THE BLOG

Go On, Use the F Word

02/27/2015 06:08 pm ET | Updated Apr 29, 2015
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This last year was an amazing year for women's advancement. Whether on the red carpet, Twitter or in the halls of the United Nations, it seemed everyone was talking about women's rights and advancing women's empowerment. The momentum shows no sign of slowing down, either. The African Union has declared 2015 the "Year of Women's Empowerment."

As a champion for global gender equality, I'm heartened at this sea change. This moment feels like something meaningful is happening.

But I am worried about another trend: At this key time, when so many are embracing women's empowerment, others are afraid to be associated with feminism. When did we get so afraid to call ourselves feminists?

The once hailed label is growingly eschewed by activists and celebrities alike in favor of other labels like "humanist" and "equalist." More and more, the phrase "I'm not a feminist," is followed by some contradictory one like, "but, I believe in equal pay for equal work," or "I try to live by the girl power motto" ...ahem, Mel B.

Let's get real. Anyone who supports the rights and equality of women is a feminist. It's that simple.

The essence of feminism and women's empowerment is our right to have and to determine choices, opportunities, resources and benefits. Empowerment is about our right to control our own lives and our ability to influence the direction of social change. Feminism is about creating a more just social and economic order locally, nationally and internationally.

Recognizing that women have a voice -- a strong one -- and believing that our voice should be heard inside the halls of power and be part of decision-making is central to the creation of a better world. It is precisely because women's voices have been ignored for millennia that we're still talking about the need to empower women and create a level playing field in economics, education, political representation, science -- society, really.

In just about every country on earth, women earn less than men for doing the same job. Women are grossly underrepresented in legislative bodies. Women's bodies are regulated in ways men's aren't. One in every three women will experience physical or sexual violence, and two-thirds of the world's illiterate adults are women.

Feminism is about more than a label, more than what some folks find politically correct or fashionable. A strong feminist movement has real, tangible effects. Feminism is the engine for substantive, positive change. Feminism is how we go from talking about women's empowerment to seeing it realized. Look at what the research says.

In an op-ed published last month in the New York Times, Pamela Shifman and Salamisha Tillet looked at the link between domestic violence and men who go on to commit wider acts of violence in the community. In the piece, they called out a study that those of us working in the gender and international development community hailed as groundbreaking when it was released three years ago:

In their landmark study published in the American Political Science Review in 2012, Mala Htun and S. Laurel Weldon looked at 70 countries over four decades to examine the most effective way to reduce violence against women.

They found that the mobilization of strong, independent feminist movements was a more important force in reducing violence against women than the economic wealth of a nation, the representation of women in government or the presence of progressive political parties.

Strong and thriving feminist movements help to shape public and government agendas and create the political will to address violence against women.

Why, then, has feminism turned into a dirty word? And by so many who claim to want a better world with equal rights for women and girls?

I am a feminist. I'm a feminist because I want full equality for every woman and man, and because I want to be a part of something bigger -- a movement that has the ability to change the world we live in. I don't hate men. What I want is true equality, where a person -- no matter their sex or gender -- has the ability to live a full and productive life how they want. And I will still wear my bra while working toward this goal.

On March 8, when the global community celebrates International Women's Day, I will be talking about why I'm a feminist and what I hope global feminism can achieve. To me, it's a positive vision that's inspirational because it's about creating a just and inclusive world. Let's start talking about that.

So go on and use the F word.