9 Famous Women On What It Will Take To Create A REAL Democracy

There is a positive trend in the air — a sense that paradigms are shifting and women are rising up and awakening. Evidence of this includes the 5 million people who participated in the historic Women’s March (both in the U.S. and around the world), and the unprecedented number of women signing up to run for office. Women are energized, engaged, and activated.
This International Women’s Day, March 8th, is an opportunity to build on that momentum and solidarity and encourage women to do what this year’s theme proclaims: Be Bold for Change. Even though women have made economic, political, and social strides over the years, there continue to be enormous inequities and challenges that remain for women nationally and globally. Shockingly, in many parts of the world today, girls and women continue to lack economic opportunity, adequate health care and education, and suffer horrific abuses such as child marriage, female genital mutilation, femicide, trafficking, honor killings, and other atrocities. In the U.S. and internationally, women continue to experience many varied forms of oppression, discrimination and violence. (According to the UN, 1 in 3 women across the globe will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime.)
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As I spotlighted in the interviews I conducted for my book What Will it Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership & Power, and in my new online platform, What Will It Take, women are glaringly underrepresented in positions of leadership across all sectors, whether it’s in politics, the corporate world, the media, or other areas. And in terms of women’s political representation worldwide, the U.S. ranks an embarrassing 104th place in terms of women in national legislatures. Though women are over half the population, we are not adequately represented at the tables of influence where critical decisions are being made. It took years of struggle for women to finally get the right to vote in 1920. How long and what will it take for women to reach full economic, social, and political equality?
The global community is becoming increasingly aware that we will clearly need women’s voices and visions to solve the host of problems facing our planet, and that empowering girls and women is interconnected with other important issues and helps the whole of humanity. Because this isn’t just about women’s equality but also about ensuring diversity of perspective and a reflective democracy. And as men increasingly stand alongside us as they did at the Women’s March, there is a reframing that these are not just "women’s issues" — they are human issues — and that the status of women is intersectional with other forms of oppression. This sense of alignment with men and other marginalized communities is vital to forming a more authentic, effective and powerful movement — one that takes a strong stand for equality, love, and tolerance for all people.
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As a freelance journalist and author, I have had the privilege of interviewing some of the world's most renowned and influential women. To celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to share this collection of some of their insights in the hope that their calls to action and wisdom will inspire us to “be bold for change.”
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Photo: Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage.
"There are multiple levels of leadership. Your leadership in your own family, your community, how you lead your life, how you present yourself in the world as one who is willing to use what you have to give to others. That to me [is] the defining meaning of what it takes to be a leader."

—Oprah Winfrey

Media Mogul, Philanthropist, Founder of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls
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Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage.
“I feel like we need a Rosie the Riveter of our generation. By the end of World War II, six million women entered the workplace, and that forever changed our US economy and women's roles in it. I feel like we need a similar call to action to say, 'Women, we need you to be advocates, to be heard on the issues you care about, to be voting, to be running for office, to be part of decision making.' Imagine if six million more women were voting today, that aren't voting. If six million more women were holding their elected leaders accountable, that are not holding them accountable today — six million more women at decision making tables all across the country. That would be a really powerful thing.”

—Kirsten Gillibrand

New York State Senator, founder of Off the Sidelines
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Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.
I think vulnerability is power. I like vulnerable and open people, and I think when you're that way you are actually being very brave. By presenting the real truth of yourself, who you really are, you change the molecules in the room.”

—Amy Poehler

Actress, Writer, Founder of Smart Girls
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Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic.
“Take the tools and the skills and the resources of every kind that you have, and go out, find something that you know is not fair, is not just, and begin to change it. In whatever way you know, in whatever way is appropriate for you, but don’t ignore it. Don’t think it’s somebody else’s job to change it. Confront it in your own way, and make it your job to make change.”

—Anita Hill

Attorney, Author, Academic
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“I really do believe that women have an intuitive sense, which is very important in leadership. If you have a vision and you have knowledge and you have a plan, you know what decision you need to make intuitively. And that confidence is contagious. If you act in that decisive way, people will have confidence in you, and they'll follow your lead. You will be lifted up and you will lift others up.”

—Nancy Pelosi

Democratic Leader, First Female Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
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Photo: Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic.
Here’s the one thing that I worry about: we’re not willing to make mistakes. We’re very nervous about making a wrong move and we worry that if we make the wrong move, then the consequences will mean that we never recover from them. It’s okay — in fact, it’s better than okay — to make mistakes, really big mistakes sometimes. So I would want to say to young women, ‘Hey, run for office, even if you think you’re going to lose. Take a hard class, even if you’re going to get a C in it. Go ahead and follow love, even if it doesn’t work out.’ Just a little bit of courage to make mistakes, because that strikes me as where all the good stuff happens.”

—Melissa Harris-Perry

Professor, Author, Political Commentator
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Photo: Alex Brandon/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
SHERYL SANDBERG

It’s the classic chicken-and-egg problem: we need more women leaders to show more women they can lead. . . and we need to show more women they can lead to get more women leaders. I think the first thing we need to do is decide that the status quo is not okay. I really believe we can change it. We need to expect and encourage our girls and women to lead and contribute.

There’s been a lot written about what the world would be like with more women [leaders]. My view is that if all the players play, that creates more competition, and more records get broken. I just think we would perform better as a society. Plus, I want to live in a more equal world.”

—Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook COO, Author, Founder of Lean In
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Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images.
I always think it’s important for communities to join forces. You hear everybody talk about the importance of being a part of a network, a part of knowing that there are women out there who are thinking like you and moving like you and organizing like you, and who understand what you’re going through. Ram Dass talks about the illusion of aloneness, and I think that’s what we all fall into sometimes — as women, as people of color, as educators, as organizers — this illusion that we’re trying to do this all alone or that we’ll never make a difference. Coming together is what allows us to keep moving forward.”

—Kerry Washington

Actress, Activist
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Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic.
“Change is like a house: you can’t build it from the top down, only from the bottom up. Whatever small change we make will be like a pebble in a pond. It will reverberate outward and it will also be fun. We’re meant to be active and contribute to the world. What’s the alternative? Just sitting there and wondering, ‘Oh, if I had just done this, maybe.…’ I’ve learned one thing: no matter how hard it is to do it, it’s harder not to do it. Then you’re stuck with wondering, ‘What if I had said…? What if I had done…?’”

—Gloria Steinem

Writer, Political Activist, Feminist Icon
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