Today we celebrate International Women’s Day, a global celebration which not only marks the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, but is also a call to action for gender equality.
Gender equality. This term has been bandied about for generations now, but despite its importance in promoting the overall wellbeing of both men and women, for many, this fundamental human right is still a pipe dream. Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist once wrote, “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights”, and quite rightly so, as gender parity concerns us all.
Achieving gender balance not only gives rise to a country’s development but also encourages the political and economic participation of women. However, an ample amount of data and statistics emanating from the European Union, year after year, distinctly indicates that despite making up half of Europe’s population, women, are still under-represented in political and economic positions of power and decision-making, and still earn on average an approximate 16% less than men across the European Union; quite a gender pay-gap indeed.
A European Commission 2017 report shockingly finds that it would take another 70 years for women to earn the same as men with the current pace of progress. Europe might be one of the world’s leaders when it comes to gender equality, but in the EU, women still get on average lower salaries and pensions and all this despite women having on average a higher level of education than men. Why is it that, at this day and age, women are still being discriminated against? Why is it that some workplaces still view women workers as a liability, instead of an asset? Why are women with all the relevant qualifications and experience being continually overlooked when it comes to promotions in the workplace? Why is, for example, pregnancy discrimination, no matter how subtle, still rife?
But really and truly, away from all the data and statistics which squarely emphasise that we are a long way away from achieving gender parity, something more basic comes in play. Societal mindsets, ingrained in our communities for centuries, have a lot to answer for. Why is that in 2019, women are also more likely than men to have added responsibilities besides their roles in the workplace? Why is it that women still carry the lion’s share of domestic work and parental care in their households? How many women, despite willingly contributing to a fair share of their family’s income, inevitably end up struggling to combine a demanding career with the responsibility of bringing up small children? Hazarding a guess, I would say that there are too many…
But in simplistic terms, it all begins with our perception of child rearing and the way we raise our boys and girls. How can we raise boys to be respecting of their future partners, when we ourselves let them get away with murder where, for example, household chores are concerned, because you know, we think indulgently, ‘boys will be boys’? How many of us can honestly put hand on heart and admit that we expect the exact same behaviour from both our sons and daughters? How many of us still carry the hypocritical idea that with regard to sex, boys can have as many notches on their bedpost as they like, while a girl is a slut if she is sexually active and experienced? Regardless of how much we protest, double standards are still alive and kicking even today and we might, even if unknowingly, be aiding and abetting such a mindset.
This differentiating view of the sexes is also highly apparent in the workplace. Although the tide is slowly turning, a girl or a woman, regardless of her role within a business or company is generally expected to be well-behaved and tamp down anything that’s too emotional; like voicing a controversial opinion. An angry outburst, no matter how meriting the situation, would soon earn her the label ‘unstable’, to be approached with caution unless she causes an almighty scene. Cue the same scenario but with a male protagonist and admiration abounds; ‘he’s got balls’, ‘he doesn’t take shit from anyone’, and on and on it goes. Why are women in positions of power, with personalities to match, still regarded as ‘bitches’ or ‘ball-breakers’ when they assert control, as opposed to their male counterparts who are regarded as ‘confident’ or ‘self-assured’, when the exact, same circumstances unfold?
So many questions, and so very few answers. However, the change we seek is only as elusive as we want it to be. Gender equality starts in our heads and continues with our everyday attitudes; a realigning of a mindset which will eventually give rise to much stronger, much more confident women, who at the end of the day are only our daughters, sisters and friends. A future generation of women who together with their male peers, might finally put an end to the struggle which has ailed half the world’s population since time immemorial…
Happy Women’s Day to all!