Despite dreary weather, January usually feels hopeful. We stock our refrigerators with healthy groceries, store shiny new gym membership cards in our wallets and remain optimistic about New Year’s resolutions. But for many of us, last January was different. It felt wild and painful, maddening and galvanizing; it felt broken.
And yet, we bundled up for the Women’s March and felt empowered, unified, even optimistic. The energy ignited in such a time of uncertainty would carry us through the following year — and what a year it was.
In the year since the Women’s March, the Trump administration has attacked our health-care rights at home and abroad. The “global gag rule” — the U.S. policy that withholds funding from any organization abroad that counsels women on abortion or provides abortion, even where abortion is legal — was reinstated and expanded. The new rules require foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. global health funding to certify they do not provide abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save a woman’s life. Under previous rules, NGOs couldn’t provide these services using U.S. funds, but could use other funding to do so.
In short, this creates more roadblocks for maternal and children’s health care while also threatening previously protected HIV/AIDS programs. At Cora, the company I cofounded, we partner with nonprofit organizations in India and Kenya to help provide menstrual products to girls in need so they can stay in school during their periods, and I’ve seen firsthand the women and children that benefit from international organizations supporting local social enterprises.
According to CARE, family planning could prevent up to 30 percent of maternal deaths each year. Many of the very organizations that provide help with family planning abroad are those being threatened simply because they may refer a woman to a safe place to get an abortion.
It’s devastating to think of the power we have as U.S. citizens to help vulnerable families, and knowing that this administration’s archaic view of women’s rights is preventing us from using it for good.
In addition to harming women internationally, there were plenty of policies to make sure women at home felt ignored and hopeless, too.
The Trump administration released regulations that allow employers, colleges and universities to drop birth control coverage from their health plans. As of this writing, the mandate has been blocked, making the final outcome unclear; but if it were to pass, tens of thousands of women would lose contraceptive coverage. This includes coverage for those who use birth control to clear acne, balance hormones and manage painful symptoms of illnesses like endometriosis and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
In the same vein, last April, President Trump signed legislation with the intent to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Doing so would reduce access to cervical cancer screenings, STI tests and treatments, birth control and support services for millions of women.
Legislation aside, last year saw the unearthing of stories of sexual abuse, harassment and assault that seemed to touch every industry, thanks to women’s willingness to say #MeToo.
We saw it in tech, with women accusing investors of sexual harassment and discrimination. It’s an age old story — a man has money a woman needs, because that’s the way the system’s been set up, and he wields this power over her — with a modern twist; women are refusing to be submissive and are demanding accountability.
We saw it in politics in the case of accused child molester and Republican Roy Moore, who narrowly lost Alabama’s Senate race due in large part to black women casting 98 percent of their votes for Democrat Doug Jones.
We saw it in Hollywood, where women and some men bravely came forward against Harvey Weinstein, but more importantly against systemic harassment, inequity and a culture that not only turns a blind eye to these injustices, but also nurtures the cesspool.
In the New York Times, Lindy West writes, “In a just system, Weinstein would have faced career-ruining social and professional consequences the first time he changed into a bathrobe and begged a horrified woman for a massage. In a just system, the abuse wouldn’t have stayed an open secret for decades while he was left free to chew through generation after generation of starlets. Weinstein’s life, like [Bill] Cosby’s, isn’t the story of some tragic, pitiable downfall. It’s the story of someone who got away with it.”
Time and again, 2017 showed us humanity at its worst. And time and again, women said no more.
Women got angry. Women shared their stories with the hashtag #MeToo, exposing the ugly truth that injustice toward women is blind to industry, celebrity, race, color, or creed. Women shared stories of work trip hotel rooms becoming places of fear and dread, of showers turning into unwanted peep shows, and of business conversations littered with innuendo and even propositions for sex.
These stories were difficult to hear, but 2017 will always be the year the narrative changed.
Planned Parenthood received over 160,000 donations in the week following the election — with over 20,000 of those donations made in Vice President Mike Pence’s name. A Planned Parenthood spokesperson said that over 70 percent of donors in the month following the election had never given money to the organization before.
Women like Susan Fowler, who wrote a viral blog post about her experience with sexual harassment at Uber, shed light on the inefficiency and biases of the systems and infrastructures companies put in place to “protect” women. This whistleblowing may have precipitated the departure of Uber’s CEO but it also sent a message to executives everywhere: We are demanding a new precedent. Sadly, the precedent is really just that men follow the rules and not proposition women for sex at work, but we can hope this is the foundation for respect and even equality.
In the political sector, too, women refused to be silenced.
Joshua Ulibarri, who served as Virginia House Democrats’ pollster in 2017, said, “Gender played a huge role in the campaigns this year. The excitement among women can’t be measured other than last night with those 16 seats.” Indeed, the first local elections since Trump’s inauguration saw record numbers of women running for office — many inspired and motivated by the disappointment they felt in the 2016 election.
She Should Run, a nonpartisan organization that helps recruit and train women for public office at the local, state and federal levels, announced last summer their goal of achieving gender parity among elected officials by 2030. To that end, Emily’s List, a nonprofit organization committed to electing pro-choice Democratic women into office, announced last month that it has heard from more than 25,000 women who are interested in running for public office.
Last year was hard. I was outraged, sad, disappointed, and I cringed on a near daily basis. But the year since the 2017 Women’s March on Washington (and on just about everywhere else, too) has also been a reclamation of female power.
“Feminism” was Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. “The Silence Breakers” were Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. In 2017, we gathered as friends to discuss policy, we wrote blog posts and articles to break our silence, we donated money like never before to threatened organizations, and, despite legislative roadblocks and nightmarish setbacks, we marched onward.
We’ve seen nasty, and we’re not turning back.