But like any movement, online or on the streets, there will always be ways to improve for the better.”
It has been over a week since the world has celebrated International Women’s Day. Yet, the hype of female empowerment has not left our digital presence. From blogs covering stories of influential women to media posts outlining the struggles that limit women and girls globally, this year – and arguably this decade – has given immense visibility to the world of women.
But why is this? And what has this meant for the feminist movement?
For starters, we are in the digital age. I know… this is an obvious observation. Nevertheless, it is true. Social media has changed the approach of women’s advocacy. By 2025, it is estimated that there will be 4.41 billion people using social media. Now, more than ever, the stories of women everywhere can be shared, celebrated, and honoured by people anywhere. From Montreal to Marrakech to Mumbai, women and girls can advocate for themselves and tell their own stories. Social media is powerful, to say the least, but it is not without flaws. In a world of hashtag hysteria, infographic activism, and cancel culture, it can be overwhelming to navigate the issues that affect women, especially those concerning BIPOC women and girls. Thus, whether or not social media advocacy has meant anything to gender equality is up for debate.
Although there isn’t an easy answer to this question, we can look to instances where it has worked. The tragic death of Sandra Bland was amongst the first to be affiliated with #SayHerName. This hashtag, which seeks to highlight police brutality and anti-black violence against women, has made it possible for female victims to gain similar recognition as male victims. Women like Breona Taylor have sadly shared in this hashtag, giving the world a glimpse into the horrors of police brutality and the women we have lost to it. Undoubtedly, social media played a critical role in highlighting these women’s injustices.
Furthermore, the 2014 #BringBackOurGirls campaign shed light on the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The campaign was a global phenomenon and got the attention of celebrities such as Michelle Obama and Malala Yousafzai. It highlighted the vulnerabilities faced by women and girls everywhere. Identifying that even in the safest of spaces, a school, violence against women could still be perpetuated in such an extreme manner. A year after the tragedy, the media frenzy declined. Two years, four years, six years went by before the story entirely vanished, with only a handful of media actively engaging with the campaign.
As an update, over 100 girls were freed or released, and 112 more remain captive as of 2017. However, this information is unknown to the average person who heard about the story eight years ago. Unlike the #Metoo movement, which will get a nod on television or media posts from time to time, the schoolgirls’ stories have escaped global consciousness. Arguably, this example shows just how easy it is to stop caring about issues that once consumed our newsfeeds.
Figuratively, social media has become the airboat to the sinking ship that is gender injustice and injustice at large. But as with every wreck, the demand for rescue can often overwhelm the safety supply. In the case of social media, gaining global attention for causes still remains in the control of a select few. Furthermore, the longevity of that attention raises concerns about the value and intent of such advocacy.
Another concern is that social media may create a lot of noise but little action regarding women’s issues. The theme of 2022’s IWD was #BreakTheBias. The campaign’s mission statement is as follows:
Imagine a gender-equal world.
A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
Together we can forge women’s equality.
Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.
It sounds terrific, especially when considering that the World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 135.6 years to defeat global gender inequality. But how can progress on this initiative be tracked? How can we hold people accountable who fail to meet these objectives? Is this just another catchy slogan of a hashtag? As a reader, you can decide for yourself.
However, this does not mean social media is without value. As the previous examples illustrate, it has worked before. Also, it has helped create a global network of solidarity for women. Women can share think-pieces about what modern feminism should look like. They can engage in online discussions about sexual assault, gender-based violence and discrimination, and the challenges of sexism. For LGBTI+ and BIPOC women, there exists an opportunity to voice the challenges of having intersecting identities and the invisibility that comes with marginalization. Social media has bridged divides that previously hindered the feminist movement from evolving. But like any movement, online or on the streets, there will always be ways to improve for the better.