By Sarah Middleton
In February, in recognition of Valentine’s Day, Americans spent more than $18 billion on jewelry, flowers, cards, a night out for their sweetheart, and more. And this past December, Americans spent more than $1 trillion on holiday gifts. We were generous gift givers: the average holiday shopper bought 14 gifts during the holiday season.
These dollar amounts are staggering—and they make me wonder: What if we had taken just a fraction of that $1 trillion and directed it toward ensuring better lives for half of our global population? What if instead of giving jewelry and iPhones, our gifts supported education and leadership programs to help women become successful business owners who were then able to feed their children, send their boys and girls to school, and break the cycle of poverty?
Reflecting on progress and the gap that remains
Last Wednesday, like every year, the world celebrated International Women’s Day. It’s a day to recognize women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. And it’s also a day that marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality.
Although progress has been made toward gender equality over the years, much work remains. Globally, women’s participation in the workforce is unequal to men’s. One in three women still experience physical or sexual violence and twice as many girls as boys will never start school. But we know that women are a powerful force for change, and in order to unlock their transformational potential, it’s imperative that we close the gender gap.
The PIMCO Foundation and 12 of its female-focused grantees have come together as WomenForward—a coalition for change—because we believe partnerships are key to advancing rights for women and girls. We can no longer rely on incremental change as stand-alone organizations. Instead, we must team up, take action, and make the desired change happen. It’s got to be a cross-sector approach, all the way to parity.
If you want to take action, too
We’re now into mid-March. But you can still take action and join us to move #WomenForward. Our group encourages you to make change happen for girls and women worldwide by considering one of the following suggestions:
- Put your dollars to work Support organizations that build sustainable opportunities for women and girls in the U.S. and globally. Shop merchants like Mercado Global, Nomi Network, Plum Alley, Same Sky, Shopping for a Change, Hot Bread Kitchen and Thistle Farms. Your purchasing power can offer on-the-job training, provide employment, and fund community improvement projects for women.
- Get involved Consider investing (using your time or money) with a gender lens. Additional partners who support sustainable efforts are: Callisto, Figure Skating in Harlem, Girls Write Now, Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA), Plan International USA, Rising Tide Capital, SHE-CAN, Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), and Trickle Up. We are all looking for champions to help us further our respective and collective missions.
- Start the conversation If you’re in the workplace, think about how you can get your company to talk about gender equality—and by the way, this conversation should include women and men. Engage more strategically with women in your value chain and core business areas, and encourage them to build their economic assets. Business can do its part to close the financial gender gap, retain women as they advance in their careers, and develop women as leaders.
- Use your voice to advocate Mentor, speak up for your vulnerable neighbor, share stories of hope or action, and advocate for women’s rights and opportunities through research, policy platforms, and communications with your elected officials. Consider finding a friend or 12 friends like we did. You can connect and conspire for good, together, and really amplify your voice. Your voice, whether written or spoken, is a symbol of your leadership.
- Use your mouse If you do nothing else, learn more about us and visit our websites listed here. Or follow us on social media. With a few clicks, you can make quite an impact.
Our WomenForward partners tackle challenges that face women and girls from Cambodia and Rwanda to Guatemala and New York. We are working towards action and opportunity, and we cheer all the changemakers out there doing the same.
About the author:
Ms. Middleton is senior vice president for global corporate citizenship at PIMCO and executive director of the PIMCO Foundation. She is a Points of Light Corporate Institute Leadership Faculty member, IMPACT 2030 Regional Voice Lead, and sits on the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness. Prior to joining PIMCO in 2007, she served as an AmeriCorps volunteer and worked in the nonprofit sector. She was named one of Orange County’s “100 Most Influential” people of 2015.