I admit to feeling a bit weary and disheartened this International Women’s Day. I think it is the fact that this day—which is a celebration of the achievements of women and a call to action for accelerating gender equality across the globe—is coming in the wake and midst of so much we have all been living through: a two-year global pandemic that killed six million people and upended life as we know it; an UN-backed report just out last week about how the climate crisis is worsening quicker than we thought and is on course to transform life on Earth; and now the harrowing and heart-wrenching scenes of war, violence and human suffering unfolding in Ukraine, with the frightening backdrop of nuclear fears.
The factors behind the many global problems that we face are an inevitable outcome of all of the dysfunctional paradigms and inequities humanity has constructed that divide us from each other and from nature. Yet we are all innately and intricately connected, and more so than ever, Mother Nature is blatantly showing us the consequences of not acting in or acknowledging this reality. And the hard-to-digest truth is: humanity is either going to have to evolve our consciousness and change our ways, or we, and all life on Earth, might not survive. It’s scary to say that, but I think we have to stare the current stakes in the face—not to paralyze us in fear or helplessness, as the media we intake can sometimes cause us to do, but to galvanize us, to motivate us, to inspire us to look at this as the urgent call to action that it is. To do so, it requires many things, one of the most important being to have hope, and also to realize each and every one of us has the power to make a difference. And then we need to enact real tangible solutions, holding in our sights an aspirational vision of the better world we do want to create.
This International Women’s Day is an opportunity to underscore that one of the transformative tools we must begin to utilize are the untapped and under-represented visions, leadership, ideas and strategies of women. So I went through my interviews I’ve done over the years with a variety of inspiring thought leaders to share their wisdom, visions and prayers for a better world. May we take their words to heart and take action to create a future that is sustainable, equitable, peaceful and just.
“I see many signs of hope, and I think there’s a window of time we can mitigate climate change. Think about what you do every day and to make ethical, compassionate choices in what you eat, what you buy, what you wear. And just realize that it’s not you alone—together, collectively, we are making a difference. There is a window of time, but we’ve got to get together and take action now. Remember that every single day, every single one of us makes an impact on the planet.”
—Jane Goodall | World renowned ethologist, Environmentalist, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots
“Individuals can do a great deal to contribute to positive and compassionate change, both at a personal and collective level. We need to start to value humane and alternative means of conflict resolution. Warfare should be avoided at all costs. The ancient machismo culture of bloodshed and killing should be regarded as the barbarity it is, and prevented wherever possible. Peace needs to be valued and respected above anything else.”
—Annie Lennox | Singer/songwriter, Founder of The Circle
“My vision of a world is one that is built on sustainable values and practices, because there won’t be a world if we don’t figure that one out. And there are no better people than women to save the planet, because we understand the cycles of life. So if cycles of life were applied to all our environmental and natural resource degradation, we would change where we’re going. A world where girls are valued, because they must be—they have so much to contribute—and that’s the economic opportunity that the world is missing. And then a world where a woman’s voice really makes a difference. Because we have a different set of values, and if we speak them and live them, then the world will reflect that. That’s bound to be a more equitable and just place.”
—Pat Mitchell | Media executive, Author, Editorial director of TEDWomen
“The best case scenario for us is to take this moment seriously and understand that it’s beyond the moment—it is the universe, the world, God telling us that we have to make major changes and we don’t have the option anymore to sit it out. I’m hoping that means that we are blowing up some systems that are oppressive and putting freer systems into place—a world where people who are marginalized are seeing themselves prioritized and heard.”
—Luvvie Ajayi Jones | New York Times bestselling author, Speaker, Host of Professional Troublemaker podcast
“Imagine a world where a woman’s work—all of woman’s work—is valued for the contributions she is making to our society, to our economy, and to the lives of the people she keeps safe and cared for. Imagine the resilience of an economy that values women’s work equally to what men do and compensates caregiving work as a critical function our society relies on. Imagine the strength of a society where rather than rendered invisible, care was seen as the foundation that our economy must be built on in order to thrive. This is the world that we must create together.”
—Ai-Jen Poo | Executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Co-director for Caring Across Generations, Cofounder of Supermajority
“Giving, loving, caring, empathy and compassion going beyond ourselves and stepping out of our comfort zones to help serve others–this is the only viable answer to the multitude of problems the world is facing.”
—Arianna Huffington | Founder and CEO of Thrive Global
“I wish that we could look into each other’s faces, into each other’s eyes, and see our own selves. I hope that the children have not been so scarred by their upbringing that they only think fear when they see someone else who looks separate from them.”
—Maya Angelou | Poet, Writer, Civil Rights Activist
“We have to humanize the gender roles, which are the biggest source of violence on Earth. We need to see that [issues] are all tied into each other. It’s not a laundry list of separate issues anymore, it’s a seamless web of connections. The same idea of masculinity that says you have to dominate women says you have to dominate nature, and that becomes the source of evils visited on the environment. We’re not separate from nature—it’s not man conquering nature, it’s people as part of nature saving ourselves.”
