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Carla Goldstein's picture

In any discussion about the relevance of the women’s movement, outrage has its place; like when an elected official talks about “legitimate rape,” or a young pregnant woman dies of aggressive cancer because the state protects her fetus instead of her; or a woman is stoned to death for adultery; or a public official is censored for saying the word vagina in a policy debate.

The supply of the outrageous is vast enough to keep us in a state of perma-scream. But that’s not sustainable.

To make the kinds of change we dream of, outrage has to be paired with everyday efforts to create a fundamental shift in human consciousness – from our deeply fractured state of “us against them” to a more healed “we are all in this together.”

Our fractured way of being arises from the known and the unknown; from biological survival needs to social identity; from warring over scarce resources to disagreeing about the very origins and meaning of life. This tangled web is so complex that it seems we might not ever loosen the knot. But across time, culture, religion, and ideology, there has been a persistent idea that we can live as a more unified, loving and connected human family.

That’s why we still need a women’s movement.

We need a women’s movement because the fracture between women and men is cornerstone to so much of the world’s pain and trauma. Girls and women still suffer disproportionately from gender based violence, discrimination, and lack of access to basic human rights. And boys and men still suffer immeasurably from sexism and cultural definitions of masculinity, which often shut them off from the feminine parts of themselves and force them to live within a narrow band of human experience.

And we still need a women’s movement because the movement’s vision of change goes well beyond the notion of creating gender equality. It is about figuring out how we can take care of everybody and of the earth that sustains all life. Making this kind of deep and lasting change is no small order. It requires massive systems change, including reengineering of our economies, politics, and religious institutions. And, it requires a steely commitment by individuals to “be the change,” and reengineer our own personal habits, motivations, and way of living together on our precious planet.

This vision is often dismissed as naïve and not possible, because it is asserted that the current “us versus them” paradigm is pre-ordained by nature or God or both. Yet new science reveals that cooperation is a thriving natural survival mechanism and most religions and spiritual doctrines are based on a unity principle.

In every corner of the world, women are creating new pathways of human progress, building bridges across intractable political conflicts and healing some of the deepest fractures in the human spirit. Women like Edit Schlaffer, founder of Women without Borders, who is working with mothers impacted by extremist violence to create new pathways for human security and Chung Hyun Kyung, a theologian who is helping create Jo Gak Bo (Quilt), a peace movement between North and South Korean women.

We see these new paths of change in the work of Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a senior researcher who coordinated victims’ public testimonies on South Africa’s TRC, who is deepening our understanding of healing in the aftermath of gross human-rights violations and mass trauma; and in Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, who is building a comprehensive campaign to change how society treats care. And countless more.

One of the great strengths of the women’s movement has been its central chord of optimism that the world can be different, that change can happen, and that women can and will take responsibility for bringing that change into being. Instead of debating whether there is still a need for a women’s movement, we should be asking ourselves what role we can all play in healing the deep fractures that exist between us to help realize the enduring promise of an “all of us” world.

The exigency for such a movement seems as clear as ever.

Carla Goldstein, JD, is Chief External Affairs Officer at Omega Institute, and and co-founder of the new Omega Women's Leadership Center, which launches September 21st at “Women & Power 2012” in Rhinebeck, NY. An attorney with 25 years of experience in public interest advocacy, she has contributed to more than 100 city, state, and federal laws, and has worked extensively on issues related to women’s rights, poverty, public health, and social justice.

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