The Power of Using Your Voice to Advocate for Women A Reflection on International Women’s Day at the United Nations

Photo of Queen Mother, A Global Ambassador for Africa to the United Nations & Women’s Rights Icon

“I do not have a gun, but I have a voice.” – Dr. Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Laureate & Activist

On March 6th, the global community at the United Nations celebrated women around the world for International Women’s Day. With hundreds of diplomats, young people, civil society leaders and artists gathered from many corners of the globe, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the event by sharing the UN’s commitment to advocating for all women and girls.

After a series of inspiring speeches from the world’s youngest prime minister, Sanna Marin of Finland, the Chair of CSW64, H.E. Mher Margaryan and the President of the General Assembly, H.E. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, an intergenerational panel of changemakers discussed the current state of gender equality and advocacy for women. All of the panelists agreed on the importance of acknowledging those who came before them and paved the way for today’s generation of feminists. It is important to know the history of women’s movements around the world and the role women have played in revolutions, peace processes and even the founding of great international institutions like the United Nations. Simultaneously, Dr. Charlotte Bunch, feminist author and organizer, mentioned how young women today are already playing instrumental roles in furthering gender equality. The youth are already empowered and her advice to them is to keep going and not let anyone stop them.

Her advice echoed many of the panelists who called on all participants to take action in their advocacy for women. According to 14-year old climate activist and founder of Earth Uprising, Alexandria Villaseñor, every person has a story to tell that can be impactful. Youth, women and advocates can do something today simply by sharing their own stories and using their voices to inspire, educate and empower others to fight against climate change and advocate for women and girls in their communities.

Dr. Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Laureate and founder of the Gbowee Peace Foundation, shared this sentiment in her story of her own beginnings in advocacy; when reflecting on her personal escape from violence and war, which led to a future fighting for women’s rights. She said “I do not have a gun, but I have a voice.” Our voices and sharing our truth are powerful tools in advocacy. Conversations around gender equality that may be uncomfortable are incredibly important because they spark a willingness to radically transform the political, economic and societal structures that continue to hold women and girls back.

Model and activist, Aaron Philip, shed light on a crucial and often overlooked area of the women’s movement: the plight of black transgender women who are violently targeted and murdered simply because they exist. Patriarchy is a system, it is not just men, and it perpetuates a dangerous binary that not only marginalizes transgender individuals, but it also leaves them susceptible to a host of dangers. After sharing her incredible story as a black, trans, disabled young woman growing up in New York City to becoming an elite model, Aaron spoke on the importance of acknowledging intersectionality and respect for all women. By fighting to make the women’s rights movement more inclusive, we can ensure that no one is left behind. 

Grammy-award winning artist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Angelique Kidjo also raised her voice in a stunning musical performance and speech in which she shared that “the time for speaking (about gender equality) is over, we must take action.” The purpose of these international convenings is to share knowledge, tools and information across sectors and generations to empower people to take immediate action to meet the world’s urgent needs. This action must be collaborative in order to be impactful and gain traction. Working in silos and competing with one another does not advance the women’s movement, instead women and advocates must continue to unite and share knowledge and resources to ensure a brighter future for women and girls everywhere.