—Gloria Steinem | Activist, Speaker, Writer, Cofounder of Women’s Media Center and Ms. Foundation for Women
“I believe that if you want to have a better society—a society that takes care of everyone—you have to have gender equality. And we’re just not there yet in the United States. To me, a new, improved world is one where we have true equality for everyone in society. We need to stop pushing women’s issues into side conversations and calling them soft issues. Women—and not just white women, all women, women of color, too—deserve their seat at the table alongside men. So let’s embrace diverse perspectives and build the world we want, a world that takes care of everyone in our human family and takes care of the Earth as well.”
—Melinda Gates | Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Founder of Pivotal Ventures
“In order to realize gender equity—in America and around the world during the next century—we must eliminate the racial disparities that plague our societies. At the heart of gender discrimination, racial discrimination and discrimination of all other forms are rigged rules that leave some of us out and leave some of us behind.
For too long in America, ‘gender discrimination’ has been defined as the disparities that exist between women and men. What that erases is the disparities between and among genders that are often the consequence of racism. From wages, to healthcare, to housing and climate, women of color fare far worse than their counterparts.
We must eradicate racial discrimination from all of the systems that organize our lives, and from the rules that guide our lives. Eliminating racial disparities will necessitate a rebuilding and a remaking of the infrastructure needed in our communities for everyone to live a good life, and it will ensure that neither gender nor race nor any other contrived category stands as a barrier between a human being and their right to live with dignity.”
—Alicia Garza | Principal of Black Futures Lab, Co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter and the Black Lives Matter Global Network
“Every day we face the fact that we are a global community. Covid-19 has taught us that lesson. We are a global community for trade and income, but ordinary people, whose countries produce wealth for others, are left behind in poverty, especially women and children.
For our species to survive 100 years from today, we must adopt feminist values of cooperation, caring and sharing. As long as the dominant values in our world are profits, unbridled wealth and domination and power, wars and poverty will not cease.”
—Dolores Huerta | Labor leader and community organizer, Co-founder of United Farm Workers, President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
“My experience is, when I start flexing my activist muscles, when I start to do something that is bigger than me that is helping a bad situation, I tend to not be depressed anymore. I tend to feel empowered. So my advice is, always do something to help. And the other thing is to demand that [government] money not go to fossil fuels. That’s a yesterday industry. Get them to put money into solar panels and windmills and charging stations for electric cars and building more electric transportation and retrofitting houses. And there are so many jobs that are connected to the climate crisis and how we can be resilient in the face of what’s coming and what’s already here. These are all things that you can demand of your elected officials.”
—Jane Fonda | Actress, Activist, Creator of Fire Drill Fridays
“We already have the material means to eradicate deep poverty and thereby eradicate hunger. We have the material means to begin the tremendous clean up of the environmental messes we’ve created. We have, I believe, the psychological, emotional and spiritual means to create a world without war. We have the material means to create a world in which unnecessary human suffering has been drastically diminished. My vision for the future is that we do those things. And I think we will.”
—Marianne Williamson | Bestselling author, Political activist, Spiritual thought leader
“[My wish for the children of the future is] that they are able to live in a clean, peaceful world.”
—Madeleine Albright | First Female Secretary of State
“My vision for the future always centers around our children. So anytime anybody asks me what are the three most important issues facing the Congress, I always say the same thing: our children, our children, our children. Their health, their education, the economic security of their families, the safety of the neighborhoods in which they live, a world at peace in which they can thrive.”
—Nancy Pelosi | Speaker of the House of Representatives
“My highest aspirational vision to the extent that I can imagine it is a world where there are no traces of a past that categorized and treated a whole section of its population as utterly expendable. So it would mean that the person who is sitting at the helm of our organizations and our society and the person who is cleaning their office are not looking at fundamentally different life chances. That would be the most radical vision. And that they are not color coded or gendered. So a world in which those identifying marks don’t lose the ascriptive meaning that people embrace, but lose the hierarchical placement that those categories now represent in society. So no race is associated with being on the top or the bottom, nor is the top or the bottom a reflection of life chances. There is no top or bottom—there’s people do what they do and there are plenty of resources for everyone to live a sustainable life of satisfying pursuits and joy.”
—Kimberlé Crenshaw | Co-founder and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, Professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School, Host of Intersectionality Matters podcast
“In times of conflict, war, poverty or religious fundamentalism, women and children are the first and most numerous victims. Women need all their courage today, as they needed it before.
I belong to the first generation of older women empowered by education and health care. Never before have so many older women have had so many resources. Our role as grandmothers is to protect young women and children, to work for peace in every way and at every level, and to improve the quality of life for everybody, not just the privileged. Our role is to dream a better world and to work courageously to make that dream possible.”
