You are currently viewing Closet Feminists, It’s Time to Step Up

Closet Feminists, It’s Time to Step Up

By Rutendo Bamhare

A note to my fellow feminists.

Today marks yet another International Women’s Day.

A day often marked by hashtag selfies, posting noble messages on social media, and, if fortunate, enjoying cupcakes and treats from thoughtful employers.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am in no way minimising the courageous women who throughout history fought tirelessly, defied all odds and challenged the status quo to advance gender equality.

Without their efforts, I would not enjoy the many privileges I have today. Instead, I offer a candid reflection on how I have spent International Women’s Day celebrations throughout my adult life, particularly amidst the distortions of time brought about by Covid-19, where even simple joys like group selfies and treats became distant realities.

We are what I like to call closet feminists. We show our support for gender equality through carefully curated social media posts because we genuinely believe in the empowerment of women. However, in a patriarchal society such as ours, anything beyond this may seem excessive for men. For many women, the perpetual fear of a backlash and being labeled as angry at men takes hold.

This year, however, needs to be different. In the face of numerous human atrocities and challenges, we are at a defining moment in history. Future generations will hold us accountable for our commissions and omissions. This year, we must take a deeper look at the issues at hand, ask the pertinent questions, and take necessary action.

Under the United Nations theme “Invest in Women, Accelerate Progress,” we must reflect on how investing in and empowering women and girls can contribute to sustainable solutions for the many challenges we face. For example, how does having more women in peace negotiations contribute to conflict resolution? Similarly, does empowering women in agriculture impact climate adaptation? These are critical questions that demand urgent dialogue and appropriate policy and intervention.

It is crucial to acknowledge these global problems. Although I am aware it can leave you overwhelmed, or even worse, isolated from the solution, which is our biggest barrier to accelerating progress. Viewing women’s rights and women’s empowerment as something outside of ourselves, something in the sole hands of policy makers and government. Women’s empowerment is something in which we all, men and women, have an active role to play. Even the slightest progress will not be made unless we do so.

Before I go any further and begin to scare you, this is not about activism.

According to UN women if current trends continue, more than 342 million women and girls could be living extreme poverty by 2030. This statistic should concern us all. It is safe to say, if it is not you, or someone you know, it will most certainly be someone around you falling into this statistic. While, governments must prioritize gender-responsive financing and increase public spending on essential services and social protection, what can we do to prevent this from being a reality and most importantly how can we invest in women?

Without delving into technicalities or overly ambitious targets, it is time to be more intentional. Intentional in creating networks, providing opportunities, and empowering women and girls. I must admit, I have been guilty of tokenism, seeking out a girl for “gender equality” without considering her talents and interests. I have criticized women in leadership for their shortcomings in mentorship, yet I have neglected to recognize my own capacity to empower women. We cannot invest in women when we unconsciously fall into these common pitfalls. It is time for each of us to play our part. Doing so is a piece of the bigger puzzle of achieving a healthier, safer, and more equal world for all.

To my fellow closet feminists, our contribution lies in the mundane tasks. It is in the healthcare worker who smiles when an adolescent girl seeks sexual and reproductive health services, promoting health-seeking behavior. It is in avoiding reinforcing gender stereotypes, especially without any supporting data. It is in aligning skills with opportunities to ensure that women can thrive and be empowered, inspired to do the same for other women and girls. Investing in women is found in these everyday actions.

So, as you choose how to commemorate International Women’s Day, mine will certainly include a social media post. I urge you to reflect on how you can contribute to the investment in women in your everyday life.

Lastly as with all International Women’s Day, it’s a chance to recognize the millions of Women, who are already doing their part. Who in big and small ways are investing in women and girls. Who are investing in the future.
Happy International Women’s Day.

Rutendo Bamhare is an International Development expert with a focus on Strategic Communications and Content Creation. She is advancing her expertise through a Master of Arts in Global Media and Digital Cultures at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. A storyteller at heart, Rutendo connects global narratives. Connect with her on Twitter (X) and LinkedIn.