Jensine Larsen, World Pulse Founder and CEO, responds to messages pouring in from women leaders across the world after the US election.
The message I heard from women around the world to women in the US was: 'We are here for you. And, we need you to be here for us.'
Jensine | US
According to the World Economic Forum, in 2015 the US dropped out of its top 20 status for global gender equity to 28th place. In 2016 we plummeted to 45th place. Last year, the United Nations sent three investigators to the US who stated they were shocked at national conditions for women, issued an alarming report, and concluded that “US women don’t know what they are missing.”
This, prior to our recent election.
After the Election
For the first 48 hours following the announcement of the results of the 2016 US election, I was inundated with the pings and chimes of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and World Pulse. These were the sounds of incoming dispatches from women leaders all across the world. Many of these women have had their own experiences of surviving and resisting authoritarian strongman regimes, and they were contacting me to comfort, to relate, to advise, and to motivate.
“I already knew this would happen,” messaged Martha from Colombia, her country only now emerging from a five-decade war that has displaced over 6 million people. Colombia’s people have many times elected hardliner presidents.
“Yes, I am crying for the forests and for our climate,” she said. “Yet, many of us see the US as a nation that has so much economic and military power that it has forgotten to be humble. Since no other country could challenge them, it has challenged itself. Its own people will challenge them to be a better nation from this.”
“We had brought out our dancing clothes and planned to dance all night to celebrate a woman president,” said Leah from Kenya, who lived through her country’s 2007-2008 post-election violence. She remembered the gunfire that erupted all around her home as candidates pitted ethnic groups against each other, ultimately causing Kenya to spiral into a deep humanitarian crisis. “Although I am sad about the US result, you have to be grateful that there is a peaceful transition of power and that the protests are peaceful ones—keep them that way,” she cautioned.
Leina from Cameroon, a country currently in chaos due to high rates of marginalization of minorities and suppression of free expression, acknowledged the sadness we as Americans feel, but pushed us to pull ourselves together. “Come on my US sisters—there is no time for the long faces. You know the eagle flies the highest in the eye of the storm. We can do this together. Let’s go!”
Tam, from Canada, whose country is recovering from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a leader who oversaw a systematic crackdown on civil society groups, wrote: “To my sisters in the USA… you have been our inspiration. Thank you for the Civil Rights movement, the Anti-War movements, the Union movements, the Anti-Poverty movements. Now, it is your turn to let us tell you how much we love you. Thanks to you, my commitment has only been galvanized more strongly. I stand with you—we can make the change together.”
On World Pulse, Olutosin from Nigeria wrote in to advise US women to learn from the struggles of her country’s women. “Abacha was dumped on our shoulders, forced upon us in a military coup. He was a cruel killer. Although it was a tough time, Nigerians united in love, undaunted in the face of oppression. We fought with our might, and we won in the end. To my sisters and brothers in the United States—especially those who are white—this is the time to become the embodiment of what your nation stands for: a land of free speech and freedom. America is not the land of free hate speech. This is the time to stand for what you believe.”
Most women I spoke with were saddened, but not surprised. Corrupt, violent, incompetent rule is too real for them.
And yes, women leaders of color in the United States living the ever-present racism and sexism that exists in our society, also were not surprised. Early morning the day after the election 100 women of color leaders released a united statement on a professional website all organized and ready to go. “Our work did not start, and has not ended, with this election,” they said. “As women of color, as leaders, we will build and lead us on a path forward. We know that the future and wellbeing of this country depends on the health and wellbeing of all women.”
Above all, the message I heard in the aftermath of Election Day from women around the world to women in the US was: “We are here for you. And, we need you to be here for us. We hope you see now. Our fates are bound up together.”
Part of the Same Playbook
We in the US must not fool ourselves into thinking this election result is an isolated case. We are in the midst of an ominous global phenomenon. Authoritarian-style patriarchal democracy is on the ascent.
The Philippines elected Rodrigo Duterte in May, who is notoriously associated with macho-style rule and extrajudicial killings. During his campaign, he commented that when he saw the dead body of a woman who was gang-raped, he should have been the first to rape her. In Turkey, government militarization and jockeying have resulted in limited rights for women and skyrocketing violence and harassment against them. In Russia, Vladimir Putin continues to extend his paternalistic grip and dictators in Central Asia are now the norm. Brazil’s first woman president, Dilma Rousseff was impeached this year and replaced by Michel Temer who appointed an all white male cabinet that itself faces multiple corruption charges. Not since the 1970s has Brazil, a country with more than 100 million women, seen zero women in its cabinet.
In India, Narendra Modi came to power in a 2014 landslide election victory.
Via a Skype video call, I spoke with Stella from Hyderabad, India. “Let me tell you how this goes,” she said, referring to the impending US presidency. “Here in India we experienced a very similar thing. We elected Modi, who is known to use hate speech against Muslims and incite Hindu mobs that carry out riots and attacks against moderates, including women who speak out against injustice. Once he was elected, he appeared to become more moderate and say all the right things, but it is the violence of his followers that we still have to contend with; that is the biggest problem.”
