Lena Dunham: keep on protesting

I think the activism and organisation that’s happening now is showing protest matters, calling your representatives matters, becoming involved in community organisations matters, sending your donations every month matters. It has never mattered more to show up with your money, with your body, with your time and with your voice than it does right now. Lots of people had valid criticisms of the Women’s March, but it was the largest global protest we’ve seen and that’s because every single person made the choice to take time off work, to give of themselves, to give their bodies and fill space and show they wanted to say no. That scares people and even if right now we’re not seeing the result we want, the government has been warned. They understand they are not supported. They are fighting an uphill battle against women and allies of equality in all of its forms.
Lena Dunham is an actor, writer, producer and director.

Nicola Sturgeon: great childcare is where it starts

It’s a source of frustration that, decades on from legislation that was supposed to pave the way for equality of the sexes, too many gaps remain. I have made equality a key feature of my government, with a gender-balanced cabinet, one of very few in the developed world.

However, if there is one specific policy area which can permanently advance the cause of gender equality, I believe the answer lies not in the workplace itself, but in the early years. Delivering high quality childcare as widely as possible is, I believe, fundamental to achieving the kind of equal society that empowers women.

It is a simple fact that, for many women, the barrier to career advancement comes when they are faced with juggling the competing demands of a job and raising a family. And in too many cases, the lack of adequate childcare becomes a decisive factor in preventing women from continuing their careers.

Improving access and affordability in childcare is not an easy challenge – and of itself will not solve all gender equality issues. But it is a challenge which must be met if we are to deliver a society which truly has equality of opportunity for men and women.
Nicola Sturgeon MSP is First Minister of Scotland .

Naheed Farid: introduce ‘bottom to top’ economic development

I represent women in the Afghanistan parliament, in a country that is one of the worst places to live as a woman. We suffer from violence, insecurity and lack of access to basic rights, such as education and health. We tried many things, such as investing in civil society organisations, education and democratic processes, but still Afghanistan stays the same. My analysis is that in order to ensure women’s rights and equality in Afghanistan, and generally all around the world, we need to involve women in the production process, empowering women economically. We also need policies to make sure that the process of development is “bottom to top”, completely the opposite of what is practised right now. Women’s inclusion in political, economic and social aspects of development can stabilise society by consistently empowering women and involving them in high-level decision-making processes.
Naheed Farid was elected MP in 2010 at the age of 27

Nomboniso Gasa: civil action to defend our freedom from misogynistic world leaders

As I watched Donald Trump’s inauguration, I noticed something familiar in the body language between him and Melania. My mind flipped back to President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration in 2009. He didn’t even look back to see whether his wife was comfortable. She trotted behind, with shoes that were too big for her. She could have tripped and he would not have noticed.

People have written about Trump and Zuma’s disdain for the judiciary, the constitution, media and civil liberties. But they are similar in other ways, including their public devaluing of women. Trump’s tape about women throwing themselves at you, if you are famous, reminded me of Zuma’s statement when accused of rape. “I am not afraid of women. They are attracted to me. Why would I rape?” Zuma must be envying Trump, though. He is unable to reverse the Constitutional Court decision enabling women to make choices about reproductive rights, bodily integrity and freedom of choice. His ANC is unlikely to garner enough votes to change the Bill of Rights.

Contesting these men requires a careful unmasking of their devious narratives, combined with civic action in defence of our freedoms. This must be a well-planned and sustained struggle against misogynistic bullies.
Nomboniso Gasa is a South African researcher, writer and analyst on land, politics, gender and cultural issues.

Laura Bates: sex and relationships education for all schoolchildren

There is a single, clear action that experts agree could make a substantial difference. For the past decade, campaigners, teachers, parents and pupils alike have urged successive governments to implement compulsory sex and relationships education (SRE) for all young people, including topics such as consent, healthy relationships, pornography, gender stereotypes and LGBT rights and relationships. Schools are currently only obliged to teach the biological basics of reproduction by the age of 15, with no compulsory coverage of issues, such as consent.

This would help protect vulnerable children who may already be experiencing sexual abuse. It would create change for the many girls who report “unwanted sexual touching” – a form of sexual assault. And, by educating young people about their rights and responsibilities, it could have an impact on the broader problem of sexual violence. With 85,000 women raped annually and two women per week killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales, this is an urgent priority.

We know that young people today face a bombardment of influences, from sexting to pornography. If we teach children how to read maps so they can find their way, and how to do maths so they can work out their change in a shop, why do we leave them shockingly ill-equipped to navigate sexual relationships, a similarly universal life experience? With 43% of young people reporting they don’t receive any SRE at all, we are failing them and letting wider society down as well.
Laura Bates is founder of the Everyday Sexism Project

Anne-Marie Imafidon: more women in science and tech jobs reflected in TV soaps

I’ve always watched a lot of TV and when I was younger watched EastEnders. As an east Londoner it felt close enough to reality that I would get excited when they filmed on location – trying to point out landmarks and guess the road. Soaps don’t fully reflect reality, but they do try to stay current. These days most characters have a mobile phone and technology sometimes features in storylines.

In the battle for gender equality I’d like to see the soaps embrace some new careers for their characters – particularly the female ones.

“Where’s Dot?”

“Oh, she’s just taking air quality measurements in the square for her PhD thesis, she’ll meet us at the Queen Vic.”

Normalising science and tech-related careers can start with a female character or two deciding to leave work at the chippy for a job at a digital start-up. Someone in Hollyoaks might strike up an affair with someone they’ve met on an evening coding course (affairs happen all the time on soaps). Seeing these characters have breakfast, and fight with family while enjoying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) careers will work against the one-sided portrayals of Stem characters that we see in films and on TV. The small screen can do what Hollywood is beginning to do with films, like Hidden Figures – the story of African-American women who helped Nasa.
Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE campaigns to get women into science, technology, engineering and maths