Part of: International Women's Day
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OPINION: Women, find the leader in yourself!

by Laura Chinchilla, Helen Clark, Tarja Halonen, Roza Otunbayeva, and Jennifer Mary Shipley
Sunday, 8 March 2020 10:30 GMT

Women perform a flash mob to occupy a street on International Women's Day in Manila, Philippines, March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Laura Chinchilla, former president of Costa Rica, Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand, Tarja Halonen, former president of Finland, Roza Otunbayeva, former president of the Kyrgyz Republic, and Jennifer Mary Shipley, former prime minister of New Zealand, are Members of the Club of Madrid, an association of democratic former presidents and prime ministers.

We didn’t get here by accident. Women’s rights and gender equality standards have made enormous progress in recent years. We are living examples.

Yet that progress is far from complete or close to acceptable; and may be subject to reversal if not pursued resolutely.

Although more than a hundred years have passed since its establishment, the celebration of the 8 of March has not lost its critical significance.

In Focus: International Women's Day

It’s important on this day to express solidarity and support to all women - activists, human rights defenders, feminists, LGBTQ people and environmentalists: all those who seek equality and respect for the rights of women and discriminated groups.

It’s also time to turn this one day into every day: women can both celebrate and progress their achievement each and every day throughout the year.

As leaders, we implore everyone not to be bystanders when it comes to the rights and equality of women. In the future, we want every young woman to achieve her full potential no matter whether she chose to be a doctor, a mother, a teacher or a political leader like each of us.

What we have learned is that it has proved possible for women to break into what were nontraditional occupations and to do well in them. But we need many more doing that.

Leadership requires sacrifice and effort, it can be exhausting and even frightening since you have to take many people's problems to heart every day. Women and men bring different things to their leadership roles and therefore we should all be at the table, bringing our whole selves.

In doing so, inclusive leadership and greater diversity will inevitably be the outcome. Yet our societies today appear more divided than ever before.

We must understand that our most pressing global problems cannot be solved in alienation, by anyone alone.

We must continue our joint efforts against hate speech, xenophobia and disparaging rhetoric against women, feminists, human rights defenders and excluded groups.

Women must continue to find their voice regardless of how demanding it can be to take a stand. Shared societies will only be achieved when the expectations of leaders are accepted as, and expected to be, inclusive, diverse and challenging. There will always be much to do, but that is not a reason why we should not strive to do it.

The world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030, which is one of the goals of sustainable development. Based on current trends, it will take more than 200 years to close the gender gap in economic opportunity. 

Therefore, we must continue the work started by early suffragettes and feminists, and then carried on by different generations along the way. Cultures may be different but cultural tradition cannot be a reason to dominate women or any other groups. Even in the most demanding of cultural and political circumstances, we must stand together so women and men take a shared responsibility in shaping the future.

On International Women’s Day let’s strengthen the she-for-she spirit and support one another with positive energy, empathetic understanding and shedding the silent stereotypes which create false boundaries of fear among us.

Our message to women at present is find the leader in yourself, find your voice, express with courage who you are, what you do and what you care about to become a beacon for others who will also find the courage, not only to follow you, but to create their own momentum. In doing so we will achieve change.