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Demands for an end to violence against women, equality in the workplace and more diverse representation in positions of power are nothing new on International Women’s Day – the cry for change is as regular as the day itself. But this year, feminists argue, could be different: people may just be listening.

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Since sexual harassment scandals tore through Hollywood last October, the repercussions keep on coming. In multiple workplaces, across unrelated fields, we are starting to see what change might look like.

At the start of the year 300 Hollywood employees, including many high-profile stars, launched the Time’s Up legal fund to support women fighting sexual misconduct; in less than a month, all UK companies with more than 250 employees will have to report their gender pay gaps; across the globe women are confronting repressive laws and speaking up at home and at work.

We asked leading feminist thinkers if they were hopeful this International Women’s Day – and what change they wanted to see.

Rebecca Solnit, a columnist, historian, activist and contributing editor at Harper’s magazine

When this started to really get under way in about 2014, I said I have been waiting my whole life for this. What I wanted all these years is for someone to diagnose this as a huge, pervasive, societal and cultural problem that affects most, if not all, women. And to recognise that the change we need also has to be broad and deep and societal rather than women improving their taste in men or what they wear or where they go. We got so much advice about how to fix the problem that men want to destroy us. It does feel like we are diagnosing an epidemic: that is the work that will let us treat it. And there is space to talk about it in a way there has not been before.

It does feel like this is a moment in which there is no going back. In part because it feels like this time around, as never before, a lot of men get it, are horrified by the scale and ugliness of what goes on. [But] patriarchy is not going to give up without a battle.

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Rebecca Solnit. Photograph: John Lee for the Guardian

The impact will have to be case by case. I feel a lot of men no longer feel free to grope and leer at their co-workers, and that is immeasurable but significant. And that’s what interests me about change, part of my Hope in the Dark work [focuses on] the fact that a lot of time change isn’t going to be measurable and calculable, and the most important things that happen as a result are going to be the things that don’t happen. The bosses who don’t think they can get away with this, the women who don’t think they have to put up with this.

I’m not optimistic, but I am hopeful. I think that there has been a shift that is less law and legislation than shifts in consciousness and visibilities, and that will have consequences.

Nadifa Mohamed, author

I think there is a collective excitement. It’s about having this right to complain not just when it’s horrifying, terrifying abuse but the kind of petty stuff that’s much more common.

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Nadifa Mohamed. Photograph: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images

Even the language has changed, people now talk about micro-aggressions, on a racial or sex harassment level, and it’s actually a really good word. You are not saying your life has come to an end or you’ve been permanently harmed, but it’s an aggression and it’s coming from multiple angles all the time. We now have the language to talk about that, and the opportunity to be listened to.

Susie Orbach, psychotherapist, psychoanalyst and writer

I think it is an exciting moment and it’s gathering in cross-generational constituencies. It’s also, to some extent, cross-class and certainly the #MeToo movement is cross-ethnicity and cross-race. It’s allowed for all sorts of previously invisible agendas to be seen.

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Susie Orbach. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

There is a whole new lens to see how the world has been constructed. It’s a way to think about every sector in different ways. This is linking rape as a weapon of war with the kind of requirements for femininity that have been practised by western women. It’s ravishing on an emotional, intellectual and political level.

I think there is a belief [among some men] that it has gone too far, but they are not getting that from the women they are talking to.

Caroline Criado-Perez, journalist, feminist campaigner and co-founder of The Women’s Room

It’s great that people are really talking about this, and it feels like there may be a shift. But I am just concerned about whether there is going to be a real serious change in all aspects of life as a result.

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Caroline Criado-Perez. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

It’s very easy for politicians and celebrities to wear a T-shirt or wear black and say this matters, it’s much harder to actually change legislation to look at the various processes that are holding women back. This isn’t just about people’s attitudes – its about the fundamental building blocks of society.

Kat Banyard, founder of UK Feminista

Everyone has a crucial role to play in ensuring that the growing calls for action against sexism translate into long-lasting change – and that includes our education institutions. To bring about a generational shift we have to stop schools being places where young people learn that sexism and sexual harassment are routine experiences, tolerated by those in positions of authority.

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Kat Banyard. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

New research by UK Feminista and the National Education Union has found that sexual harassment, sexist language and gender stereotyping are rife in schools, yet teachers report feeling ill-equipped to respond. That is why Ofsted, teacher training providers and the Department for Education urgently need to step up and act now.

Laura Bates, founder of Everyday Sexism

I feel both wary and excited. Part of me wants to believe that this really is a tipping point, and another part of me remembers the wise words of veteran feminist, Cynthia Enloe, who recently asked: “How many tipping points have we had?”

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Cynthia Enloe and Laura Bates. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Brave, brilliant women have taken the first step, now we need to see proper reporting procedures, unconscious bias training, gender pay gap initiatives, survivor support services, the reinstatement of section 40 of the Equality Act, to make employers responsible for protecting workers from third-party harassment.

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Whether or not structural initiatives are put in place will ultimately determine whether this is a watershed or just another media moment.

Minna Salami, founder of the MsAfropolitan blog, which covers Africa and the diaspora from a feminist perspective

Women’s history is marked by “moments” when a sudden peak in feminist awareness emerges. We are definitely now in the midst of such a peak feminist moment. What makes it especially exciting is that, largely thanks to social media and the conversations sparked by multiple fora, it is challenging gender norms in our intimate spaces as well as public spaces. The popularity of the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns has brought the conversations home.

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Minna Salami. Photograph: Minna Salami

There is so much courage, boldness and determination in the air. What is especially exciting is the increased awareness about feminist issues in the mainstream. As someone who’s been writing and speaking about feminism for years, I feel a sense of amazement at how quickly feminism is suddenly rippling into the collective consciousness.

Julie Bindel, freelance journalist and political activist, and a founder of Justice for Women

We have had some important victories this year – from the victims of sex attacker John Worboys winning their claim for compensation from the Metropolitan police, and being granted permission to challenge the Parole Board’s decision to release him, to women forced into prostitution no longer being required to reveal past convictions to potential employers.

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Julie Bindel. Photograph: Karen Robinson for the Observer

But I think that we have to battle for every victory, and we can never rest on our laurels, while we live in a culture of structural oppression.

Emma Dabiri, a visual sociology PhD researcher at Goldsmiths, and teaching fellow in the Africa department at Soas

While there is a lot of “talk”, systemically I don’t know how much is shifting.

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Emma Dabiri

We see the use of radical language co-opted to suited hegemonic interests. There is seemingly room for a few more women, more queer people, more brown bodies to “take up space”, but are they just being absorbed into the status quo? I think we have to ask ourselves what we actually want to achieve? Is “Feminism” about increasing consumerist choices within the neoliberal paradigm, or should we seek to reconnect with its history of radicalism and socialism that it is increasingly untethered from?

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