A watershed moment in the women’s movement

laurel dault
Article by: Laurel Dault
A watershed moment in the women’s movement

Propelled by the long overdue condemnation of Harvey Weinstein’s deplorable behaviour and the digital phenomenon of #MeToo, women across the globe have been emboldened to step forward to share their own personal stories of assault and inequality. Culminating with "The Silence Breakers" designated as Time Magazine's Person of the Year, 2017 is a watershed moment as women demand the right to have autonomy over their bodies.


In parallel, a resurgence in conservative politics worldwide has serious and pragmatic implications for women’s rights, even as we sense the groundswell of a global demand for gender equality. THNKer and activist Lina Abirafeh has been fighting for gender equality her entire life. When asked recently about the rights of women and girls to have autonomy over their bodies, Lina explains, “Women’s rights have always been the hardest rights to achieve, the first rights to be removed, and the most politicized. Of these, women’s rights to decide about their reproductive health are even tougher.”


As women mobilize, the SheDecides movement has become a platform for both women and men to come forward, declare what is unacceptable, and commit to change.

Resistance becomes duty

On the 21st of January– the day following Donald Trump’s Presidential inauguration– five million worldwide gathered for the 2017 Women’s March.

As she marched with the crowd, THNKer Rebekka van Roemburg recalls seeing one protest sign that was especially powerful: “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”

Two days later, in his first day in office at the White House, Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum known now as the Global Gag Rule. The impact of the policy is substantial, with serious repercussions for the health and wellbeing of women and girls around the world.

In response, the Dutch minister of foreign trade and development immediately took a stand, launching the global movement SheDecides to promote, provide, protect, and enhance the fundamental rights of every girl and woman. Rebekka joined the movement early on, inspired by its intuitive core message: “A woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and no one else.”

When injustice become law, resistance becomes duty. #THNKer @rvroemburg is advocating for #womensrights with @SheDecidesGFI #shedecides Click To Tweet

THNK connects

Hoping to take the movement to the next level, Rebekka put out a call to the THNK network. She invited fellow THNKers to sign the SheDecides manifesto and sought advice from the community about how to spread the message even further.

Her message caught the eye of Lina, currently the Director of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW) at the Lebanese American University. Lina had just completed THNK’s six-month Executive Program when she saw Rebekka’s post.

“I enthusiastically answered Rebekka’s call and said that not only would I spread the word personally, but also use the Institute’s network which covers 22 countries in the Arab world. I said I’ll send the manifesto out and keep talking about it until we get everybody on earth to sign it.”

From political to grassroots

After meeting through THNK’s online network, Rebekka and Lina began collaborating remotely and met in person for the very first time at the annual THNK FSTVL in October.

Whether participating in the Executive Program or attending a cross-class event like FSTVL, THNK brings together people from diverse disciplines around the world. Lina shares that the connections have been a highlight of her THNK experience, “For me, the biggest takeaway has been the cross-pollination with people who don’t do what I do, who come from very different sectors, but have so much depth and experience to add to my own work.”  

How THNKers are coming together for women's rights 2
'The biggest takeaway from THNK has been the cross-pollination with people who come from very different sectors, but have so much depth and experience to add to my own work' via #THNKer @LinaAbirafeh Click To Tweet

With a rich background in politics from her time with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rebekka knows the ins and outs of generating buy-in for policy change in Europe. Meanwhile, Lina is an activist with  experience on the ground in gender-based violence across humanitarian emergencies worldwide.

This marriage of worlds adds to the momentum of the SheDecides movement. First launched by politicians, Rebekka and Lina reveal that the strength of SheDecides is that it has buy-in from government leaders and its message resonates at the grassroots community level.

“Over time we want to create a ‘new normal’ where girls and women can make choices about  their own bodies,” shares Rebekka. “We want it to become normal for people to speak out on the rights of girls and women to decide; that social norms change; that leaders create the right legal and policy environment and that they put their money where their mouth is.”

Among other forward-thinking international initiatives, SheDecides is already in talks with African governments to develop a scorecard to measure the extent women can decide, including indicators on early marriage, violence, HIV incidence, teen pregnancy, access to sexual education, and more. If this initiative takes hold, it could really push the conversation forward in a region where women and girls are frequently denied the right to decide about their bodies.

SheDecides around the world

Regardless of the regionality of women’s issues, SheDecides provides a central rallying point. Rebekka and Lina’s home audiences are on opposite sides of the world, facing drastically different challenges to their bodily autonomy.

“What’s appealing about SheDecides is the simplicity and universality of this message,” explains Lina. “Of course she should decide. And if you talk to people about that, you can convert even the most staunch objectors because it just makes sense.”


Commit to change and sign the SheDecides manifesto at www.shedecides.com/the-manifesto.

To discover the power of co-creation and how the THNK Executive Leadership Program can help you further develop your potential into leadership ability, visit the program page.