—Isabel Allende | Novelist, Founder of the Isabel Allende Foundation
“If your version of peace doesn’t involve the active disassembling of structures of oppression, that’s not peace. That’s just passivism, and that’s unacceptable. That’s not peace. That’s just leaning back and letting the structures do the violence for you. My vision of peace is that you’re spending your life actively disassembling the barriers to people living just, fair, and fulfilled lives.”
—Abigail Disney | Activist, Philanthropist, Award-winning filmmaker, Founder of Peace is Loud
“For far too long the voices of Black women have been unvalued or muted. This moment will remain a positive movement for change because we will demand it. We will not grow weary. We will not be silenced.
To keep the momentum up, we have to remain strong, resilient and determined to do our part to speak out against injustice and in support of fairness, compassion and equality. We must recognize that the path is not always a straight path but a rough and turbulent one, so we must always push toward our true north.”
—Valerie Jarrett | Author of Finding My Voice, Senior advisor to Barack Obama, President of the Obama Foundation, Chair of Civic Nation, Co-chair of The United State of Women
“As a society we have to recognize that we actually don’t operate in scarcity—we operate for the most part in abundance and there actually is enough for everyone if we leverage things responsibly and allow people to share power instead of allowing just a tiny few to actually hoard power. When we share power, no one is threatened by the power that somebody else has—we’re actually enriched by it. It is this very basic idea that we are stronger together: our society is at its best when you individually are at your best and you can contribute the powerful ideas, leadership and innovation that you have to offer uniquely.
We are missing out on the brilliance of so many people that society is told to be quiet: women, women of color, immigrant women, Muslim women, Jewish women, disabled women and trans women have continuously been told over and over and over again to be quiet and wait our turn. And then our turn never comes. What are we missing as a society by all of the things that are bound up in the minds of the women and nonbinary people that we continuously tell to hold on, that we continuously tell to wait? We’re all losing out when we silence voices, when we discourage confidence and when we discourage ambition. And the sooner we can realize that, the sooner we’ll all benefit from the ambitious women that society seems so afraid of.”
—Brittany Packnett Cunningham | Activist, Educator, Writer, Leader, NBC News and MSNBC contributor, Founder and principal of Love & Power Works
“[My wish for the children of the future] is that they will live in peace with each other, and that they will live in a clean and healthy environment.”
—Wangari Maathai | Kenyan Environmental Activist, Nobel Laureate, Founder of The Green Belt Movement
“[My wish is] that people pay attention, look to their neighbors. I think we’ve lost so much community. I think that’s one of the things I’ve appreciated most seeing in the villages [I’ve visited] is just the sense of community, where like an entire family, an entire community—they take care of each other. And we’ve really lost that. And when you lose that on a personal level, you lose that on a global level as well. [My wish is that we] regain that.”
—Natalie Portman | Award-winning Actress, Activist, Ambassador of Hope for FINCA International
“I love the Buddhist prayer ‘May all beings everywhere be happy and free.’ And the second line is, ‘And may my practice of yoga contribute to that happiness and that freedom.’ And for me, by saying ‘yoga,’ it’s not the poses alone—because I really don’t practice my yoga as much anymore—but may my practices in life, may my behaviors contribute to that happiness and that freedom. So I think that’s it: may all beings everywhere be happy and free.”
—Kerry Washington | Actress, Activist, Producer, Co-creator of the Vision Into Power Cohort
“I want people to think about where we are and what a perilous time we’re living in. And how we, as all of humanity—it doesn’t matter if we’re right or left, up or down—must realize that we’re in an existential crisis, that humans are on the verge of being disappeared as a species. And also just what we’re doing to the Earth–the destruction, the horrible things we’re doing to this precious, astounding Earth that we get to live on.
I want people to wake up and I want people to also change. I want people to feel that their arguments have been heard, but maybe there are other choices we could be making. And if we actually make them together, maybe magic could happen. Because what is magic, but really coming together with each other, making a decision that we are all going to be part of imagining a different future? And I think once you commit to that, that’s when the magic happens—when you show up for life, when you show up for love, when you show up for community. So I have one desire, which is, how do we open people’s hearts and minds so that they come out of their fear, come out of their denial, come out of everything and say, ‘I can participate in changing the trajectory that we’re on.’”
—V (formerly Eve Ensler) | Playwright, Activist, Founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising
“It is easy to find despair, but don’t let it own you. Don’t let the bad guys win; be a force for good. You can be that connection to turn things from despair to recovery, from letting Earth decline and society rip it apart, or you can become a healer. You can become the beginning of something. It starts with somebody doing something. Just go back to that recognition that being alive is a miracle, and as long as you’re alive, you’ve got a chance to really make a difference for yourself and for the world.”
—Sylvia Earle | Oceanographer and marine biologist, National Geographic Explorer-at-large, Founder of Mission Blue