As we welcome the second intake of Women of Power, we ask again: what, exactly, is power? How have we, as a society, failed to acknowledge the contributions of women? And how do we set the record straight?
One year ago, when Prestige’s Women of Power collective made its debut, we sought to contextualise, with some specificity, what power meant to us – and to the women we’ve ushered on to this power-filled list.
In usage, power is a word often intertwined with qualifiers. There’s hard power. There’s soft power. There’s economic, social and political power. There’s absolute power wielded by unyielding despots. There are power dynamics, the imbalance of such. Then there’s power that we can be drunk on, that corrupts, that can be exercised, that can be lusted after. The words unspoken in such presence of power – of those with power; of those power- full – is the latent presence of the powerless. Power, then, cannot exist in a vacuum; it must be made relational.
Although we’ve exhaustively defined power in contexts both historical and contemporary when we introduced our inaugural Women of Power project, when women still make less on the dollar than men; when women are statistically less likely to hold positions of power; when, according to the World Economic Forum, it will take a lifetime-and-a-half – 132 years, to be exact – to close the global gender gap, the editorialised coalescence of “women” and “power” feels at once paradoxical. And now, 12 months in, enough has changed in the global arena for us to reaffirm why it is we believe in Women of Power and, tangentially, of women in power.
This June, the landmark overturning of Roe v Wade abolished women’s constitutional right to abortion in the United States. “As of June 24, 2022,” wrote the New York Times’ editorial board, “about 64 million American women of childbearing age have less power to decide what happens in their own bodies than their mothers and even some of their grandmothers did.” Then, in September, the suspicious death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, who was first arrested for “improperly” wearing her hijab by her country’s morality police, has sparked months of protests shepherded by the furious battle cry: “Women, Life, Liberty.” Then, throughout the year, there have been continued ripple effects of inequality and inequity made rampant by the pandemic.
“The pandemic made clear – and sharpened – the stark inequalities faced by women,” says Sima Bahous, UN Women’s executive director. “They lost jobs at faster rates than men, stayed out of the job market longer, took on higher levels of caregiving at home, and experienced intensified domestic violence.
“Yet the pandemic also demonstrated just how much our future progress depends on women’s skills and leadership,” Bahous continues. “They sustained health-care systems, invented life-saving vaccines and put unpaid care work at the forefront of global debate on more inclusive economies.”
And this is precisely what Women of Power seeks to spotlight. In spite of circumstances beyond gender-borne barriers, who in our community has been an exemplary example of a leader, a change-maker – nay, a change-insister? Who in our community has been slowly, steadily and without much, if any, fanfare, inspiring those around her to think bigger, better, bolder? And who in our community has been employing their resources and access in service of the betterment of those with less power, less access?
The second edition of our Women of Power list has approximately half the number of last year’s cohort – and that’s a purposive decision. Amid our team’s nominations and at-times heated back-and-forth discussions, we’ve, once again, insisted: quality over quantity. Quality over any whole, magical numbers. Quality over the arbitrary need to match a certain number from the year prior. And on the list this year, you’ll meet those with easy affiliations within the pages of Prestige as well as those a little more shy on the social circuit, with stories and work you’d be honoured to encounter. There’s a bartender-turned- proprietor hellbent on building safe, inclusive, rock’n’roll spaces. A coffeehouse entrepreneur, who swooped in and saved a beloved Hong Kong institution from imminent closure. An actress, whose roles have made representation a reality. A serial social worker, whose life’s work has improved the lives and livelihood of people living with disabilities.
Power has long been attached to an image of a clenched fist, lifted in bold declaration of strength, protest and righteous justice. With our newest cohort of Women of Power, we’ve come to realise: perhaps we should retire such strongman performances of power. Power can be a kind word – a lifetime of kind words. Power can be showing up, every single day, and doing the work. Power can be a quiet, insistent revolution.
After all, progress is never linear. We’ve had setbacks this past year, many of which debilitating, but onwards we march. There’s work to be done.
Meet the second class of Prestige‘s Women of Power here