When The Marches Are Over, What Will You Do?

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This Saturday, hundreds of thousands are expected to join marches in support of women's rights in Washington, D.C. and other cities. Many of those who will march are concerned that hard-won progress toward gender equity may be eroded and that much of the implicit gender bias that women experience will revert to blatant and explicit sexism. These concerns are shared by conservatives and liberals alike and are magnified for women whose national, ethnic, religious and other identities are also routinely subjected to bigotry.

The marches provide an opportunity to, as the organizers put it, "send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office and to the world that women's rights are human rights." But we need to continue to take action in the months and years ahead to rebuild, protect, and extend gender equity.

Here are some actions that all who share this commitment can take:

1. Build education, skills and experiences. Women can't just demand opportunities; we need to earn them. We need to protect our rights to the education and experiences we need to be successful. We want women to be in positions to innovate and lead because they are the best prepared for the role they seek. Invest as much as you can in the development of women's abilities - your own, your daughters', your friends', your mothers', your co-workers.

2. Create environments that foster high expectations for success and reduce bias. It can be powerful for girls and women to experience environments where bias cannot operate, where their voices are heard, where their success is assumed and where they are shown that all paths are open and encouraged (including those where women are under-represented). We can look to single-sex education to see ways to foster women's success and create those in our own families, communities and workplaces. We need to assume that women can and will be successful, we need to notice bias and remove it from our processes, and we need to empower women to pursue all available opportunities.

3. Take notice and speak up. Acts of implicit and explicit bias occur regularly, and we must all, men and women, speak up against it rather than pass it off as normal or part of life as a woman. This is not easy: it takes courage to ask people to question their assumptions and actions and to accept that they have acted with bias. This may be particularly true when the bias is unintentional. Quietly accepting bias makes it easy for others to perpetuate it. And the burden of naming it and fighting against it should not fall only to the recipients. The responsibility falls on all of us to notice and to speak up.

4. Seek support and pull others up. No matter how hard we work, there will be rough moments ahead. Find networks of support -- including male advocates -- and pull others up. And if you are in power, bring others along. As Michelle Obama said, "People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together."

I hope that our new administration will hear the message of the marches and extend policies that support gender equity for generations to come. But no matter the outcome, each of us has the power to bring others together to protect and extend gender equity--and indeed all forms of equity--in our own lives and communities.

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