGC.”

UPDATE: In 2024, new statistics were released by UNICEF showing 230 million women and girls around the world are affected by FGM, a 15% increase or 30 million more girls and women being subjected to FGM, compared to the data released eight years ago. This figure now includes data on FGM prevalence in Asia (80 million), the Middle East (6 million) and countries which have small practising communities and are destination countries for migration (1-2 million).

Patricia Amira

Patricia Amira is one of Africa’s foremost broadcast journalists, well-known as the producer and host of the first pan-African-produced talk show TV format, The Patricia Show. She is also an outspoken activist on issues affecting women and girls. Patricia is a member of Equality Now’s Africa Board of Trustees.

Patricia says:

“The social norms that have created a culture of inequality in homes and institutions is one of the most destructive issues that impinge on the rights of women and girls today.

Violence, in all its forms – emotional, physical, sexual, verbal and economic, play out in various ways in our societies. It appears as the abduction and rape of minors, as the lack of gender representation, as a diminishing of female insight and opinion in the home and at work, as FGM, unequal pay, on and on and on. It is a pervasive and systemic dismantling of human rights that ultimately disempowers and diminishes society as a whole.

Strengthening and implementing laws that protect women and girls is vital. Creating cultures that allow for new ways of being and engaging, for both sexes, is desperately needed – including examining the differences in how we raise our children, and consciously questioning what our actions say about us – these and more are possible actions we can all engage in.

After all, the greatest change is born within, so our individual perceptions, in spite of our paternalistic socialization, must also be examined in order to transform ourselves, those we love, and ultimately, the societies in which we live.”

Dr. Purna Sen

Dr. Purna Sen is UN Women’s Director of Policy Division, where she has recently been appointed as the Executive Coordinator and Spokesperson on Addressing Sexual Harassment and Other Forms of Discrimination, ensuring that women’s experiences are placed at the heart of work on sexual harassment.

Dr. Sen says:

“Women’s ownership of their bodies is undermined in poisonous ways. Women are not deemed to be adult, intelligent or sensible enough to determine whether, when and with whom they should live, marry and have children; women daily navigate their safety on the streets, at work, at school or college or at home.

Male sexual entitlement means that women are grabbed, have hands shoved inside their clothes or raped with little consequence: sexual assault shapes their lives. Girls grow into adulthood learning that other people have more right to your body than do you and challenging this will not be easy. But there is now a moment of change.

We are witnessing the greatest global movement against sexual violence, in #MeToo and related agitation, ever seen. Occupying the power of solidarity, women have given notice to abusers, to those who claim knowledge and action over them. This time employers, governments and the media are paying attention.

States across the world have heard women’s demands and have committed to eliminating violence against women by 2030. I believe in the power of women’s collective actions to hold states to this promise – so that they can laugh and dance with abandon.”

Sheetal Sheth

Sheetal Sheth is an acclaimed actress Sheetal Sheth known for her provocative performances in a wide range of film and television roles. She was also the first Indian American to be featured in Maxim magazine, has represented international brands such as Reebok, and is regularly invited to speak on panels and forums about issues affecting women and girls.

Sheetal says:

“Thank goodness we aren’t where we used to be. But we have a long way to go. We are living in times when the very idea of feminism,” defined simply as “belief in the equality of sexes” is something that people are afraid to embrace. We need to be valued. Our lives need to matter. Is safety too much to ask? All of this starts with equal access. Access to education. To healthcare. To be able to make our own choices. To not have to live in a world where the violence against us is a palpable fear every day. The data doesn’t lie.

We need women in powerful positions. Positions who can affect policy change, private and public. Representation across the board. Women of all races, sexuality, political party, and religion. We need at least 51% of the seats at the table. So that all of us, each complex and nuanced in our own way, gets the opportunity to live our best lives. The great RBG said it best when asked ‘When do you think it will be enough? When will there be enough women on the court?’ And she answered, “When there are nine.”