5 feminist lessons from Melene Rossouw and Phoebe Robinson

It’s not every day two amazing female activists get together to discuss equality. But that’s exactly what happened when Phoebe Robinson and Melene Rossouw were together in Zambia recently! They joined each other for an Instagram Live interview where they talked all things on equality and empowerment.

Phoebe Robinson is a comedian, best-selling novelist, and podcaster for Two Dope Queens and Sooo Many White Guys. When she’s not taking the internet by storm, she’s advocating for ONE and (RED)!

Melene Rossouw is an attorney in South Africa. She’s also a founder of the Women Lead Movement (WLM), which educates women on their constitutional rights, how to campaign, and how to hold governments accountable. You might recognize her as one of the spokeswomen of our gender equality open letter!

There’s plenty of incredible insights in their conversation. But if you weren’t able to catch their full Q+A live on our Instagram, don’t worry! You can catch the whole interview on our IGTV page. Plus, we’re breaking down the biggest takeaways (including — a lot needs to be done before we achieve gender equality).

Here are five things we need to achieve gender equality according to Melene + Phoebe:

#1. Demand world leaders to act

On International Women’s Day, we released our fifth annual Open Letter to world leaders. Over 40 co-signers, including Melene, contributed to this letter that demands genuine progress towards gender equality.

Why? Melene put it best:

“While you are dragging your feet to put in place a comprehensive policy and the framework that will protect women, that will promote women’s interests, they are being abused. They are being victimized. They are being sidelined. They are being undermined every day of their lives. And that, we are saying, is unacceptable.”

#2. Create change locally

World leaders need to step up for women everywhere. While their role in equality is essential,  we need local change, too.

“The promotion of gender equality should start at the family,” says Melene. “As much as gender inequality is a pervasive issue that touches on education, touches on health, poverty, economic opportunity … it starts in the family. It is how we are brought up. It is how we become accustomed to certain gender roles.”

Local communities can bring about big changes, as well. Community engagement is a huge part of Melene’s work at WML.

“We believe that the solutions to most of these social ills, including the issue of patriarchy and the issue of gender inequality, can only be solved in communities,” says Melene.

#3. Inform women and girls on their rights

How is Melene fighting for gender equality? By teaching women and girls about their rights. When people are aware of their rights, they have the power to demand change. But without that knowledge, women and girls may not know that they can fight back, or how to do it.

“How do we start empowering women to become change agents in their community if they don’t even understand that they have rights and can enforce these rights?”

Melene is on a mission to achieve gender equality through human rights. If we’re ever going to end extreme poverty, women and girls must have equal opportunities to succeed.

#4. Provide education for all

Educating women and girls on their rights is vital, but the learning can’t stop there. Access to education opens a world of opportunities for people everywhere. But, the world leaves women and girls behind too often.

Before they went live on Instagram, Phoebe and Melene spent the day with female students who dream of growing up to be journalists, teachers, and nurses. The girls they met love learning and have incredible ambition.

But, too often, girls living in poverty face challenges in getting an education. Obstacles like school fees and lead to girls dropping out of school and abandoning their dreams. When girls receive an education, they are better able to combat poverty.

“The key to change everything is education,” says Phoebe.

#5. Make sure everyone plays their part

There are lots of moving parts in the fight for gender equality. No matter where you are, you can contribute to the fight. This includes men, who need to be part of the shift towards a more equal world.

In our daily lives, we can be part of conversations that create a better understanding of the issues and how to solve them. Sharing knowledge between people creates a domino effect that helps bring these issues to light. Making room for equality and activism essential.

“It needs to be part of our everyday life. It needs to be part of our dialogue.”

Are you ready to play your part? You can join Phoebe, Melene, and thousands of people across the world by signing this open letter to world leaders.

Add your name

Take action for women everywhere


Take action for women everywhere

Dear World Leaders,

We are the women at the frontlines of the fight against gender inequality and global poverty.

Every day we see the determination and dignity of girls and women facing down the toughest challenges. We see real advances and the power of people to achieve change. We won’t surrender this fight, but we need you to play your part.

You promised to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030, but at the current rate of progress, this will take 108 years. This is unacceptable. We need genuine progress, not grand promises.

We want implementation and accountability at every level - from this year’s G7 Summit to the Global Fund Replenishment; from our African Union leaders to our community leaders. We will be looking for your actions not your words; for funding to follow promises; and policy to turn into practice. It’s both the right and the smart thing to do for everyone.

To accelerate progress men must demand change with us so that we rise united not divided. And women must have a seat at the decision-making table – because you can’t change what you don’t see.

We’re not looking for your sympathy, we’re demanding your action. Because none of us are equal until all of us are equal.


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