These examples are all part of the same playbook. Across the world, established powers are using economic and social insecurity to position strongman candidates as saviors. Once in power, they extract resources for profit, spread misinformation, hate, misogyny, and use communication strategies to suppress and silence dissent. Not surprisingly these men in power are forming their own club: Putin, Modi, and Duterte were the first to congratulate the US president-elect.
Even the global Internet is becoming colonized by masculine vitriol and power plays. Online harassment of women and minorities is spiking. The US President-elect's strategic advisor ran the Breitbart media platform, which features articles about why women should be banned from using the web.
We in the US, particularly the white middle class, are just getting a taste of this phenomenon firsthand. This consolidation of worldwide male dominance and militarization is not going away on its own in four years—or eight—without a courageous crusade. Nor can we hunker down domestically and go it alone within our own borders. It’s going to take something much, much bigger to quell the rising tide of aggressive, masculine leadership—something that can only be born by uniting with women globally.
Our Window is Here
We have a short window of time to take matters into our own hands. It is time to own the power we have as women and begin co-creating the world we want for our children. Our economic power is a sleeping giant, we are large in numbers, and access to technology has reached a point where uniting across borders is possible on a scale never seen before. We must awaken to the reality of what is at stake if we don’t join hands and act. We only need to connect the dots between bombings of pediatric units in Syria, water cannons at Standing Rock, and mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo to understand how far things can go. We are not immune anywhere.
Fortunately, women’s and civil society movements across the globe can show us how to galvanize across steep divides. The women of Rwanda forged healing after genocide. Today women make up over 60% of Rwanda’s Parliament. In Liberia, Christian and Muslim women united to peacefully stand up to the armed warlords and elect the first woman president. In fact, a telling recent 30-year study conducted across 70 countries showed that the common denominator for the strongest and most lasting reduction in national violence was not governments and policy—it was strong women’s networks.
Given this, I am convinced that we must work to speed up the exchange of information and resources across women-led networks. We need to connect women who are leading change in isolated pockets with each other so that we can maximize and replicate the strategies that are working: rural organizing and awareness raising; movement-building with self-care at the center; sophisticated communication campaigns; engaging men and boys; sustainable, inclusive economic development models.
Indeed, having made it my job to listen to women across the globe for the past decade, I have learned that despite vast differences and diverse languages and cultures, we have more in common than we think. When it comes to the most precious things we care about: safety, health, education, and freedom for ourselves and our families—we agree.
Now, more than ever, we as women must step up and be bridge builders together—inside and outside US borders.
There are significant racial, class, urban, and rural divides between women in the US to address, and approximately 53% of white women voted for the incoming president-elect. Yet, there are untapped areas for common ground that we fail to recognize and convert into political power. Ironically, when Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake came together to conduct nationwide surveys of US women in their book, What Women Really Want, they found that approximately 80% of women agreed on 80% of major issues. They noted that if US women could find their commonalities they would be a potent force to make great strides in education, healthcare, and better economic policies for working families. The problem, they uncovered, is that women on either side of the political divide weren’t talking to each other and didn’t assume that they held similar views to other women, therefore squandering their potential clout.
A Worldwide Web of Women
To build this clout at the global levels, one of the fastest strategic vehicles we have to mobilize women, and those who support them, are digital communication infrastructures. As climates of violence and suppression increase around us, we need to grow and reinforce these virtual sanctuaries and networks that help foster the exchange of information and solutions.
This moment is one of the loudest wake-up calls for women to lead and keep weaving a web of support and strength, ever wider, online and offline, across the globe. This web will be our most resilient global economic plan and our most secure global security strategy. It will be our immune system for the Earth. As for the technology we hold in the palms of our hands, we hold the power to transform cell phones and social networks from weapons of “mass distraction” to portals of purposeful connection and change.
If you are asking yourself should I take action nationally or internationally, you are giving yourself a false choice. We need both. Women’s movements globally have been through this—are going through this—and can guide us. If we reach out to each other we will surprise ourselves. We will find openings for progress we cannot even begin to imagine.
Because when women thrive, nations thrive.
Shortly after the election, Sister Zeph, a teacher in Pakistan who faces death threats for her efforts to educate girls in her community, wrote into World Pulse. She was shocked and devastated by Hillary Clinton’s loss.
“When we see that, even in the 21st century, one of the most educated and advanced nations in the world will not accept an extremely qualified woman as president, we realize how much work still needs to be done to achieve equality for women. We wonder: If it is still impossible for a woman to become president in the US, then what is possible for the women who are not free to make their own choices in life, even choices about what to eat, what to wear, when to sleep, and when to wake up? And what about the women who bear so much pain that their only hope is life after death in heaven?”
But she also had a call to action for the world.
“Today, we have the opportunity to become more vocal for women’s rights than ever,” she writes. “If we keep silent, our daughters will have to face the same world we face now. They will be qualified and prepared to lead, but no one will accept them as leaders. They will be rejected just because they are women... this election is a defeat of equality—but it is NOT a defeat of women. To prove this, we have to be united as women now.”
She is just one of many women who are reaching out to the women in the US with outstretched arms to help us thrive—and we will find them if we stretch out our own.