It's International Women's Day this week, and in the run-up I've been taking part in a number of discussions focusing on gender equality. There's so much work to be done to change the status quo, as there's not a single country in the world that has yet achieved parity between men and women. In the past week, I've been asked by a number of people - men as well as women - the same question: "What can I do to make a difference?" The answer can seem daunting - that there are a huge number of different ways we can move the needle in the right direction, because - sadly - gender inequality is entrenched in every walk of life - in the business world, in education systems, in the prevalence of violence against women, in the way women are (mis)represented in the media. The list goes on.
These are major, major challenges, but it's important to be aware also of what is positive - that there are a huge number of activities going on around the world to improve the situation for women, and there are places where men are working with women to achieve this. There's no doubt that this movement is gaining momentum and makes nonsense of the idea that men cannot see women as equals. It's an outdated way of thinking, and increasingly governments, businesses, communities and families are all coming to recognise the positive benefits to be had when women and men are working together and treating each other as equal partners.
Of the numerous ways to change women's lives for the better, I've picked out five things that you can do to help make that change today:
Become a mentor
Mentoring is a great way to create role models for the future. If you have over seven years of experience in your field and can commit two hours a month of your time, you can apply to become a mentor today to a woman entrepreneur in Africa, Asia, South America or the Middle East. This has exponential effects, as the women you support go on to become role models for their daughters, employees and other women in business in their community.
Challenge the misrepresentation of women in the media
This week, I took part in a discussion at the Southbank Centre's Women of the World Festival about the way women are misrepresented in the media. The prevailing message is that a woman's value is defined by youth and beauty, rather than her capacity as a leader. The Representation Project is leading a campaign to change the way women are portrayed by the media and you can pledge to use your voice to challenge society's limiting representations of gender.
Sponsor a girl
Girls around the world are prevented from receiving an education for a number of reasons, whether it is because they are forced into work or married off at a young age. Plan UK supports girls so that they can have equal access to education. You can sponsor a girl by texting "Plan" to 66010.
Give a loan to a woman entrepreneur
Lend to a woman through CARE International's Lendwithcare.org programme. You can transform a life with a microloan of as little as £15. Studies in international development show that women tend to invest 90% of their income back into their families and communities, so your loan could go a long way to help a woman and her wider community.
Help a woman suffering from domestic violence
You can make a difference for women experiencing domestic abuse here in the UK. Two women are killed every week by current or former partners in England and Wales - leaving behind devastated families up and down the country. Refuge provides a national network of services which support 3,000 women and children on any given day. Take on a fundraising challenge and help save and change lives.
Whether it's stopping domestic violence, preventing trafficking, helping girls get access to education, challenging the portrayal of women in the media, mentoring a woman in business or joining one of thousands of activities worldwide for gender equality, we can make a difference. This International Women's Day, let's celebrate how far we've come by taking a positive step towards a world where women and men are treated with equal respect and given equal opportunities.
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