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The Winding Road to Women’s Empowerment

The #MeToo movement began in 2017. Few may realize that the name, originally coined by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, was sparked by a tweet from actress and activist Alyssa Milano. After the Harvey Weinstein story broke in October 2017, she poignantly posted, "If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘#MeToo’ as a reply to this tweet."

A startling 12 million women responded with the hashtag, launching a movement that has faded from the public eye but remains a formidable force. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund was created to help women combat these injustices, and since 2018, the fund has raised $22 million. More than 5,000 women have applied for assistance. Three out of four are low-paid workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic was another defining era for women. Many could transition to working from home, but only some could access the childcare needed to do their jobs. When asked to return to work, the available childcare was expensive and overcrowded. They weren’t just facing health care, employment, and economic crises but also a unique caregiving conundrum.

Although the pandemic is behind us, women across the country are still reeling from the effects. At the end of 2023, 58.7% of adult women were working or looking for work. Before the pandemic, 59.3% of women were working or looking for work. Those who continue to participate in the labor force still struggle to find adequate childcare, as there are 50,000 fewer childcare workers today than before COVID.

Many parents, buckling under the strain of unprecedented times, were laid off or quit their jobs in 2020. As of early 2022, only 46% of mothers who left their jobs could find new employment, compared to 76% of fathers. What’s more, 68% of these dads said their new positions were somewhat or much better than their previous jobs. Only 48% of moms could say the same.

Questioning our place

There’s quite a bit to unpack here, and I can’t help but wonder what’s really going on with women. Have we sustained and built upon the gains of the last century? Or have the last five years set us back a few paces? Did we lose ground during the pandemic? And—most importantly—what’s being done now to make tomorrow better than today?

There are plenty of shared stories around women’s advancement—verifiable data is the issue. Unfortunately, I think the pandemic, in particular, exposed many gaps in equality. The professional problems and childcare challenges so many women grappled with during COVID-19 clearly demonstrated how the lack of equity persists, especially in the home. To support policy and social change, we need further research to demonstrate either the impact or the lack thereof. 

The world almost always seems to be changing at a dizzying pace, and I hope we allow the lessons of movements like #MeToo and challenges like the pandemic to inform our opinions about what women truly want and need. When I think of where we were 100 years ago, incredible gains have clearly been made, but have the circumstances changed as much as we think?


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