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10 Celebrities Standing Up for Women's Empowerment

10 Celebrities Standing Up for Women's Empowerment

By Lindsey Lanquist

International Women's Day (March 8) is a time to celebrate the achievements and progress women have made throughout history. The holiday was first observed in New York in 1909 in honor of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union strike held one year earlier. Since then, IWD has been officially adopted by countries across the globe, and the United Nations has gone so far as to give each year a theme. Past themes have included Women at the Peace Table (1997) and Women and HIV/AIDS (2004), and this year’s is all about parity: Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.

Though it's great to spend time celebrating IWD, it’s equally important to spend the day recognizing the many issues still facing women. Domestic violence, abortion access, lack of representation on-screen — these are just a few of the hot topics worth discussing, and a handful of celebrity advocates have joined in on the conversation. These are the issues on everyone's minds and the celebrity advocates championing them.

1. Sexual Assault: Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga first opened up about being sexually assaulted in 2014, and she has worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of other survivors ever since. The singer penned Oscar-nominated Til it Happens To You, a song about dealing with sexual assault, with Diane Warren, and she performed it alongside other survivors at the 88th Academy Awards. She’s continued to push sexual assault to the forefront of the conversation through social media as well. As of right now, an American is sexually assaulted every 107 seconds, and 17.7 million of these survivors are women. It’s time we took a collective stand against sexual assault, and it’s just as important that we stand by our sexual assault survivors.

2. Reproductive Rights: Jemima Kirke and Mark Ruffalo
Reproductive rights have been and will continue to be a top-of-mind issue in our political system this year. The Supreme Court heard Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case that could have national implications for abortion access, last week, and they will release a decision later this year. Several celebrities, including Girls actress Jemima Kirke and recent Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo, have spoken out on this issue. Kirke has opened up about her experience getting an abortion, and Ruffalo, about his mother’s experience with illegal abortions. Both actors have recorded numerous PSAs, advocating for progressive legislation surrounding reproductive rights and representing organizations like Draw the Line and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

3. Intersectionality: Beyoncé
Not only did Beyoncé drop a feminist anthem with her 2011 single Run the World (Girls), but she also sparked a major black girl power conversation with her Formation music video release earlier this year. This drew attention to the unique experience of being a black woman—an intersection that can be neglected in conversations involving race or gender. Intersectionality is about understanding the ways in which identities (gender, race, sexuality, ability, socioeconomic status, etc.) overlap to create unique perspectives. Beyoncé’s experience as a black woman is distinctly different from Taylor Swift’s as a white woman, for example. As we move forward, it’s important to find ways to incorporate these unique points-of-view into the feminist conversation, because they will generate more well-rounded action and legislation.

4. Women In Entertainment: Shonda Rhimes
The situation for women in entertainment (both on- and off-screen) is bleak. It takes one look at a movie or TV screen to realize that women — particularly women of color, LGBT women and women over the age of 40 — are under-represented in the entertainment industry. Luckily, many celebrities are done tolerating this inequality. Writer, producer, and director Shonda Rhimes has called out the industry several times for its glass ceiling and its seeming inability to recognize the achievements of women in the field. A handful of other celebrities, like Tina Fey and Amy Adams, have recently spoken out about similar

5. Human Trafficking: Emma Thompson
Writer and actress Emma Thompson has spent much of her career working to end human trafficking. She has penned essays, recorded PSAs , and spearheaded art installations in attempts to raise awareness about the issue. So far, 5,544 cases of human trafficking have been reported in the United States this year, and more than 4,000 of these cases have been related to sex trafficking. This issue disproportionately affects women, with more than 80 percent of these cases involving female survivors. Human trafficking is a difficult issue to address, but with increased awareness and discussion, we may be able to come up with a solution.

6. Violence Against Women: Kerry Washington and Patrick Stewart
Both Kerry Washington and Patrick Stewart have been long-time advocates for ending violence against women. Washington has launched several campaigns aimed at ending domestic violence, one of which involved her designing a limited-edition purse and donating the proceeds from it to survivors of domestic and financial abuse. Stewart has opened up about growing up around his father abusing his mother and has stated that he believes violence against women is “learned” (and thus, stoppable).

7. LGBT Issues: Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus has championed LGBT rights for the past several years. The singer, who identifies as non-straight and non-binary, has gone as far as to open her own foundation for homeless LGBT youth. She was given the American Foundation of AIDS Research’s Award of Inspiration last summer for her efforts. Many other celebrities have also come forth as representatives for the LGBT community, including Daniel Radcliffe and Harry Styles. Though some progress has been made, we still have long way to go to achieving LGBT equality.

8. AIDS: Victoria Beckham
Victoria Beckham used International Women’s Day to remind everyone that advances in women’s rights are key to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. According to UN AIDS, closing the wage gap is a core component of the United Nations sustainable developmental goals. Without eliminating discrimination and violence against women, it will be hard to effectively treat HIV—making it nearly impossible to end the AIDS epidemic. Beckham encouraged fans to turn to the UN for more info.

9. Healthcare For Mothers: Hayden Panettiere
Maternal healthcare is a multi-faceted issue. It brings with it questions about mandated paid maternity leave, accommodations for pregnant women, and high-quality affordable child care. Another issue one celebrity has recently pushed to top-of-mind is mental healthcare for mothers, as actress Hayden Panettiere has openly spoken out about her experience with postpartum depression. Because the issues surrounding motherhood and healthcare are so complex, no sweeping act of legislation can solve them all. The process to give mothers and expectant mothers the healthcare they deserve will be a slow one, requiring thoughtful discussion.

10. Income Inequality: Daniel Craig and Taylor Swift
The last issue in our list is certainly not the least, as it is the overarching theme of this year's International Women’s Day. The gender wage gap has been a topic of conversation for quite some time, but progress has been slow, at best. The gap has barely shifted within the last 10 years, meaning it won’t close fully for at least another century. And this issue disproportionately affects women of color and mothers. Education and awareness aren’t enough. It's time to take a stand against gender-based income inequality and pass legislation closing this conversation for good.

Found a cause (or two) you feel passionate about? Go forth and embrace your inner feminist. Celebrate International Women’s Day the best way imaginable — by sparking intelligent conversations and defending women's rights. And let some of that IWD energy spill over into the rest of your week … we mean month … we mean life (as Ariana Grande would say). It is Women's History Month, after all.

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Photo Credit: Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images