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Commentary

“The kind of hope that changes the world.”

by Xanthe Scharff March 13, 2023

We first recognized a day for women in February 1909. Then, it was National Women’s Day in the United States. On Wednesday, 114 years later, we celebrated women’s achievements around the world, yet it also reminds me that for 114 years, women around the globe have sought to close a gender gap that remains stubbornly vast.

It will take 132 years for women to achieve parity with men in economic participation, education, health and political empowerment, according to The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. That’s unacceptable for women, and it should be unacceptable for everyone. 

Gender equity is a solution to some of the world’s most intractable problems. We know that when women have economic, social and political parity, societies are more just, more prosperous, more peaceful, more stable and more secure.

In the past year, women made their voices heard around the globe. 

In Iran, women poured into the streets to protest the death on Sept. 16 of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody, drawing widespread international support for their “Women, Life, Freedom Movement.” The Green Wave, a grassroots movement of women demanding decriminalization of abortion and access to contraception, marched across Latin America. 

The Fuller Project’s global newsroom is dedicated to groundbreaking reporting that catalyzes positive change for women. It exists to report women’s stories.

On International Women’s Day, The Fuller Project and The Meteor convened “Everything on the Line: Women-Led Revolutions in 2023,” a panel discussion exploring how these movements took shape and what we can learn from them. 

Participating in the discussion with me were Paula Ávila-Guillen, a Colombian lawyer, human rights specialist, and reproductive rights activist; Zahra Nader, an Afghan-Canadian journalist and the editor-in-chief of the women-led newsroom Zan Times; and Neda Toloui-Semnani, an Iranian-American, Emmy-Award winning writer and producer.

The panelists described this moment in history as both a time for hope and a time to resist. 

“When I say the hope, I mean the kind of hope that changes the world, the kind of hope that is as strong as steel, the hope that refuses to disappear when fascists take power and start killing people,” said moderator Paola Mendoza, a director, activist, author and artist whose work focuses on human rights. “The hope that inspires the unimaginable courage it takes for people to put their lives on the line for freedom. Freedom for themselves but just as important freedom for others. ” 

This kind of hope, Mendoza said, “fuels revolutions.”

Toloui-Semnani said she felt optimistic about movements around the world. “I have a lot of faith that things must change,” she said. The movements in Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere are indications that this generation is “taking charge and demanding their basic rights.” Such individual movements, she said, can become a global call to action.

 “This fight is borderless,” said Ávila-Guillen “This is not about just one state, or one country or one issue, this is across borders. And the more we unite ourselves, the more powerful we are.”

Hope can be difficult to maintain in extreme adverse conditions, Nader said. Afghanistan, she said, has become a prison for women, who in many cases cannot leave their homes due to restrictions imposed by the Taliban. Women who do demand their rights facing beatings, torture and imprisonment, yet they continue to resist, she said.

“They are fighting to keep this hope alive, the very hope of thinking the situation will change,” Nader said  “Afghanistan is the worst women’s rights crisis of our time and it needs a global response.”

At The Fuller Project, we believe there is a lot of hope in storytelling itself. Journalism – journalism focused on the previously untold stories of women – has the power to give us the facts we need to motivate change. We report on the women in Iran, in Afghanistan, in Lesotho, in Kenya, in India, and in the US because we know that as women fight for their rights, a single story can spark a movement. 

Until all women can be heard, The Fuller Project, and my fellow panelists, will ensure that every day is International Women’s Day.

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