Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Women activists from Mazdoor Sabha shout slogans on the occasion of International Women's Day as they demonstrate against the central government's recent agricultural reforms, in Amritsar on March 8, 2021. (Photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP via Getty Images)

Indian women from Mazdoor Sabha in Amritsar protest the neoliberal agriculatural policies of the right-wing BJP central gobvernment on International Women's Day, Marchx 8, 2021. (Photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP via Getty Images)

The World Not Only Needs Women Leaders—It Needs Feminist Leaders

"Because gender equality not only serves to advance the cause of women—a fairer society benefits us all."

International Women's Day pays tribute to the achievements of women worldwide and reminds us what still needs to be done for full gender equality. In 2021, we are taking stock of the many ways in which Covid-19 has disproportionately affected women and girls around the world.

"Let us support these feminist leaders, from all walks of life. Let us take action so that women can affirm their leadership and be powerful role models for generations to come."

The pandemic has created a new landscape. Although women have played a key role in responding to the crisis, gender inequalities have widened across the board. In education, 767 million women and girls were impacted by school closures. Eleven million may never return to class, joining the 132 million already out of school before the crisis struck. From the economic perspective, the recession is pushing 47 million more women and girls into poverty, destroying their economic independence and making them more vulnerable to gender-based discrimination and violence.

As we look at this landscape, we have to ask ourselves: if gender equality is our goal, what kind of leadership will the world need moving forward? 

It is not enough to just count the number of women in the highest positions of power. No single person at the top of the pyramid can repair the damage being done to the progress that has been made in gender equality since the world adopted the Beijing Declaration on women's rights 25 years ago.

What we need are leaders for gender equality—and we need them everywhere in our societal structures. Leaders of all ages, all gender identities, and from all backgrounds. These leaders are not just agents of change, but designers of change. They lead through their example and engagement. They expose injustices and unequal opportunities. They know that gender inequalities stem from discrimination and exclusion and that it is only by lifting these barriers that real change can happen. This is feminist leadership.

Feminist leaders tackle power structures. They name and deconstruct all forms of exclusion and marginalization. They empathize with the vulnerable and voiceless, and champion their causes. They open new doors and take risks, courageously blowing the whistle on hidden injustice, and unmasking structural barriers perpetuating inequalities. They are all around us. Be it the activist defending an indigenous community, the schoolgirl mobilizing her generation to save the climate, or the poet raising her voice to promote social justice.

Feminist leaders have the courage to create, report, educate, experiment. Think about Azata Soro, actress, film director and producer who broke her silence on sexual harassment and violence in the African film industry. Think about Maria Ressa, risking jail for her brave investigative journalism. Think about Yande Banda, a tireless advocate for girls' education in Zambia and beyond. Think about Katalin Karikó, who overcame the many challenges faced by women in science and was instrumental in developing the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. As stories like these become known, they challenge people's intimate convictions of what is achievable and by whom. These women are, in all their diversity, feminist leaders.

However, feminist leadership is not the prerogative of women alone. Gender equality isn't just a women's fight, it's a fight for social justice. Men also need to be involved in the construction of a fairer society. Many of them are showing the way. The Congolese gynecologist, Dr. Denis Mukwege, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy to stop rape from being used as a "strategy of war." And there are many others like him, all over the world. On this International Women's Day, we stand committed to building future generations of feminist leaders through education. We support women who dare to create and do what is necessary to prevent them from censorship and attacks. We call on the international community to ensure the safety of women journalists who address gender inequalities through their reporting. We also stand side by side with men who dare to care and reject toxic masculinities and behaviors and open up spaces for women to influence decision-making or participate in scientific discovery and innovation.

Let us support these feminist leaders, from all walks of life. Let us take action so that women can affirm their leadership and be powerful role models for generations to come. Because gender equality not only serves to advance the cause of women—a fairer society benefits us all.


© 2021 Inter Press Service

Audrey Azoulay

Audrey Azoulay is director-general of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. 

Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Katrín Jakobsdóttir is the prime minister of Iceland.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

AOC, Joyce Introduce Bipartisan Bill for 'Immediate Relief' From Cannabis Convictions

"Goes to show that lawmakers don't have to agree on everything to find common ground on solutions to the challenges facing everyday Americans."

Brett Wilkins ·


Green Groups Demand Answers About 'Flimsy' and Buried Biden Drilling Report

"Public records released as a result of this request will shine light on the dangerous chasm separating Biden's climate promises from his refusal to phase out the use of our public lands and waters for oil and gas extraction."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Protest Works': Cheers as Shell Signals Pullout of Cambo Oil Field Project

"We have to see the end of North Sea projects as well as all new fossil fuel extraction: There is no future in them."

Julia Conley ·


Pentagon Blasted for 'Unacceptable Failure' to Reckon With Civilian Casualties

"For too long, the United States has failed to live up to its legal and moral commitments to the protection of civilians, as well as its own stated policies. This needs to change."

Brett Wilkins ·


Groups Say Congress Should Reject Biden's Harmful Sentencing Proposal on Fentanyl-Related Drugs

"The facts don't support the argument that a harsh law enforcement approach, such as permanent classwide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances, will curb drug distribution, sale, and use."

Andrea Germanos ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo