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Let’s achieve the goal of equality

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As we prepare to end International Women’s Month, it is appropriate that we both celebrate the progress that has been made in the struggle for gender equality and realize that a long struggle still lies ahead.

On March 15, Olympic hockey player Shannon Szabados became the first woman in history to play on a professional men’s team. The day before, traditionally ostracized widows in India took a stand for their autonomy by celebrating the Holi festival for the first time despite being historically excluded from such festivities.

These milestones are but small examples of the kind of change that strong, dedicated women can bring to their societies.

There is no doubt that women in America have made great strides in gaining equality since the days when Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought for women’s suffrage.

Women are no longer confined to domestic roles; the U.S. Department of Labor reported that women made up 47 percent of the American workforce in 2010, and projected that women will account for 51 percent of workers by 2018. The Obama administration is even recognizing the need for gender equality in traditionally male-dominated fields such as science, technology, engineering and math.

An official White House release in June 2013 announced that “President Obama understands that increasing the number of women in science, technology, engineering and math fields is critical to our Nation’s ability to out-build, out-educate, and out-innovate future competitors.”

Considering the places women have historically held in American society, this progress should be both applauded and used as inspiration for future generations. However, women must not become complacent; true gender equality is far from a reality.

Just this month, the Senate blocked a bill that would help to end sexual assault in the military.

The Military Justice Improvement Act, proposed by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, would move authority for prosecuting military sexual assault cases from military chain of command to “independent, trained, professional military prosecutors” in order to increase the chances that the estimated 25 percent of female personnel who are victims of sexual assault receive justice. The bill also aims to empower the estimated 50 percent of victims that the bill claims “did not report the crime because they believed that nothing would be done with their report.”

With roughly 26,000 reported cases of sexual assault in 2012, it seems that a Senate truly concerned for the welfare of women would have readily passed any legislation which sought to end the needless suffering that sexual assault victims endure.

The issue of military sexual assault is but one of many  that continue to plague the lives of women in the U.S. What must not be forgotten, though, is that American women are not the only ones who suffer from injustice.

For instance, a Human Rights Watch Report published on March 7 reveals that in Somalia, women live in constant fear of rape, which is considered “normal” in that society. The report stated that “armed assailants, including members of state security forces, operate with impunity as they sexually assault, rape, shoot and stab women.”

Given these horrific findings, many may feel overwhelmed when considering how to address gender equality on both a national and global scale. While there is never an easy answer to the question of how to ensure equality, simply standing on the sidelines while others fight to improve conditions for women is inexcusable.

Women: You have a brain. Use it!

Do not let men, the media or politicians tell you that because of your gender, you are unfit to lead and enact change in this nation and the world.

Realize that you have the potential for greatness and utilize it. Ours can be the generation that closes the wage gap, ensures justice for victims of sexual assault and empowers girls to be independent, free-thinking individuals. Don’t leave it up to others to make these changes. Even if you do not wish to enter a career in law or politics, you can make an impact on those around you.

Remember the women in your life that have inspired you. Remember the family member, coach or counselor that motivated you to be your best, and be that person for a girl or woman in your life. Even if you have never had a female role model, you must strive to provide others with the kind of positive influence that you never had.

Men: Contrary to what you may believe, gender inequality is your problem too.

Just because you had the good fortune of being born with a Y chromosome does not mean that you shouldn’t participate in the struggle for women’s rights. You surely have women in your life that you care about.

Do you want to see them discriminated against? Do you want them to be denied fair pay when they have worked hard to achieve the job of their dreams? Do you want them to think that their worth lies solely in their face or body shape?

Of course you don’t. So what can you do about it?

First, do not assume that because you support gender equality you are somehow less of a man. Supporting women’s rights doesn’t make you unmasculine; it makes you a person that is aware of injustice and compassionate enough to do something about it.

Second, be mindful that you are not perpetuating harmful stereotypes of women. They are not inherently bad at math, they are not overly-emotional and they are not weak, physically or mentally. These over-generalizations only serve to hinder the progress in gender equality that has been made, as well as to stop women from reaching their potential.

We, the men and women bettering ourselves through education, are the ones responsible for shaping the equal society that we all deserve. We owe it to the women who have suffered injustice, and we owe it to ourselves.

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Let’s achieve the goal of equality