If you watched the Golden Globes last Sunday, you probably felt the same awe I did at hearing Oprah’s speech and her powerful words to all women and girls: a new day is on the horizon.
The #MeToo movement has been unlike anything else this past year. It has grown into something much bigger and broader than imagined, with countless women speaking out throughout Hollywood, the country, and internationally. And perpetrators have fallen. Finally, real consequences.
Oprah’s impassioned words struck a deep chord, especially:
“They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia and engineering and medicine and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”
This global issue is a stain on humanity. Sexual assault and all forms of harassment must come to an end. For that to happen, we have to expose it (as so many have, at great personal and professional risk) and make sure there are consequences.
It was Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano who sparked the #MeToo movement across social media, but women have long been fighting to be heard. Before that there was Recy Taylor, the woman who was kidnapped and raped by six white men, but never lived to see them persecuted. And there was Tarana Burke, the woman who first started the Me Too campaign in 2006 to raise awareness around sexual assault in underprivileged communities. And there are thousands - millions - more.
Prosperity Candle, the social enterprise I co-founded with Amber Chand and Siiri Morley, has always stood for women’s rights. We believe in equal opportunity, equal pay, equal representation, and equal education for women and girls everywhere in the world. We are inspired by people like Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who became an activist for female education after being shot for going to school, and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.
Here in our studio, women artisans relocated to the U.S. from refugee camps through UN and federal programs pour candles in a joyful, safe environment. When we first approached them in 2010, we had the idea to help set up their own candle business. They asked instead for living wage employment, flexible work hours, transportation – and an environment free of sexual harassment.
Some of these women refugees had experienced offensive advances and unwanted contact here in the U.S., but were afraid to confront managers for fear of losing their jobs. So we set up a candle-making studio. And since several planned on having children, we added a crib, private nursing area, and a “babies welcome” sign.
That was twenty years after Anita Hill testified that Clarence Thomas, nominated to be a Supreme Court Justice, had sexually harassed her when she was his assistant. He was confirmed to the Supreme Court. She was called a liar.
And now here we are at the start of 2018 with Golden Globes actresses dressed in black as part of the #TIMESUP protest, speaking forcefully about putting an end to sexual harassment, the most powerful of whom was Oprah. It feels like we are, finally, at a tipping point.
As a nation, we are grateful to the countless women who have bravely shared their personal experiences over many decades – you helped make it possible for today’s voices to be heard. Add the very public courage of Time Magazine’s Silence Breakers and we have a loud call for real change.
It is time to be bold. We have the opportunity to substantively shift the balance of power in the workplace, in our communities, and in Congress to be more representative of our nation’s citizens, more equal. After all, the United States is 51% female, a.k.a. the majority. For a sense where we are now, take a look at the Women’s Leadership Gap.
As Oprah said last Sunday, “a new day is on the horizon. And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘me too’ again.”
Thank you, Oprah.