Oprah Winfrey and Tina Fey Demand World Leaders Fight for Gender Equality
From risqué Super Bowl commercials, to the dominance of brogrammers in Silicon Valley, to the ratings of college professors, it’s not tough to find examples of sexism. But according to an open letter to world leaders signed by about 70 prominent artists, entertainers, and public figures, including Oprah Winfrey, Tina Fey, Shonda Rhimes, and Sheryl Sandberg, another pernicious societal problem is also being driven by gender inequality: global poverty.
“Nowhere on earth do women have as many opportunities as men. Nowhere,” reads the letter, which was released Sunday in advance of International Women’s Day.
Other celebs who have advocated for gender equality and human rights—such as Charlize Theron, Robert Redford, Maria Shriver, Amy Poehler, Elton John, and Muhammad Ali—also lent their signatures to the effort. They’ve banded together to demand that the heads of the most powerful nations on the planet champion efforts advancing girls and women in society. (Disclosure: Jeff Skoll, the founder of Participant Media, TakePart’s parent company, is one of the signees.)
The letter is the brainchild of ONE, the international advocacy organization cofounded by U2 singer Bono in 2004. The nonprofit has long backed efforts to reduce extreme poverty and rates of HIV infection in developing countries. Through the latest campaign, the organization hopes to raise awareness about how a lack of access to schooling, medical care, adequate nutrition, and economic opportunity keeps women and their families in poverty.
The letter shares several sobering stats about the unequal circumstances facing women and girls. A staggering “62 million girls around the world are denied the right to education. Half a billion women can’t read. 155 countries still have laws that discriminate against women,” it states.
“Think about the world we’d live in if more girls had the chance to grow up to be empowered women. Extreme poverty is choking the potential of generations of young women in the developing world,” Shonda Rhimes said in a statement. The award-winning showrunner went on to stress that poverty is sexist because “it hits girls and women harder than it does boys and men, creating a real urgency that world leaders must address.”
The letter asks world leaders to make several “historic” commitments this year, including financially supporting efforts to fight HIV and malnutrition in girls and women. It notes that “it is an outrage that girls account for 74 percent of all new HIV infections among adolescents in Africa and 40 percent of women on the continent suffer from anaemia which results in 20 percent of maternal deaths.”
The letter also asks leaders to advocate for initiatives that bolster “female economic empowerment: access to electricity, connectivity, education, and justice, so girls and women have the right to own property, start a business, and decide when and whether to marry.”
RELATED: Send Girls Off to Learn, Not Off to Marry, Says 13-Year-Old Pakistani Activist
ONE is also asking for people who believe the fight for gender equality has to be a global priority to sign their names to the letter and commit to “take action in support of girls and women throughout the year.”